Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Posted by Candace Cable in Life After Paralysis on February 09, 2016 # Health, Travel

Well, February second is the exact halfway point between the winter solstice, the darkest, longest night of the year and the vernal equinox or spring and Easter. This date is also Groundhog Day when Punxsutawney Phil, America’s folk-hero ground hog and shinning paragon of weather forecasting determines the length of winter, when he does or does not see his shadow. The shadow bit will determine if it is to be an early spring, six weeks away or six weeks more of winter? Really this prediction is the same conclusion, pretty much six more weeks of cold, wet, windy, rainy and snowy weather.

I have a friend that lives in New York City and uses a wheelchair for mobility. On the first day of the last big snow storm she had to get to work. So off she went, resolved to drive from uptown to downtown, as the subway would have been a complete gridlock for someone in a wheelchair. Luckily she had a friend that got stranded by the storm staying with her. As they ventured out it was clear, just moving from place to place, she would need major help. She said she was being drug by people, moved around like a potted plant from spot to spot. Then there she sat until the move began again.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been that potted plant, moved, planted, moved, planted and if I’m not dressed for warmth, I quickly begin to chill, shiver and wish I’d never gone outside. So it doesn’t matter where you’re from, Boston, LA, New York or Chicago, there’s no way around it, winter can feel like a long dark, cold tunnel. Mike Collins wrote a recent blog about all the outside and home preparations we should take care to make when winter hits and Phil says we have six more weeks of winter. I’m offering the inside and outside of our bodies 411 of the proper nourishment and piles of clothes when we move from inside to outside.

The word nourishment may not be the first thing you think of when you get ready to go outside, but it is a vital piece of the “staying warm in the cold” equation. When it’s cold, its dry, even if it’s raining we have to battle dehydration. As babies our bodies are 75 to 80% water. As we age into adult bodies our water content diminishes to 60 to 65% for men and for women to 50 to 60% because of the higher percentage of dense adipose or fatty tissue. Our brains are 70 to 85% water, our bones 10 to 15% water, our lungs 90% and our blood 83% water. Really every system in our bodies
depends on water to function, well.

Water’s "stickiness" coupled with our blood plays a never ending vital role in digesting our food, controlling body temperature, transporting nutrients through our bodies and waste out of our bodies. Much of our body un-wellness we experience can be due to chronic dehydration and most people with spinal cord injuries struggle to stay hydrated. Coffee, tea, juice or soda do not count toward hydration, the caffeine and high sugar content of these beverages dehydrate all our cells. Hydration is critical in winter weather. When the body gets dehydrated cold sets in more easily and our circulation is slowed way down.

On to the right combination of clothing so that your not to warm and sweating or too cold and shivering. Wearing loose, but not too loose, lightweight, warm (really what is warm?) clothing in several layers helps trap air between the layers acting as an insulator. Layers can be removed as we warm up to avoid excess perspiration and the subsequent chill that can follow. No cotton in any layers! Search and rescue teams stress that once cotton is wet, it stays wet allowing hyperthermia to set in quickly. Clothing to wear, polypropylene or any man made fibers as well as the new light weight wool fabrics will keep our body temperature up, even when wet from sweat and these materials are made to wick moisture away from the body so water can evaporate or “breathe” as they say in the outdoor clothing industry.

A couple of layers tucked in anchors my clothing and avoids any exposed skin that could become frostbitten. Frostbitten skin feels cold to the touch and may feel numb on areas where you have sensation. If it turns white or grayish-yellow frostbite can be suspected. Move to a warm area and cover the affected area with something warm and dry. Never rub the skin or put it in warm water. I had some frostbite on my face, the cheekbone area, and the feeling was a stinging, burning sensation. I now have to protect those areas with zinc oxide or white tape, I know this is a super glamorous look, when I experience extreme cold temps.

The outer layers should be lightweight as possible and at least water and wind resistant. If it’s really coming down cats and dogs rain, holding an umbrella is out of the equation, we need our hands to push our chairs, so I go for the full top to bottom waterproof gear. Be aware that anything waterproof is not going to “breathe” and you must prepare accordingly. Keeping feet warm and dry is critical when braving the cold and wet. Boot warmers as well as hand warmers can be very helpful, but make sure that you are constantly vigilant checking your skin. Take the time to practice using boot and hand warmers before going outside.

Rolling around in a wheelchair during wet and cold of weather is a lot like a high-wire walker, once our hands get wet each grasp of the pushrim is an act of concentrated isometric exercise, tensing and hold with just the right finger pressure to prevent our hands from slipping and the possibility falling out of our chairs. Mittens work well for hands if opening fingers is challenging. I carry two pairs of gloves with me, because when my gloves are wet, they are worthless for gripping and wet cold hands cause a chill to set in quicker. If hands become cold put them in the warmest parts of our bodies, under arms in armpit or crotch area, to warm rapidly but maybe not so comfortable.

I carry a hat at all times, one in my car and backpack. Head, feet and hands loose heat the quickest so wearing a hat or cap can be the easiest to remove or replace to regulate our body temp. Oh and don’t forget a scarf, these beauties can be the best part of our “stay warm” fashion statement.

So now that Phil didn’t see his shadow and we have six more weeks of winter, I hope this information can make the cold a little more enticing to go out and live life on the outside, even in the winter. Now go, be a potted plant with friends!

Sweet Dreams, and Blessings to All!!!

In Joy, Candace

© 2016 Candace Cable | Like Candace on Facebook | Follow Candace on Twitter

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.