Who leaves someone in a vehicle all day with the windows rolled up? Our clients. No one would think of leaving a dog in a car on a hot day, yet Private Investigators are expected by their clients to sit in their vehicle in all kinds of weather conditions, for long hours. While the effects of exposure are obvious, investigators may experience a myriad of health problems in the field. These issues can range from back problems, bladder problems, dehydration, and psychological problems. It’s a dangerous job, this PI business; bad guys and guns are the downfall of pulp fiction private eyes, but in real life, preventing health problems is the key to a successful career.
It’s 85° (29.4°c) and the radio announcer is warning people not to leave pets in their vehicle, even with the windows rolled down. You are listening to this in your car, where you have been sitting on surveillance for the past six hours.
On a sunny, summer day, the temperature inside a parked car can exceed 122° (50°C) in just over 10 minutes. Opening the windows slightly is not enough to make a substantial difference. Weather can wreak havoc with even the most seasoned investigator’s day. You have a dilemma: if you drink you will have to urinate and if you don’t drink you are soon going to become very dehydrated. Try not to drink coffee or tea on hot days because these drinks are diuretic. Investigators are also at a disadvantage, as dark clothing is usually worn to be inconspicuous, but this also attracts the sun.
Try to park in the shade, if at all possible. For obvious reasons, surveillance vehicles should have tinted windows but this also helps to cut down the heat and UV rays. Always carry a cooler with ice packs and water. A chilled facecloth or spray bottle of water is great ways to cool off your face.
There are neck wraps you can buy which are filled with gel that retains water. The Cobber Body Cooling Neck Wrap is one. It lowers the body temperature by cooling the carotid arteries in the neck.
Protect your eyes and skin. Always wear sunscreen; you can get a suntan in your car. Wear good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays. This will help to prevent macular degeneration or cataracts in later life.
Investigation managers should take into account weather conditions when assigning files to their investigators. If it is crucial that surveillance not be cut short, it should be arranged to have investigators relieved.
If you experience a combination of these symptoms, leave the surveillance, as you may be suffering the effects of heats exhaustion or stroke:
• Muscle cramps
• Initial moist skin changing to dry
• Rapid pulse
Winter weather can also be challenging. Dress in layers, including long underwear. Hot packs can provide up to ten hours of heat and can be placed on any part of the body.
According to Dr. Don Fitz-Ritson, B.A. (Hon.) D.C., FCCRS(C), sitting is one of the most unrecognized, but devastating stresses affecting your body and your mind. The vibration from driving exacerbates the problem. Sitting weakens key muscles in your spine. This can lead to everything from degeneration of the vertebral column to, respiratory, digestive problems, weight gain and fatigue.
While taking a break from sitting every hour is recommended, this cannot be accomplished on surveillance. Try to change position. Use a lumbar support or backrest. All surveillance people will end up with back pain at some time. Sitting in slouched and odd positions cannot be helped at times, especially when videotaping can cause strains and other problems. Dr. Fitz-Ritson recommends that if back problems develop, begin a structured rehabilitation program. Strengthening your low back will help prevent the key muscles which weaken due to sitting, from getting worse.
Dr.Fitz-Ritson has been practicing for over 25 years and is an Assistant Professor at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. He was President of the Posture Research Institute, Chairman of the Chiropractic Sciences Department.
Investigators who take on undercover assignments face a different kind of challenge. They may be working in a factory doing physical labor that they are not used to. This can lead to serious back injuries and other illnesses.
Acupuncture can be very helpful for all kinds of problems including back pain, digestive problems, headache and general well being. It is a very relaxing treatment. If you do not like needles, don’t worry, they are so small you won’t even feel them entering your skin.
Don’t end up as the Subject of another investigator’s surveillance. The more time on the road, the greater your chances of being in an accident. Investigators often have to drive in a dangerous manner when following a subject, and are often tired or suffering from heat or cold. Add the distractions of note taking, videotaping, and you are an accident waiting to happen.
How many times have you followed someone to rehab or physiotherapy? This is not something to neglect. There is a time to take advantage of the benefits of your auto insurance policy. Find out what services are provided, which can include a treatment plan and equipment or care giving expenses. If possible, work for a company with extended health benefits.
Mental health is one of the most ignored problems of the investigation industry. Surveillance is a lonely and stressful occupation. It goes without saying that if you are the type of person who doesn’t like to be alone; this is not the job for you. Someone who bores easily and cannot entertain themselves is not going to have the concentration to stay awake and aware during those tedious hours of surveillance.
Traffic conditions, dangerous surveillance locations, can all lead to anxiety, road rage and other problems. Talk to others on your cell phone, listen to the radio: music is soothing and talk radio lets you feel as if you are not alone. Keep occupied, but in a way that does not take your concentration away from the job.
Stress and depression can sometimes lead to drug or alcohol abuse. Driving while drinking is a definite no, but taking drugs, even prescription drugs, can make you lose your concentration and impair your driving ability. A lot of investigators go out after work for a few drinks, and it is great to relax and let off steam, but the hard drinking private eye portrayed in books and movies is not something to aspire to. From my experience, investigators seem to be wary of psychotherapy. As a private investigator and a writer, I live in two worlds. Practically everyone in the writing world is in therapy, but other than myself, I do not know any investigators who have been to a therapist to talk about their problems and they all seemed to question my choice to do so. It is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.
Pets are good for emotional health, and some investigators take their dogs on surveillance, however you must weigh the benefits with the dog’s safety and the type of surveillance you are conducting. If there is a chance you will have to leave the dog in the vehicle for an extended time, don’t do it.
Nutrition and Exercise
Many investigators end up gaining weight from sitting and eating. We often eat on the run, coffee and muffin in the morning on the way to the surveillance; grab a bite when we can. It is best to always have food on hand, otherwise by the time you leave the surveillance you will racing to the drive thru. Protein bars, nuts, fruit and vegetables are all good choices. Be careful with food that will spoil in the summer. You can purchase coolers which plug into your cigarette lighter, many also have the function of keeping food hot. Bring a portable power source if you do not want to run down your battery.
Fatigue can be a problem and drinking a lot of coffee is not the answer. It is not really healthy, but an occasional Red Bull or other energy drink can help in those occasions you really need to keep going.
Joining a gym and exercising after work is commendable if you can do it. Swimming, Pilates and Yoga are all good forms of exercise. Massage therapy is not only good for you, but feels fantastic. Find stretching exercises you can do in your car. Sleep can also difficult when you are working at odd hours. Don’t drink coffee late at night. There are many holistic forms of treatment available and nutritional supplements you can take. Valerian is a natural herb that will help you sleep.
At one time or other, most investigators will invest in a new vehicle. That new car smell is intoxicating, in more ways than you think. The scent is comprised of outgassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from materials used inside the car. This can include sources such as carpeting, leather, vinyl and adhesives. If you have a new vehicle make sure you keep it well ventilated for the first few months.
You are also breathing pollution from exhaust fumes. Investigators who smoke are only adding to the toxic mix. This may sound a little crazy, but get a live plant and put it in your car, plants clean the air. A small spider plant, for instance, kept below the dashboard so it does not attract attention, will remove chemicals from the air. Plants provide oxygen and have the added bonus of being nice to look at. While you are on surveillance your vehicle is your office and your home, make it as comfortable as you can.
Women’s Health Issues
Make no mistake, women make great investigators and are equal to men in every way, but we do have different needs. Urination is one problem. Men have it easier in this regard because they can use a bottle but no matter what women do, they need to do the squat, and it isn’t a comfortable situation. We end up holding it and this is not good for the bladder. These issues are embarrassing and difficult to discuss, for instance one time when I had to testify in court, the defense lawyer asked how I went to the bathroom, since I did not leave the surveillance for 9 hours. As I started to explain that I had something called a female urinary device in my car shaped like a funnel, the crown said that the question was irrelevant and there was no need to hear the details. The judge agreed.
Even more embarrassing are the other elimination problems we all suffer from, it is sufficient to say that if you have to go, you have to go. We are only human after all!
Women may need more access to a washroom when they are on their periods. Some women have pain and heavy bleeding which can interfere with work.
Pregnancy can be difficult to manage in this occupation and as someone who went through menopause while on the road; I can tell you that hot flashes in a hot car do not make for a happy investigator.
Some women can be under more stress, I know a couple of female investigators, including myself, who were single mothers. Raising a family and working the strange hours of an investigator can be a heavy responsibility. On the other hand, we can wear a skirt on a hot day.
Aging and the Investigator
Many older investigators eventually leave the road, at least full time, and take on office or other assignments. Surveillance is rough on the body and the long and varied hours and other conditions may not be suitable for someone with heart disease, arthritis, or other age related problems.
Take assignments that will be easier on your body, for instance: labor disputes. The work is usually 12 hour shifts, but often there is not much going on and you can leave your vehicle, walk around and yes, go to the washroom. Retail investigations and any other position where you will not be in a vehicle for hours may be a good idea in these cases.
If you are in your forties, you should plan for the time you will no longer be able to perform on the road. Take courses so you will be prepared to move up into a management role. Some ambitious investigators will open their own agency, but may find they still have to do surveillance until the business is successful. You can have a long and healthy career as a private investigator if you pay attention to your body and listen to what it is telling you.
Pamela Stewart has been a private investigator for over 20 years, the last three years as an Investigations Manager with Mustang Investigations, Inc. in Toronto, Canada. A busy author too, Pamela has written fiction and is a published author of a book of short stories, Elysium; she was a contributor to the American Society of Industrial Security’s Protection of Assets Manual as well.