Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Hot Box

     Yesterday we were back at the gym, and one of the things that many people do at the gym is take a sauna.  You know, it's that tiny little room that is all made out of wood with a bench in it and that little goofy stove with the rocks that people sit in with their towels and just sit there and sweat their asses off.  Well, be careful.  That can be a dangerous thing.
    The sauna is the Finnish version of something that is done all around the world.  What it basically is is a steam bath that is used in conjunction with some other methods to cleanse the body and create healthful benefits.  The way they go about creating this steam bath is by heating a little room up to about eleventy billion degrees with a little stove or some hot rocks, then throwing water down upon them.  Makes sense.  Lots of people engage in this practice, and different cultures do it in different ways.  Some go out and jump in a lake or roll in the snow, some beat themselves with baby tree limbs, whatever.  Well, the Finns, who are masters of the sauna, have taken it to another level with their World Sauna Championships.  Except that it didn't work as planned.
     Since the Russians are equally adept at their version of the sauna - called the banya - it should be no surprise that the finals of the World Sauna Championship came down to Vladimir Ladyzhensky of Russia and Timo Kaukonen of Finland.  Timo went off in an ambulance with severe burns, and Vladimir went off in a pine box after succumbing to the intense heat.
     How intense of a heat you might be asking.  Well, the event requires contestants to withstand 110º for as long as they can.  110º?  Piece of cake you are probably saying.  But that is 110º C, which for our mathematically adepts followers is roughly 230ºF.  That is 18º hotter than the boiling point of water.  Judges began to notice something was wrong after six minutes and called in the medical professionals.  Now, before you begin to rag on this whole thing, there were plenty of first aid personnel at the competition, all rules were followed, and each contestant had to have a doctor's certificate of fitness before entering the competition.  So it is not like there was a blatant disregard for health.  Plus, 230ºF in a sauna is apparently no big deal in Finland, or at least not in the sauna competition world, because between stating that the organizers were grief-striken by Mr. Ladyzhensky's untimely death and declaring that the competition would never be held again, Chief Organizer Ossi Arvela made sure to tell everyone that he wasn't sure it was all that hot.
     But it doesn't matter.  It really doesn't.  I understand that these guys fully and completely understood into what they were getting, but the AIR TEMPERATURE is still hotter than boiling water in there, and there is no way the human body is made to withstand that.  Once you figure in the half liter of water that was thrown on the coals every 30 seconds, the heat index, a favorite of television weatherpersons everywhere for it's sexy ratings value, had to be through the roof.  At that temperature and humidity things like evaporation are essentially halted, and as you might remember from life sciences class, that is how the human body cools itself.  So the fact that one man died and another is clinging to life shouldn't really surprise anyone.  Just think about what breathing that hot, hot air would do to your lungs.  I know that at about 120 the phlegm in mine starts to loosen up, so I can't even imagine what is happening in there at 230.  Good Lord.  The wallpaper on my bedroom wall is starting to peel off just thinking about that. 
     The fact that nobody else has died or been hospitalized since the competition began in 1999 shocks me, and that none of the over 130 participants from 15 countries had any trouble is a miracle.  But they are smart to not have the competition anymore, because it is inherently dangerous, otherwise we would be dipping ourselves in boiling water all the time as a way of cleaning off and whatnot.  So it just makes good sense.  Too bad no one figured that out before this all happened.

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