Tag Archives: fatigue

Hopelessly Devoted

April 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

At 63, John Erickson looks like he could still put a sleeper hold on a steer. If possessing the intimidating presence of a Midwestern hit man is a hurdle to getting acquainted with someone, it is a blissfully low one.

“I admit it is a barrier, looking like a bouncer or a cleaner, that kind of thing,” Erickson says, musing on the subject of first impressions at Caffeine Dreams where he’s a fixture, even lending his mug to a Joshua Foo photo exhibit on faces.

Tough though he may be, Erickson is also a healer, a licensed therapist trained in suicidology. He “tends the garden of the mind” at Bergan as well as doing risk assessments in “jail settings.”

In this stressful, post-9/11 world, our understanding of brain function has increased dramatically.

Much of that time Erickson has been on the front lines. One might expect a suicidologist to be morbid, but nothing is further from the truth.

“We have much greater understanding of brain function today and it’s well established that when our system gets stressed, we can reach a tipping point,” says Erickson. “And we live in very stressful times.”

From contentious politics to the carnival of souls that is Facebook, stress is omnipresent.

“Studies have been done of children growing up in poverty, where their neurological systems show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Erickson, whose wife is a fifth grade teacher.

“She teaches in a school with a lot of poverty, and it does have an effect. It takes a compassionate response based on understanding and respect. Walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge or criticize them.”

Police and medics are called for mental illness related welfare checks that can end tragically, but Erickson believes mental illness first aid training has been paying off in Omaha. 

“Credit to the Omaha Police Department for handling things. A lot of times, they have no idea what they’re going to walk into or what the response is going to be,” Erickson says. “I’ve just recently had police respond to a patient of mine who was distressed and they handled it exceptionally well. There are more and more police officers understanding mental illness.”

Training mentally ill patients to call attention to their psychiatric conditions during crisis helps forestall tragedy, says Erickson, who is not just an advocate for others, but himself as well.

“There are different levels of mental illness. It is very common. I have attention deficit disorder. It’s a lifelong condition,” Erickson says. “We all have a tipping point…and as the mind goes, so goes the body. Some have neurological systems that are over-reactive or under-reactive to stress. Anytime we feel threatened—physically, socially, intellectually, or emotionally. There is a segment of the population with mental illness that just has a very difficult time handling stress.”

Helping others can cause stress as well. John recently came off medical leave for compassion fatigue. Insurance issues left him feeling “like he was driving down a winding road with faulty brakes.” Knowing that feeling personally is one reason John has trained in suicidology.

“Suicide is the heart attack of mental illness,” John says about why he keeps going. “I’ve had an opportunity to have patients who are more than patients; they’re friends. I care about them. It doesn’t always work out, but it does have an effect.” 

JohnErickson2

Watch Out for Heat Stroke

June 20, 2013 by

Most people—especially those of us who know how muggy and hot Nebraska summers can be—have suffered from heat exhaustion at least once. It usually hits us after we’ve spent too much time outdoors in the blazing sun and haven’t been drinking enough fluids to keep us properly hydrated.

Heat exhaustion is pretty easy to recognize. Muscles cramp up, fatigue sets in, and sometimes lightheadedness or fainting can occur. But never write off heat exhaustion as “not that big of a deal” because it can be a precursor to a more serious heat injury called heat stroke.

Robert Muelleman, M.D., Chair of Emergency Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNMC, explains that heat stroke usually causes alteration or damage to a person’s mental state. “It could be as mild as confusion or as severe as seizures,” he says. “Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.”

Dr. Muelleman categorizes heat stroke into two types: classic heat stroke and exertion heat stroke. “Classic heat stroke is the one you read about during a heat wave in the summer. It typically affects elderly people with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes, hypertension, or emphysema. The issue there isn’t necessarily the daytime highs but rather the nighttime lows. If the temperature doesn’t drop below 80° for 72 hours, that’s when we’ll see classic heat stroke. The body doesn’t have a chance to cool down.”

“Heat stroke damages a lot of different organs—brain, heart, liver, kidneys. That’s why it can be so deadly.” – Robert Muelleman, M.D., UNMC

Exertion heat stroke, however, can happen to anybody, and it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside. It’s more about the heat index, explains Dr. Muelleman. “Heat index takes into account the humidity. If the heat index rises above 105°, then everyone is at risk. If it rises above 115°, then athletic and outdoor events really should be canceled.” With exertion heat stroke, it’s a matter of whether or not your body is unable to dissipate the heat or is generating too much heat.

When the body’s temperature control is overwhelmed, it can’t effectively cool down the body. Sweating is the normal response to overheating, but several factors can inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself—things like high humidity, obesity, fever, mental illness, poor circulation, heart disease, sunburn, and prescription drug or alcohol use.

Healthy children and adults are susceptible to heat stroke exertion in the summer because working in the heat or participating in summer sports can put them at risk. Babies, too—especially those left in cars when it’s hot. “Car temperatures rise so fast,” Dr. Muelleman says. “It’s extremely dangerous to leave a baby in the car during the summer.”

As for the symptoms of heat stroke, the Mayo Clinic recognizes the following:

  • High body temperature—usually 104°F (40°C) or higher
  • Lack of sweat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport them to the hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal. While waiting for aid, move the person to an air-conditioned environment and attempt to cool them down by removing unnecessary clothing, fanning air over them, wetting skin with cool water from a cloth or sponge, or applying ice packs.