Heat Madness

sunThe sun will be merciless in the Las Vegas Valley throughout the weekend, says the Las Vegas Sun.  The heat reached a record level of 115 degrees at McCarran International Airport yesterday and is expected to reach an all-time high 117 degrees today. But is it possible that the heat could lead to madness?

In Las Vegas, people will be “lookin’ half dead / Walkin’ on a sidewalk hotter than a match head,” as John Sebastian sang in the Lovin’ Sponful’s hit, “Summer in the City.” Fans showed up for the Vans Warped Tour music festival, held outside the Silverton Casino, though 34 people had to be taken to area hospitals for treatment from heat exhaustion;  206 required water and shade at the scene.  Las Vegas Fire and Rescue responded to 35 heat-related calls.  Seven people ended up at the hospital with heat exhaustion.

People were advised to watch for signs of heat exhaustion, including muscle cramping, heavy sweating, weakness, pale or clammy skin, nausea or vomiting, and a fast, weak pulse.

Temperatures can rise to 135 degrees in less than 10 minutes in a parked car in such conditions.  The public was advised not to leave children or pets inside the auto.  Air conditioners/fans in extreme heat can overheat and burst into flame.

The USA’s highest temperature, 134° on July 10, 1913 in Death Valley, Calif., is also the official highest temperature in the Western Hemisphere. (USA Today).

The eighth-hottest temperature recorded in the U.S., 118 degrees, were Orofino Idaho in 1936; Keokuk, Iowa (1934); Warsaw and Union, Missouri (1954); three town in Nebraska (1934 and 1936); and two in Washington (1928 and 1961).

The Los Angeles Times reported in 1985 that record heat in New York City led to such a demand for electricity that overloaded underground electrical cables caught fire.  The fires caused manhole covers to pop open.  There were transformer fires and muffled explosion under Police Plaza, where New York’s finest are based.

Heat can drive you insane.  Intense heat increases risk of dehydration, which can affect the brain. A study conducted d in 2011 found a loss of 1 percent body mass from sweating decreased cognitive performance and increased levels of anxiety. Dramatic overheating can also lead to heatstroke, with symptoms progressing from confusion and irritability to hallucinations, violent behavior, and delirium. (Slate.)

In history, heated blood or brains were frequently seen as one of the causes of insanity.  In The History of Madness, Michel Foucault quoted an 18th century physician who defined insanity to include “intense heat that burns the blood.” In The Anatomy of Melancholy (11857) Sir Robert Burton described symptoms of madness as including “blood incensed, brains inflamed.” The American Phrenological Journal of 1843 likewise discussed madness in terms of fever and inflammation of the brain.

However, heat was also seen as the proper treatment for madness. As early as the 4th century B.C., philosopher-physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen maintained that malarial fever had an ameliorating effect on those suffering from melancholy.  Malarial fever therapy was used up to the 1950s.  Patients were bombarded with short waves, confined in infrared cabinets wrapped in electric blankets or submerged in hot water, all in an attempt to raise the body temperature and cure the mental illness,

The Santa Ana, a hot, dusty, wind in southwestern California that blows westward through the canyons toward the coastal areas, is regarded as a seasonal cause of insanity and murder in crime fiction of the 1920s and 1930s.   One of the colorful nicknames for the wind is “devil’s breath.”

Medical science of today does not see any relationship between hot weather and madness, but anyone can tell you that the heat can make you crazy.


By:  Tom Ukinski

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