"Has anybody seen Travis?"
The superintendent seemed a little peeved.
"Travis," he repeated, this time a little louder. "Has anybody seen Travis?"
It was a little after 3 p.m. -- an oppressively hot August afternoon -- and we were taking a much needed water break. I was trying to remember why I signed up to work at this construction site for a company that had an impossible deadline to meet. They were building student housing just off campus and had hired several of us rising high school seniors to help. We started at 7 each morning, took a 15-minute break sometime around 10, a 30-minute lunch break, and another 15-minute break in the afternoon. Then, somewhere around 4 p.m., we took our sweaty, dirty, exhausted selves home. And I volunteered for this.
"Has anybody seen --"
"I think he took a couple of sheets of plywood into number 3," one of my friends told the super. "That's the last time I saw him."
The superintendent glared at each of us, checked his wristwatch, then spun around and headed toward apartment 3.
"Ya got five more minutes," he yelled over his shoulder.
Odd that Travis hadn't taken his break with us. This was cherished time, and we didn't want to waste a single minute. The work was straightforward but physically taxing, and we needed to rest every once in a while. We spent most of our time moving stuff, stacking stuff, and cleaning up stuff. The worst part of the job was helping the sheet-rock guys install the dry-wall on the ceiling. Our job was to hold it in place over our heads while they nailed it. Try that sometime.
Travis always made us look bad when we had this assignment. He lettered in four sports -- would have been five if we had another one. Strong, quick, and he never seemed to tire. State champ in the 880 and mile and never seemed to break a sweat. And while he couldn't help but sweat on this job, the heat didn't seem to bother him -- or if it did, he didn't let it show. Earlier this morning, when the super asked one of us to carry loads of shingles up a ladder onto the root, Travis was the first to raise his hand.
"That'll be good exercise," he taunted us.
"Hey, you guys come over here!"
It was the superintendent again. He was standing in the doorway of number 3 with his construction helmet in his hand. His face was pale and his eyes as big as baseballs.
We looked at each other, jumped up, and ran to the doorway. He stood aside and let us into the building.
I was in front, and I froze. The other guys ran into my back, almost knocking me down. Across the room, sprawled on the saw-dust covered floor, was Travis. His head was cocked up against a narrow pine stud, and his vacant eyes stared at the ceiling. He was breathing, but just barely.
I ran to his side and put a hand on his chest. He was burning hot, but his skin was as dry as the saw-dust beneath him.
What was it our biology teacher had told us? First heat stress, then heat exhaustion, then heat stroke? That was it, heat stroke. It slips up on you and that's when everything starts to break down. Your body can't cope with the excessive heat and your normal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. Blood pressure falls, brain stops working, you stop sweating and your skin gets hot and dry...
Travis was dry as saw-dust. He was in trouble.
No one's immune.
Dr. Robert Lesslie is a graduate of Dixie High School and Erskine College. He is current an emergency room doctor in Rock Hill. Lesslie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.