death

KN, p. 321 “Death by Scorpion”

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It was 2 a.m. Awakened by the call of nature, I remembered I was in Texas and slipped on my shoes. Ya never know what is going to greet you in the middle of the night, but scorpions were not at the top of my list to be inside the house I had rented.

Surprise! A two-inch brown fella was lurking near a wall as I flipped on the bathroom light. He froze, then waved that pesky tail. I froze, then grabbed a can of Lysol and kept spraying at him from five feet away until he stopped moving. I knew that wouldn’t kill him, but it would slow him and give me time to drop a wet paper towel on top of him. I could then stomp the daylights out of him and dispose of the body.

Having lived in Texas for a dozen years a decade ago, I was familiar with the various poisonous critters that the State is known for, but I had only known scorpions to hang out near swimming pools. No swimming pools within ten miles, so where did it come from? Hmmm… too tired to deal with that question, I returned to bed, but left the light on behind me.

The next night, around the same time, I awoke as thirsty as a parched traveler in the high desert and headed to the kitchen faucet. I was not alone. A scorpion sat in the bottom of the sink and as I waved my hand above it, saluted me with his threatening appendage. I reached for the avocado oil conveniently nearby and sprayed until he stopped waving that tail. It took a minute… or three. This time when I dropped the paper towel on top of him, I heard a crunching sound as I pressed. Ewww. But, he was deader than dead. Whew!!!

Leaving the lights on at night kept the critters out of sight for the rest of my stay. The homeowner had sprayed outside before my arrival, but definitely needed to do more.

So, what’s the big deal? Most scorpion stings result in minor swelling and crazy burning itching, but a few cause more severe reactions. Back in 2021, scorpion stings caused over 3,200 deaths in the world. There are over 100 varieties of scorpions in the USA, with a surprising 1,750* varieties on the planet, and only twenty-five of those have deadly venom. Phoenix, Arizona, is recorded as having the highest incidence of scorpion stings in the USA in the past, but the area has worked hard to correct that in recent decades.

Featured in multiple movies (Gods of Egypt, Bordertown, etc.) and TV shows (Death in Paradise and more) as bugs that kill, scorpion stings are a public health problem in hot, humid countries like Africa, India, the Middle East, and especially Mexico where 1000 deaths from scorpion stings have happened some years. By comparison, only four people have died in the last decade in the USA after scorpion stings. However, lest you think you’re safe by living outside the range of the venomous scorpions, they wander elsewhere by crawling into luggage and shoes, and can travel home with you by plane, ship, car, or boat.

A scorpion has a flat body and their hiding places in people’s homes during the day include the many, many cracks near floors, windows, and doors close to water sources. Like any other living creature, they need water to survive, but hang out in those areas because their food source is there as well (insects, spiders, other scorpions, lizards, and even small mice.) They have four pairs of legs, a pair of claws, and a segmented tail with a venomous spike at the end. Scorpions vary in size from a half-inch to a whopping seven inches in length. I have been told by doctors who handle the victims of bites that the big, dark brown/black scorpions won’t kill you, but the stings will hurt like a ball of fire. Young children and older adults are likely to have more severe reactions to the stings of any size and variety and need to be treated ASAP.

In general, scorpions are not aggressive and only attack when bothered. A Texas friend tossed a shirt on the floor, left it there overnight, put the shirt on the next day, and was stung by a scorpion stuck in the folds of the shirt. She’s fine, but experienced the wild burning and itching for a couple of days. No other ill effects, except for having to dispose of the dead scorpion.

The best way to avoid the bites altogether is to shake out shoes and clothes before putting them on…or before packing those clothes into the suitcase. If you like to garden in an area where scorpions have been sighted, long sleeve-shirts and closed-toed shoes are a necessity.

Frequent cleaning and dusting, and being especially thorough with cracks and seat cushions, will help keep the buggers at bay. Screens on the windows and doors keep them outside where they belong, as will filling the cracks with plaster or expanding foam. Anti-scorpion spray can be used around the foundation on a regular basis, but weeding around the foundation and clearing trash away is also important.  

By the way, the smaller brown ones are not nice to people, so beware, and keep your shoes on. Death by scorpion can be a bit grisly, with paralysis, blurry vision, rapid tongue movement, thrashing, vomiting, irregular rapid heart beat, high fever, multiple organ failure, and closing airways to follow if not treated in time.*  When symptoms reach this level, antivenom may not be enough. Fun fact: scorpion antivenom can cost $40,000. for each vial.

Maybe the night light should be a bit brighter.

*Some information from the US National Institute of Health.

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KN, p. 294 “Death by Construction”

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It’s taken a full year to find a builder that specializes in decks, could fit us into his schedule, and then actually show up to give us an estimate.


We found this guy through an accidental meeting. Months of calling builders listed in the various go-to ‘find your trusted builder here’ sites, following up on referrals from friends, crossing off names of companies that had provided less than satisfactory service (I wondered what was buried beneath one of those lumpy looking new decks in photos of work shared on the internet). We talked about somehow doing it ourselves, knowing that it would take all the weekends into the next millennium.


We were driving through a mall parking lot when we saw a large black van pull up to the curb near us. On the side, in large white letters, said DECKS. I slammed on the brakes, turned the car around, and pulled up next to the van. I jumped out of the car and practically tackled the guy as he got out.


He was startled, but after listening to our tale of woe, gave me his card and told me to call him. I made that call early the next day. He arrived at the house a few days later to assess the damage and discuss what he could do. The deck gods were kind and had delivered a nice young man, experienced in the ways of all things deck. He showed us photos of other jobs, and emailed an estimate. Sticker shock. Almost double what had been the norm just three years before. But we needed the deck replaced. A confluence of events during the Pandemic had created a rotting deck with normal maintenance impossible, and we were desperate.


In prep for the arrival of his crew some two months later, we needed to remove shrubs and bushes that surrounded the deck and ramp leading up to it. Digging next to a structure for days in a row let me get a close look at the underlying structure that would be replaced. Total tear-down was necessary. Previous repairs had left the support system in place, but that would not be possible now. Everything had to go, beams, railings, everything. One of the bushes had grown to fifteen feet tall and has to be cut back each year to allow access to the ramp. It’s a haven for birds all year round, but is loaded with inch long thorns that will rip your skin to shreds if you get too close. While I couldn’t move it, I could certainly cut it back to make a safer work site. Cut it back, cover the remaining six feet tall multiple trunks, with a tarp. There was no need to have bloody workers.


But, you know me. I began to think of other safety concerns. I looked up the stats at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NOISH) and saw that in 2019 there were 11 million construction workers on the official books of licensed contractors. Who knows how many unofficial ones there are? I was stunned at how many fatalities there are on the job with licensed contractors and fully permitted sites.    


Reasons for the 991 recorded deaths on the job in 2019:

  • Falls to a lower level were the leading cause of work-related deaths in construction (401, or 36.4% of the total that year)
  • Struck-by incidents (170 or 15.4% of the total)
  • Electrocutions (79 or 7.2% of the total)
  • Caught-in/between incidents (59 or 5.4% of the total)


A concerning bit of information: “Small employers with fewer than 20 employees accounted for 75% of fatal falls between 2015 and 2017, even though they made up only 39% of construction payroll employment.” * More recent numbers were not available at this writing.


Our deck was only two feet off the ground, so nobody was worried about injuries due to falls. During construction, nobody was struck by anything, or electrocuted, or caught between deck boards. The only danger our work crew faced was dehydration from the heat, and we provided them with a cooler full of ice and water, and chairs to sit in the shady area of the backyard.


But not everyone works at a site that protected. A family friend died a number of years ago in a fall ten feet from the ground. He became a construction worker after September 11th, a casualty of Wall Street downsizing. He found a job with a private contractor and for the most part, found the work satisfying and safe. He did express concern to his co-workers and friends about the safety protocols in place at the job site where he died, but tragically, was ignored.


The guys that redid our roof wore safety harnesses while nailing down the new shingles or delivering materials to the other workers. There are nail guns involved in any modern day construction, but any workers that show up at our house handle their tools responsibly.


*The Kerrians are fictional characters, but the friend mentioned in this post did pass away in 2002, from a fall on the job. His neck snapped when he hit the ground and he died instantly.

*Stats from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

 

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KN, p. 174 “Death by Drowning”

 

Pool-JWWaterVolleyball copy

Sheila and I watched a British TV show that included a ‘death-by-drowning’ scene. The wrong person wound up dead in the pool in this mystery because of an identity mix-up. By coincidence, the very next night, an old movie featured the same cause of death. We began to wonder how often death by drowning actually occurs.

 

While no stats were available specifically concerning murders caused by drowning, the general answer is that an average of about 11 drowning deaths happen every single day in the USA. It’s actually a huge global problem, not just here, and is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide. In 2019, an estimated 236,000 people died from drowning around the world. This number excluded deaths by vessels capsizing, natural disasters, or intentional drowning deaths (suicide or homicide).

 

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drowning

 

Surprising as that number might be, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA lists additional alarming facts – that more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause of death and nearly 20% of the people who die from drowning in the USA are under 14 years old. Similar information exists for the global stats cited by WHO (World Health Organization). Plus, for every child that dies, there are several others who have to get treated for their injuries in the water. The numbers drop the older you get, so that speaks to ‘who’s watching the children?’

 

But before you jump to the conclusion that the injuries are all happening at home pools in the USA, think again. About 47% of those who had to get treated were swimming at a home pool, but a full 27% of the swimming injuries happened at a public watering hole.

 

Then there are the drowning deaths, still accidental, but pushing the limits of that definition. A story in the 2016 news involving a controversial SEAL training death points to a seemingly universal opinion that we are indestructible, that swimming is at best a risky enterprise, but that people in good shape can survive with less oxygen getting into their lungs on a regular basis. Hmmm… not true. Even great swimmers get tired and can drown. In that case, the drowning was eventually ruled a homicide.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/navy-seal-trainee-s-drowning-death-ruled-homicide-n604566

 

Lots of private pool owners swim alone. Why not? The pool beckons on a hot day and it’s a relaxing way to cool off. But, what if you are tired at the end of a work day, and slip on the edge of the pool, knock your head on the way in and… if you are alone, nobody is there to pull you out of the water or to call 911.

 

That may be what happened to a guy who was found floating in his pool back in April of 2016.

http://www.click2houston.com/news/crews-responding-to-drowning-in-spring

 

Sadly, sometimes drownings are a family affair. In July, 2022, a Texas visitor to NC was at the beach with his younger brother and both were swept away by the waves. The 12 year old was saved, but the older brother, thought to be the stronger swimmer, died and his body was found a few days later.

https://myfox8.com/news/north-carolina/search-takes-place-for-possible-drowning-victim-in-onslow-co/


So, what can you do to stay safe in the water?

  1. Don’t swim alone.
  2. Make sure that your children know how to swim.
  3. Don’t allow your children to swim unless there is an adult with a phone present.
  4. If you have a pool, fence in your yard.
  5. Be aware of ocean water dangers – undertows, etc
  6. Wear a lifejacket when boating on a lake or in the ocean.


WHO recommends several proven measures to prevent drowning:

*install barriers that control access to water
*teach school-aged children simple swimming and water safety skills
*provide supervised day care for children
*regulate and enforce safe boating
*improve flood risk management.

 

For other water safety measures see:

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Drowning-Swimming-Drown-Water-Pool-Beach-15-Things-You-Need-to-Know-This-Summer-about-the-Fifth-Leading-Cause-of-Death–263491391.html

 

 

For more information on this subject go to:

 

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6234a9.htm

 

 

http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

 

 Above all, stay safe in and near the water.

 

*Photo by Jennifer Worley

 

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