PHOENIX, AZ – This unrelenting extreme heat in Arizona is sending more people into Valley hospitals.
Dr. Kara Geren, an emergency room physician with Valleywise Health in Phoenix, tells ABC15 that in her 13 years working there, she feels this summer has been especially brutal.
“We see it every summer, it seems like it’s going to be a lot worse this summer,” she says of the increased number of people coming into the emergency room for heat-related illnesses.
Geren said more people have come in the last few weeks when the temperature has risen.
The majority of people they see are those who are homeless.
However, the emergency room receives a wide variety of people with a variety of conditions including burn injuries from heated sidewalks.
“Some people can become dehydrated when they are thirsty. Some people get to the point where they don’t sweat anymore,” Geren continued. “A lot of people are very light-headed, dizzy, cramps, feeling bad and some people even had a temperature. We even had one up to 110 degrees, which is not, which is often fatal or certainly life-changing.”
A regular body temperature should be between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit.
So what do they do? It depends on the severity of their condition.
Geren says they will hydrate the patient first. If they can’t drink water, which people will start vomiting at the point of heat-related illness and can’t keep fluids down, they’ll then give the person IV fluids.
“A lot of times their kidneys don’t work very well so we have to make sure it gets better. If they are to the point where they can tolerate fluids and look better, they can sometimes be released. But often people have to be admitted for IV fluids,” Geren said.
People with underlying medical conditions can also get sicker when they are dehydrated. Geren says those people may need more aggressive treatment.
Another method used by the hospital to treat overheating is to use an ice bath. The hospital also has a raft-like device that drains. They put 10 gallons of ice in there and put the patient inside.
The doctors will then bring their body temperature down to just a little above the normal temperature.
“We use it on a daily basis, on a daily basis. They are one-time use, but we use them all the time,” Geren said.
Some people who need help get cold while being transported to hospital by ambulance. First responders who carry them, such as fire and EMS crews, may have a cold compress to aid in the cooling process.
“When EMS comes in, sometimes people can be unresponsive and the cooling they are able to do and the dramatic changes they are able to make on the way to the hospital puts the patient on the alert and focused enough so they don’t need an ice bath. ,” she said.
As the 110-plus degree temperatures continue for the foreseeable future, Geren is calling for more cooling stations and mental health, drug and alcohol treatment needs, saying more of these resources can help some basic issues with the heat.
She is also urging people to stay safe in this dangerous heat as they expect more people to come in and need help.
“It’s on top of all the other medical emergencies that are also piling up. So stay hydrated and stay indoors if you can,” she said.