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Hydration Isn't Just for Lawns: Lessons from the Field

GI drinking from canteen Vietnam era soldier

As the owner and lead technician of Wicked Good Lawn Care, I spend a lot of time outdoors, ensuring lawns are lush, green, and healthy. But over the years, I've come to realize that hydration isn't just crucial for lawns—it's essential for us, too. This understanding was deeply ingrained in me from an experience during my time in the US Army, which taught me a hard lesson about the importance of staying hydrated, especially in extreme conditions.

One sweltering summer day, our unit was assigned to assemble a GP Medium tent after a bivouac, relocating to secure the FOB (Forward Operating Base). The temperature soared well into the mid-90s, and we were working under the relentless sun. My task was to drive the tent posts into the ground with a sledgehammer—a job that demanded considerable physical effort.

As we worked, I focused on getting the job done, swinging the sledgehammer with all my might. But in my determination to complete the task quickly, I neglected a crucial aspect of outdoor work: hydration. The heat was brutal, and the sweat poured off me in rivers. Yet, in my haste, I took only a few sips from my canteen.

It wasn't long before I started feeling the effects. My head began to throb, and I felt dizzy and lightheaded. The next thing I knew, I was waking up on the ground, my friends and fellow soldiers pouring water over me, my clothes undone, and my boots off. I had succumbed to heat stress, a condition that can escalate rapidly if not addressed.

This experience was terrifying, but it could have been much worse. Heat stress is just the beginning of a spectrum of heat-related illnesses that can affect anyone working or spending extended periods outdoors. Let's delve into these levels and how to recognize and prevent them.

Levels of Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat Stress

Heat stress is the body's initial response to excessive heat. Symptoms include heavy sweating, fatigue, thirst, and muscle cramps. If not managed, it can progress to more severe conditions. In my case, the dizziness and headache were clear signs that my body was struggling to cope with the heat.

Prevention and Response:

  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after outdoor activities. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink.

  • Breaks: Take regular breaks in the shade or a cool environment.

  • Clothing: Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing.

  • Acclimatization: Gradually increase exposure to high temperatures to allow your body to adjust.

Heat Exhaustion

If heat stress isn't addressed, it can escalate to heat exhaustion. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale, and clammy skin, a fast, weak pulse, nausea, or vomiting. My experience of collapsing and needing assistance was a severe case of heat exhaustion.

Prevention and Response:

  • Immediate Cooling: Move to a cooler environment immediately. Lie down and loosen clothing.

  • Hydration: Drink water or sports drinks slowly.

  • Cool Down: Apply cool, wet cloths or take a cool bath.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature. Symptoms include a high body temperature (above 103°F), hot, red, dry, or damp skin, a rapid, strong pulse, and possible unconsciousness.

Prevention and Response:

  • Emergency Response: Call 911 immediately.

  • Rapid Cooling: Move the person to a cooler place and try to lower their body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath. Do not give the person anything to drink.

Learning from the Field

My experience with heat stress was a harsh reminder of how crucial hydration and heat management are, not just in military operations but in everyday activities like lawn care. Here are some key takeaways that I apply both in my work and personal life:

  1. Plan Ahead: Before starting any outdoor activity, ensure you have enough water. For long tasks, bring extra water or sports drinks to replenish electrolytes.

  2. Monitor the Weather: Pay attention to weather forecasts and plan strenuous activities during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon.

  3. Listen to Your Body: Be aware of how your body feels. If you start experiencing symptoms of heat stress, take action immediately. Don't push through the discomfort.

  4. Educate and Equip Your Team: Ensure that everyone on your team understands the risks of heat-related illnesses and knows how to prevent and respond to them.

At Wicked Good Lawn Care, we prioritize safety and well-being just as much as we prioritize the health of the lawns we care for. Hydration is a fundamental part of this, and we make sure our team stays well-hydrated and takes regular breaks to cool down.

A Personal Commitment

Having experienced the dangers of heat stress firsthand, I am committed to spreading awareness about the importance of hydration. Whether you're a fellow lawn care professional, a weekend gardener, or someone who enjoys outdoor activities, staying hydrated is non-negotiable.

The next time you step outside on a hot day, remember that hydration isn't just for the grass beneath your feet—it's for you, too. Take the time to drink water, rest in the shade, and listen to your body. By doing so, you'll ensure that you can continue to enjoy the outdoors safely and healthily, just like the lush, green lawns we work so hard to maintain.

To reiterate my blog succinctly, my ordeal in the Army taught me a lesson that I carry with me every day: taking care of your body is paramount, especially when exposed to the elements. Hydration is a simple but powerful tool in preventing heat-related illnesses. Let's make it a priority, for ourselves and those around us, to stay safe and healthy in the heat. After all, a well-hydrated lawn looks great, but a well-hydrated you is priceless.

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