Every year we anticipate the coming of summer as a chance to relax, enjoy lazy weekends, barbecues with friends, drinks in the park and generally have fun in the sun. And never has summer been more hotly anticipated than this year.
However, at the risk of raining on everyone’s summer parade, as a clinician it is always wise to be cautious. To continue delivering exceptional patient care during the summer months, it is essential to prepare for the hot weather and take extra care when the temperatures start to rise. As the heat goes up, our energy levels go down, and our patients can present with a different range of conditions. To ensure you feel ready for your summer shifts, we have pulled together a helpful survival guide so that you’re prepared for hospital shifts in the sunshine.
Summer shift survival guide for healthcare workers
Stay hydrated – water, water, water!
We all know how important it is to stay hydrated, but it’s easy to forget to grab a drink when you’re on the go. Practice what you preach, drink plenty of fluids, or pick up some high-water content fruit and vegetables like watermelon or cucumber.
Try to stay out of direct sunlight
Tempting as the sunshine may be, try to stay in the shade during breaks. The last thing you need is a headache or sunburn on your late shifts.
Avoid caffeinated drinks
Try not to consume too much caffeine throughout the day as it is a diuretic, dehydrating and can leave your thirst unquenched. Go decaff or go for fruit/ green teas or water.
Sun cream up!
If you are a sun bunny, then lather up before you go out. Ideally, about 20 mins before you head in the sun, reach for high-factor sun cream to prevent burning. On those seemingly rare but 30+ degree days, the risk of sunburn can be as high as 15 minutes in direct sunlight, don’t risk a red face (or more). Slop on the sunscreen, slip on a shirt and slap on a hat.
Keep yourself cool
Whatever helps you keep your cool (quite literally because being hot under the collar can make you short-tempered), then do it. Splash your face and wrists with cold water, lurk near a fan, stay in the shade, grab an ice cream from the canteen – whatever helps.
Eat little and often
Big meals combined with soaring temperatures are the perfect combination for an afternoon siesta (if only that were an option!), plus your body uses up more energy digesting big meals. Instead, eat lighter meals throughout the day and grab cool snacks when you can.
What to look out for when caring for patients
Whilst looking after yourself is a priority, there are also things we should be looking out for in our patients. For example, they could be presenting with symptoms that you might not see throughout the rest of the year. Things to watch out for include:
From spring onwards there can be a host of wildlife that enjoy a nibble on a human (either for fun or if they are under threat). In the UK, something as innocuous as a tick can cause severe symptoms for the unfortunate passengers they attach themselves to. Insect bites, snakes, even jellyfish in warmer waters around the south coast, can inflict nasty bites and stings, which could have far-reaching side effects.
Leading on from the above, what may seem like a minor wasp sting in some could be fatal, or at least very dangerous, in others. Know the signs of allergic reactions, particularly anaphylaxis, and how to treat the patient accordingly.
Know how to treat children and babies
Symptoms in children can present differently than adults, and of course, they may not be able to communicate them. Know what to look out for in allergic reactions and other similar summer conditions
Leading on from allergies, severe hay fever can be an issue during summer. Plus, reports suggest that some of the newly reported Covid variants have similar symptoms to allergic rhinitis. Look out for this.
This condition is preventable but can be severe, especially for older patients, children under four, those with underlying health conditions including high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in a hot environment. Signs to look out for include a fast, strong pulse, hot, dry skin, severe headaches, weakness, nausea or vomiting and even unconsciousness.
Alongside and often as a pre-cursor to heatstroke, dehydration is more of a risk in hot weather, especially if we’re sweating more and prone to enjoying an alcoholic drink in the sun. Look out for headaches, disorientation, nausea and vomiting, fainting and dizziness. If you or your patient are dehydrated, drink non-alcoholic drinks, rest and, if possible, take a cool shower or sponge bath.
Of course, we all want to enjoy the summer. Some fun in the sun with friends and family is definitely deserved, but hopefully, this survival guide will keep you on track for a memorable summer season for all the right reasons.
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