Sweat Lodge Fatalities Show Dangerous Ignorance
If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, I'm beginning to be convinced that an outrage a day keeps the doctor writing.
Today I read another one of those traumatic news stories that makes me want to yell and scream and jump up and down. Back in the 60s, shrinks used to charge money for that and call it "Primal Scream Therapy."
The death of two people, a 38 year old woman and a 40 year old man, at a 50 person self- improvement seminar led by James Arthur Ray, a self-improvement guru, does not sound like a "tragedy." Hamlet is a tragedy. The death of people in the Twin Towers was a tragedy. These deaths sound suspicious at best, and an avoidable result of a questionable practice at worst.
Mr. Ray uses the format and marketing strategies that are typical of self-anointed self- help gurus. I know about this because I have studied them. His web page has a look of familiarity. I think everyone who surfs the internet has landed at least once on this kind of page.
Success among the charlatans seems to take a just-old-enough and good-looking male and a certain kind of recognizable approach to the public. (I suppose by now everyone knows that I am female and try to look the best I can.)
I will grant that people do need somebody to tell them about how to think positively and improve their lives. It is true that lots of people go about mired in negative thinking and that is a serious roadblock to happiness and well-being. It is also true that part of the money-making power of these people is the ability to sell multimedia productions that get people excited about money and power and yes, it can be done. For those more thrifty souls, there is actually a lot of free information available about this on the internet.
I am more concerned about the deaths of two young people, probably somewhere around their prime of life fulfillment, who died.
One of the first things my staff colleagues told me about when I started working in the prison system was a couple of deaths of inmates some time ago. This resulted in some kind of a class action suit that cost the prison (and the state of California) a big bunch of money, and mandated special training for staff and special treatment for inmates. The inmates, who had been on psychotropic medication, were in an enclosure with glass windows while waiting for routine medical care. Nobody was aware that certain medications increase the risks when patients are exposed to such heat.
If that sounds like a greenhouse to you, then you are one jump ahead of me on this story. As you can guess, the temperature in the enclosure became so extreme that a couple of inmates actually died. As a result, all staff were indoctrinated in the dangers of hyperthermia. I vowed that nothing even remotely resembling that horrible state of affairs that had killed people would happen while I had any authority in penal institutions. Nor will it, when I am in charge of anything. We have got to keep people alive.
Hyperthermia does kill previously healthy people. Some populations may be more likely to die than others. This sweat lodge set up a situation that nobody who knows what they were doing would ever play with. The news report said temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mr. Ray said he was sorry, did not know how to handle this, would appoint a committee and investigate it himself. This sounds like what the government does -- appoint a committee to study itself, a committee which by definition cannot and will not be unbiased. I didn't realize we civilians could do this, and I dread the day when somebody who kills an innocent bystander while DUI is allowed to investigate himself. Maybe if one has enough money, this option is open -- it just isn't revealed to us of the lower classes.
A family spokesperson of one of the people who died said something good about Mr. Ray. Of course, this could have been a staffer of Mr. Ray posing as a family member. Or perhaps the family members were under the spell of this guru and his mystical, spiritual trappings.
Kind words from the victim's relatives don't mitigate the damage done.
The photo of the "sweat lodge" looked a lot like a bunch of layers of plastic tarpaulin to me. People were supposed to be pushed beyond their limits, as it is generally acknowledged that this is how one makes progress. I suppose that might include death.
But I lived many years in the venerable state of Kansas, and knew several people who had been to sweat lodge which as far as I knew was performed in traditions which at least tried to approximate the conditions of the native American tradition of that same name. This involved spiritual reverence and preparation; and yes, some temperature changes.
Curiously enough, every sweat lodge I ever heard about in Kansas involved a fire (that was closely watched) in some kind of a temporary building made of natural materials and afterward, some frolicking in the snow, for they seemed to have taken place in winter. Nobody, as far as I know, died.
There is one interesting page with a "how to" about sweat lodges and varied links on the subject.
The photos look nothing like Mr. Ray's sweat lodge. A lot of people in various things, like Wiccan celebrations, make a jump from tradition to New Age. It works in a lot of spheres. But it does not seem to work in this one
Wikipedia is wonderful and fascinating. I do not expect it to be complete or thorough, and it certainly is not known for its disclaimers. But this article clearly says that anyone who wants to go through a Sweat Lodge experience should visit a physician first. I am delighted somebody besides me said this.
This article discusses "sweat lodge syndrome" as it explains the death of someone at a similar age and after a similar ritual in the Australian outback.
I think that any competent general physician who knew about the circumstances of a "Sweat Lodge" could have reviewed participants and risk factors before this experience, and been of some help here. I doubt that any did. Lots of medical conditions (maybe diabetes, maybe chronic infections) and some pretty common medications, such as diuretics commonly used to treat blood pressure or psychotropic medications used to treat psychiatric type symptoms, could have dramatically increased the risks of illness or death as a result of the sweat lodge experience.
No, I don't have any direct information about what has happened here more than what I read in the news. But I am very concerned that it is possible that someone who had wealth and power could start a business that involves so much risk -- and would do so in total ignorance of safety precautions.
The profession of medicine does have at least some value, despite frequent attacks upon it. It could have been of definite value here. A pre-sweat lodge medical assessment would not have been covered by any health insurance plan known to me or imagined by anyone. It just could help keep people alive.
Now I am not sure that everyone has to become a compulsive dieter or exerciser. That can cause you more worries than it cures.
But I am sure that people need to know something about what they are doing and why.
Ladies and gentlemen, please take the best care of your bodies that you can. With still- rare opportunities for replacement of worn-out parts, it is basically one to a customer.
If you want a personal improvement course, consider starting with something you can do indoors with either heating or air conditioning as comfort may require.
If you want to expose yourself to physical challenges, do what every school kid amateur athlete does, and what the professionals do as well. Get a medical checkup.
Medicine can help.
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