When winter arrives, be ready

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on December 04, 2017

When the first snowflakes start fluttering down outside my window, my initial thoughts go back to my childhood when that first snowfall was a time of excitement and wonder. If it was heavy enough, we might be able to go sledding on the surrounding hills. With enough accumulation, snowmen, snow forts and snowball fights would be our weekend entertainment. Who knows? Deeper snow might even cause the school to proclaim a 'snow day' where we could play outside instead of sitting in a humid classroom while our coats were drying off from the soggy walk to school.

It doesn't take long and those thoughts disappear as quickly as they appeared. Cold and snow are no longer my friends since I joined the fraternity of those who require a wheelchair or other mobility device on a daily basis. My diminished circulation due to my cervical spinal cord injury means that my extremities remain cold for hours once exposed to frigid temperatures. Cranking up the thermostat in my home brings with it some higher utility bills which are not welcome with my current budget.

My power wheelchair is of little use on ice and snow, as the drive wheels--with minimal tread on the tires--spin futilely as I sit in one place. Taking a chance and heading outside by myself poses a risk that I choose to avoid, as it wouldn't take long for hypothermia to set in if I happened to get stranded while taking a cold winter jaunt.

Some people may categorize me as a "wuss" due to my dislike of the cold months; I prefer to think of it as taking advantage of my knowledge and experience to minimize problems in my life. That experience has also allowed me to be better prepared for winter, even in its most extremes.

Don't get me wrong; I am glad that many of my friends and family members enjoy winter by getting out and about in the cold weather as much as possible. While I am making sure that there is a set of tire chains, a warm blanket and some emergency food in the back of my van, they are mounting ski racks on their vehicles and getting ready to head for the slopes.

I watch weather reports to assure that I have time to winterize my home and vehicle before the snow arrives, but am nowhere near as vigilant as the thousands of area residents who track every inch of snow falling in the mountains in the hope that the ski areas will open early. While I am assembling my winter wardrobe from the back of closets or boxes in the garage, the skiers in my neighborhood are doing the same with their snowboards, skis and ski boots.

Some of my friends are examining and adjusting their sit skis and related adaptive equipment as they prepare to participate in the sport they love despite, or actually because of, the snow and cold. I know that the upcoming Winter Paralympics will serve as an introduction to adaptive sports for many individuals and that large numbers of spectators around the world may decide to give such sports a try. Cheering for them while watching on television and donating to their organizing committees will be my statement of support for the continuation, and actual expansion, of these games.

Our first snowfall has already arrived and melted away, but many more are sure to follow as this is predicted to be a La Nina winter. The last time this weather pattern existed I was without power at my home for 22 days thanks to snow and ice storms that caused branches and trees to fall across miles of power lines. That is a reason that emergency generators are a common household appliance for those of us living in the north; fortunately I have the fuel available for mine and have nearby relatives who will hook it up and start it during prolonged power outages.

Lanterns, flashlights, batteries of all types and new wool socks are gifts that are really appreciated when the lights go out and the temperature drops. My 'Go Bag' is always packed, and all I need is to update my prescription list in case the weather forces me to leave home; bring it on Winter, as I am ready for you.

© 2017 Michael Collins

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.