How the Heat Affects My Elderly Neighbors & Me

Here in southeast Michigan, temperatures have soared into the 90s every day with high humidity and hardly any rain for a couple of weeks now. It’s so dry that when the lawn guy showed up yesterday, he didn’t even bother to bring a lawnmower. He appeared near my patio with a weed wacker, took one swipe over a crispy bare patch of ground and called it good. The searing afternoon sun had burned up what was once lush green turf weeks ago.  Worse yet, my petunias are toast. Thank goodness for geraniums and sedum, they can take anything.

Struggling in this oppressive heat

Human beings, on the other hand, are more fragile organisms. My neighbors, who range in age from 62 to 98, are struggling pitifully in this oppressive, faux-tropical climate. We flock to the mailroom around 10:30 every morning, brandishing our box keys and hoping it isn’t more junk mail. The other day I stood gabbing with Jan and Barb, when Barb suddenly excused herself and made her way out to the lobby, groaning softly. She labored to swing a hip with each painful step. “Having a bad day, sweetie?” I said, rubbing her between the shoulder blades. “Arthritis,” she whispered, and stoically propelled herself toward her apartment.

Even my chilliest neighbors gasp

As you might know, a lot of elderly tend to run chilly and appreciate a warmer ambient temperature. Indeed, their A/C bills are considerably lower than mine. I can’t seem to get my apartment cool enough despite setting my ancient air conditioner on maximum. I’m considering moving into a meat locker. But when temps are this high for this long, even my chilliest neighbors gasp. Not only do they suffer from arthritis, diabetes, and numerous other conditions, they all seem to have weak lungs and persistent coughs. High humidity is hell for those with COPD. Recently, 90-year-old Rose abruptly stopped talking in mid-sentence, turned her walker around, and gasped: “I left my oxygen tank in the apartment. Can’t breathe. Gotta go.” She’s okay, I just saw her yesterday. But geez. I worry about my ladies.

Dehydration or hallucinations?

My 98-year-old neighbor Ann has become obsessed with worry about imaginary high winds blowing her hanging plant against the patio slider and breaking the glass. She spent so many sleepless nights worrying about it that she finally wobbled out to her patio and took the planter from its shepherd’s hook. Now, I blame the heat. Dehydration can make even the youngest, fittest of us hallucinate gale force winds, not to mention other strange things. Like, I have a chipmunk that hangs out in two little flower boxes that sit on a brick ledge of my patio. Chipmunks are usually jerky and skittish, but lately I swear he’s been eyeing me through the slider with a predatory gleam. I worry that he has rabies. Chipmunks want to get away from humans, not linger at a window like a peeping Tom, imagining all kinds of illicit thrills. I’ve thought about calling the local animal control guys. Or maybe I just need to drink more water.

Pushing through

Falling is a big fear with all of us. I’m 60 and have MS and I am hyper-vigilant about falling, stepping carefully and avoiding walking on the uneven terrain of our lawn with its mole tunnels and gnarled tree roots. The ladies are even more fragile and won’t go outside at all when it’s like this. Rose still ventures out to water her garden although she won’t walk farther. Inside, she uses a walker. Outside, she uses a long-handled hoe as a cane, which I find hysterical. I just love my ladies. Their bodies are failing them but their minds are sharp. I love how they push through the dog days of summer with patience, humor, and poise. And air conditioning. That’s a big one.

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