If You Can't Stand The Heat
It was a miserably hot day in the middle of July 1894 when I was on my way home to 221B Baker Street after a long shift at St. Bart's. For two weeks the summer had reigned with full force over the city and the victims of heat related illnesses such as sunburns and heat exhaustion had swamped the hospitals. I had volunteered my services and had therefore rarely seen my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.Upon my return our dear landlady greeted me as soon as I entered the house.
"Good evening, Doctor Watson. Isn't this weather just dreadful?"
"It is indeed, Mrs. Hudson. I must admit, I am looking forward to a change of clothes and some light supper."
"You just go on and change and I will bring something up."
"By the way, is Mr. Holmes at home?"
"Oh yes, sir. Inspector Lestrade was here around noon and afterwards Mr. Holmes told me he had to do some chemical research and that under no circumstances was he to be disturbed."
"I see. Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
I went straight up to my room and changed into some light linen clothes. Then I went down to our shared sitting room. As soon as I opened the door, I had to take a step back for the blast of hot and humid air was nearly overwhelming. It felt like stepping into the steam room of a Turkish Bath. Cautiously I stepped into the room. The blinds were drawn against the blaze of the afternoon sun, so the room lay in half-darkness.
"Holmes?" I queried.
There was no answer. I went over to the nearest window and opened it to create a small draught. When I turned around in a murky attempt to locate my friend my heart surely skipped a beat. He was lying unconscious beside the table that supported his chemical equipment, his chair lying on the floor next to him.
I rushed to his side and knelt down. Turning him onto his back I started my examination after loosening his tie and opening his collar. Sherlock Holmes was the only man I could think of who would be so fastidious as to tolerate his complete attire in this heat. I laid my hand on his forehead; the skin was hot and dry to the touch. His cheeks were red, quite unnatural to his usual pallor and his breathing and pulse were fast and shallow.I fetched the thermometer from my medical bag and took his temperature. It was 106°F. There was no denying it; Holmes had suffered a severe heatstroke. More than likely my friend had ignored the first symptoms until his body finally succumbed to the room's extreme heat and humidity.
"Mrs. Hudson! Please bring up some cold water and linens immediately!" I shouted.
With some difficulty I lifted Holmes into my arms and brought him to his room where I settled him on the bed. Fortunately the room lay on the house's eastern side and was therefore comparatively cool in the afternoon. Mrs. Hudson arrived with a bowl of fresh water and an armful of linens.
"Good Lord, what happened, Doctor?"
"Mr. Holmes has suffered a heatstroke. Didn't you hear anything?"
"I heard nothing from him. But at around four o'clock I had to go out to the butcher's. It must have happened then."
I did a quick mental calculation. My friend had been lying in that room for almost two hours, as it was now past six o'clock.
"We need to cool him down."
Without further delay we began to strip the detective of his clothes, save his undergarments. Under normal circumstances Holmes would have been appalled at this intrusion into his privacy, but I had no consideration for his dignity at the moment, only wanting to lower his temperature before it became fatal, his body no longer being able to do it. Mrs. Hudson handed me the cold compresses and I applied them to Holmes's forehead, neck, chest and calves. After he looked like a half-finished mummy, I sent our landlady to fetch some fresh water and salt. I changed the compresses repeatedly as soon as they had soaked up some of Holmes's body heat. In due time and to my great relief, his breathing slowed and deepened and his pulse became strong and regular.Mrs. Hudson brought the requested water and salt before setting herself to the task of tidying up the mess I had left from my hap-hazarded procedures.
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
As I prepared a salty drink for my friend, I heard a low moan from the bed. Immediately I sat down next to him and took his hand, which was limp, and damp to the touch. The latter a result of the compress I had had draped across it a moment before.
Another low moan escaped his lips and the dark head rolled sluggishly on the pillow before he finally opened his eyes.
"Thank God, Holmes." I breathed a sigh of relief and laid my hand on his forehead which, thankfully, no longer exhibited the desperate heat of earlier.
The detective was obviously confused at the state in which he now found himself.
"Watson?" he queried.
"You were working on an experiment when the room came to resemble a furnace too perfectly for human habitation. You suffered a heatstroke and nearly fried your formidable brain, old man. It was a very foolish thing to do."
It took Holmes some time to take this in. Finally he said,
"A thousand apologies, my dear Watson..."
He stopped suddenly and his eyes grew wide. Just now he realized that he was stretched out on his bed, naked except for some sheets of linen and his undergarments. My friend's cheeks flushed a deep red, but this time from embarrassment, not fever. Completely mortified he averted his eyes. I began to discard the wet linens and toweled Holmes's skin dry without further explanation before helping him into a fresh nightshirt and covering him with a light blanket. I was not going to excuse my stripping him of his clothes.
"You must drink something to keep hydrated."
I offered him the glass of salt water. Holmes took it and after some tentative sips, he fairly gulped down the contents in mere seconds.
"Slowly, old fellow, or you'll make yourself sick." I admonished him.
I took the glass from him and soon my friend was asleep. I checked his temperature again but it remained normal for which I was thankful. With a lighter heart I sat back in a chair next to the bed to keep an eye on him for a while longer.After some minutes, Holmes became agitated. His eyes flew open, the color drained from his face and sweat was glistening on his forehead. My friend tried to roll onto his side before he threw up the little amount of salt water he had drunk mixed with gastric acid and bile. I sat down on the bed and supported his thin frame while he heaved without bringing anything more up. Finally he quieted and fairly collapsed back into my embrace, too exhausted to hold himself up any longer. While I held Holmes's shivering form, I heard a weak
"Don't worry, old fellow. This was likely to happen. Let's get you cleaned up."
I settled him back onto the bed and fetched fresh water and linens. Within a few minutes both Holmes and the bed were clean again. Once more I mixed salt into another glass of water and offered it to my friend. As I expected he turned his head away. I couldn't blame him.
"I am sorry, that you became sick after the last time, old fellow. But you must drink something to substitute the fluids and electrolytes you have lost." I reasoned with him.
"Just try one sip at a time, please?"
Holmes looked at me warily. At last he nodded and I gave him one sip to drink. Thankfully this time the fluid stayed where it should and after five more minutes my friend had another sip. This way it took him half an hour to drain the glass but he did not become sick again. I helped him to find a more comfortable position and sat back down in my chair. Holmes grasped my hand and squeezed it lightly.
"Thank you, my dear Watson."
"You are welcome, Holmes. Get some rest now, lord knows you are in need of it."
I squeezed his hand back and watched as his eyes close. He was asleep almost immediately.