Fortunately, Mike Patterson is doing well after collapsing this morning during practice. Unfortunately, however, this sort of event could have been avoided if players and coaches were made more aware of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Since I have some free time on my hands, I thought I'd do a quick rundown on these topics.
First off, some quick facts on heat related illnesses and deaths. On average, there are 175 deaths per year in the United states due to the heat, and it is a leading cause of death in athletes. During heat waves, these numbers can skyrocket (for example, during a heat wave in Chicago in 1995, 181 people died in one day).
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke differ, with heat stroke being a more serious form of heat exhaustion. In heat exhaustion, the person will have pale, clammy skin, headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, and nausea. The way to treat these people is simple...get them to stop running around and give them some water or Gatorade. In pretty much all places, this is no problem. However, this remains a problem in athletic training settings (like training camp).
If the person continues to exert themselves, the situation progresses to heat stroke. Heat stroke is when the body's ability to regulate its temperature completely fails. In addition to the symptoms listed above for heat exhaustion, there is so called "central nervous system dysfunction"...aka, the brain stuffs don't work right. An example of this would be seizures, like the ones suffered by Mike Patterson this morning.
Quite simply, continuing to hydrate the person can easily prevent this. In extreme heat, a person is going to sweat. A lot. Eventually, they have sweat out too much liquid, and the inside of the body essentially says, "Stop sweating! We need that liquid!". At this point, the sweating stops, but the heat is still on. From there, the body temperature will rise to dangerous levels. Had the person been adequately hydrated, their body wouldn't have had to worry about losing all of that fluid, and the person would have continued to sweat to maintain an appropriate body temperature.
Situations like the one this morning highlight some safety concerns. I'm not going to pretend I know what players and coaches know about heat related illness, but it wouldn't surprise me if they don't know a lot. i imagine that's what they have trainers for. However, coaches and players are the ones that are in contact with the players the most, and therefore should be able to recognize some of the signs of heat related illness.
Here's to wishing Mike Patterson a speedy recovery and return to camp!