The dangers of dehydration

Doug Potter shares the reason for his mom’s passing and goes on to educate us on the dangers of dehydration.

I am blessed with longevity on my dad’s side of the family, with his grandpa living to 104 and his mom two months shy of 101. I thought if I don’t get hit by a train or die in a car crash, I might break a new family record myself.

There were many family discussions around living and dying around our dinner table, with half of us in the medical field. We even signed up for to see how far back we could chase this longevity gene and our string of good luck.

We never thought in a million years that one of us would die from something as simple as dehydration.

My mom

My mom, Nancy Potter, was a labour and delivery nurse. She worked from the time she was 21 till she retired at 70. When my parents retired, they travelled extensively from Europe to Africa and within the United States, where they lived.

On what would be her last vacation with my father, they went on a road trip along the New England states ending in Maine by the Canadian border. It was a typical trip by all accounts as they would stop about every three to four hours for fuel, a visit to a restroom, and a bite to eat and drink.

On this trip, she was more tired and thirsty and thought if she drank liquids every time, they would have to stop more so she didn’t and rather just slept.

By the time they had reached their destination, her kidneys were screaming in pain and she had to go to the hospital. She was admitted that night in Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Pennsylvania.

Kidney stones

One of the causes of kidney stones is constant low urine volume caused by not drinking enough fluids. Dehydration is a harmful reduction in the amount of water in the body.

In my mom’s case, the pain of the kidney stones caused a rise in her heart rate and blood pressure. She was being treated for kidney stones but within the next hour would go blind and become confused. When pressure is exerted in the brain, it causes swelling and dependent on what part of your brain swells shows a deficit in that area.

My mom’s brain swelled at the back and she was diagnosed with posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES). Her symptoms got better and she could travel back with us to her home in Charleston, South Carolina.

There she was admitted to Roper St. Francis Hospital, in Charleston, and would remain there, off and on for the next few months.

Oddly enough, the hospital she was first admitted to and the one she eventually passed away in, were the hospital she trained at 57 years ago and the one she retired from.

When I look back on all this…it is something a bottle of water could have fixed. So, therefore, I am explaining the secrets of dehydration.


Mild dehydration – 5% fluid loss.

Moderate dehydration – 10% fluid loss.

Severe dehydration – 15% or more fluid loss.

  • If you feel thirsty, you’re about 300ml in low to mild dehydration.
  • You’re about 700ml in low to moderate dehydration, if you do a skin turgor test and pull the skin on the back of your hand and it releases slow.
  • If your heart is beating 20 beats higher than normal or you have palpitations, you could have severe dehydration.

So, some advice for this summer

How much you need to drink each day relies on your medical conditions, your activity level and your body weight.

The formula is for every kilogram of body weight you should drink 30ml of water. I currently weigh around 100kg. So, I should drink 3,3 litres a day, or more if I’m jogging, or when it’s hotter.

The day my mom passed on changed my life and created a hole which will probably never get filled. So, if I’m to take something positive out of this situation, it would be to tell others drink more water and take care of their health. Mom, I will see you in 50 more years when I break that family record.


Dr Doug Potter is a pre-eminent specialist in fatigue risk management, chronobiology, shift scheduling and nutritional evaluations in South Africa. He has developed fatigue and nutritional programmes for numerous companies in Brazil, UK, USA and South Africa. He was the primary consultant for the development of the Africa’s first fatigue centre. His passions are research in Alzheimer’s, wellness and fatigue management. His goal is to be the kind of person his dog thinks he is!

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