Don't get me wrong, I love summer. I could go on for hours about the restorative value of catatonia on an ocean shore. But this isn't the place.
Here is where we nay-say the joys of summer, hoping that once you know the pitfalls, you can finesse them. . . .
It's true, of course, our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a lot of fruits, berries, nuts they found growing around the campus, as it were, in the balmy summertime.
They probably didn't wear bear or tiger skins in the summer, and nobody'd ivnented the maillot yet, so they probably got pretty tan. Evenly too.
Oh for the good old days do I hear somebody sigh?
Sure, but the Center for Disease Control wasn't invented then, so we don't know how many of those happy primitives ended as meals for one carnivore or another, as victims of one or another bacteria, or because some of those berries and nuts were poisonous.
In her novel of prehistoric life, "The Clan of the Cave Bear," Jean Auel's medicine women would try a strange berry or root by holding it in her mouth for a few seconds. If it didn't burn or taste too foul, she would swallow a tiny bit. If she didn't get sick, she'd swallow a bit more the next day, and so on.
Risky, but effective.
Which leads to this: If you don't know that this is a blueberry or that is a currant, leave it to the birds.
Teach your children to do likewise.
If any small persons you know tend to pop pretty berries and such, it would be sensible to keep the number of your local Poison Control Center in a prominent place. Keep a bottle of syrup of ipecac handy, but call first. In the Washington area call 625-3333.
Or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
National Capital Poison Center, Georgetown University, 3800 Reservoir Rd. NW, Washington D.C. 20007 for free "Mr. Yuk" stickers with the center's emergency number.
As for even tans, well, skin cancer may not have been a problem for our hunter-gatherer great-great-great-greats, but again, there wasn't anybody to keep track.
Skin cancers -- ranging from relatively easy-to-control single-cell cancers to the swift spreading and often fatal melanomas -- are very much on the increase, alarming dermatologists to the point where some are advising anybody with blue eyes to stay out of the summer sun altogether.
Scientists have linked the incidence of melanomas -- up to about 15,000 a year -- to periods of sun spot activity, or perhaps to a thinning of the ozone layer which normally filters the burning and damaging ultra-violet rays of the sun.
Dermatologists also worry that family doctors are not properly keyed into examining moles, often the point at which melanomas start.
They urge everybody, but especially sun worshippers, to watch for:
Any change in the color or size of a freckle or bump or mole.
Any new growth, especially if it is irregular in shape.
A sore that does not heal.
Don't wait for it to go away. See a doctor at once. The quicker it is caught, the better the chance of a cure.
Meanwhile, use prepared sunscreens for any out-of-doors activities. Remember that clouds may not screen the burning ultraviolet rays.
And think twice about the health of that "healthy" tan.
I'm not certain where the killer bees are -- you remember, those vicious African bees that escaped in South America and are supposed to be moving North?
But for some folks, any bee is a killer if it stings. For people with allergies to insect stings, there are spring-loaded syringes available (by prescription) so that a quick slap on a thigh will inject the antidote to a potentially lethal sting.
This is also, say the experts, going to be a bumper year for mosquitoes, and for other noisome pests carrying all sorts of unpleasant microorganisms that affect people and pets, from tick-borne Rocky Mountain spotted fever to some potentially fatal varieties of encephalitis.
Use insect repellents and make tick-checking a twice- or three-times-a-day family project, especially when the family includes dogs and cats.
Many of these illnesses begin with rashes and fevers. If you or your child develops such summer ills, it could speed a diagnosis if you can link it to the bite of a tick or mosquito.
(This is a good time to get your dog tested for heartworm, another organism carried by mosquitoes. A preventive pill is available from your veterinian, but the dog must be free of the parasite before the summer pill-a-day regimen is begun. Heartworm is difficult and dangerous to treat and is often fatal to afflicted dogs.)
Some other summer strategies:
Protect your eyes from the sun and don't forget and jump in the water wearing your new soft contact lenses. They could wash right out.
Use an eyedropper of plain rubbing alcohol in your ears after swimming or showering. It absorbs water and washes out fungi. (Do NOT do this if you've ever had a punctured eardrum or mastoid operation. Do NOT put anything else in your ear at all.)
This is another bad year for pollen sufferers. Fairfax and Johns Hopkins allergist Dr. Richard Rosenthal says he's hospitalized several patients with allergic reactions in the past few weeks. For sensitive persons he recommends:
Stay in air-conditioned or air-filtered environments whenever possible.
Limit exercise when pollen is high.
See a doctor if the medicine you take doesn't seem to be working.
Sufferers interested in any of his ongoing experimental projects on stinging insect allergies or those affecting both the upper and lower respiratory tracts can call 573-6500 in Fairfax.
Old people, especially, should take precautions in very hot weather to avoid hyperthermia -- heat exhaustion or sunstroke -- and NO ONE should jog in very hot weather, even early in the morning. Senior citizens may obtain more information by writing:
National Council of Senior Citizens, Suite 540, 1511 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Hikers and campers also should watch out for sudden chills (getting caught in a thunderstorm, for example) which, even in midsummer, may ocassionally produce hypothermia, a condition in which the body stops generating heat and which, if let untreated, can be fatal. The victim may not recognize anything is wrong but may seem disoriented. Carry a Thermos of something hot on a climb, even if the day seems balmy.
In an emergency (or maybe even if it isn't), cuddle up with the victim in a sleeping bag or under a blanket. See how nice some healthful things can be?
Finally the good news: The FDA last year approved for sale without prescription, topical creams containing hydrocortisone. One is Cortaid, another Dermolate. Your druggist can tell you of others. They are useful in controlling the itching or minor poison ivy or oak rashes, inspect bites and other minor rashes.
For jellyfish stings try meat tenderizing.
And, oh yes, keep an eye out for sharks . . .