Winter, and the fine art of hunkering down

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on January 16, 2019 # Health, Mobility

After spending the better part of my life enjoying outdoor activities in the wintertime, the paralysis caused by my spinal cord injury has turned me into a real wuss when it comes to outdoor temperatures. I begin bundling up as if I live in the Arctic whenever the thermometer drops below 40°; even at that relatively minor cold temperature, it can take all night with my feet encased in wool socks under a down comforter before they begin to warm up.

I now leave winter sports to my hardier peers. It is wonderful that they can sit motionless in a cold hunting blind for hours on end or power a sit ski down a snowy slope with graceful swooping turns, but that much exposure to the cold has my muscles contracting to the point that they are useless no matter how much I want them to do something. Besides, my wheelchair is useless if there is snow or ice on the ground.

Rather than focusing on things to do outdoors when the mercury drops, I concentrate my efforts on being successful at the pastime of hunkering down. That requires some careful planning, the ability to follow rules that may seem alien to others, and having access to some type of electronic device to play movies or other types of entertainment, within certain limits. It is possible that hunkering down can actually continue for weeks or months on end but, usually, my hunkering down season ends whenever the nighttime temperatures begin to stay above 50° for at least five nights at a time.

There are some important considerations when participating in this activity, which some people might consider to be inactivity. Most of these guidelines have been developed by me through practice, and I continue to seek perfection when it comes to their application:

  • Maintain a schedule. I prefer to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up earlier as it makes me feel more productive, even when I am not.
  • Don't do activities in bed that are normally done while up and about. Feeling lethargic is one thing, but being lethargic is not good.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks. Avoid overindulging on sweets and salts; instead, substitute lots of fruit and perhaps some dry microwave popcorn.
  • Continue to exercise in whatever way possible. This is necessary to ensure that life can go on as before when hunkering down season is over.
  • Get dressed every day. Remember, there may be visitors who won't understand why you are still in your pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Don't overdo the number of action movies or video games with violent themes. There is no sense getting angry, frustrated or depressed when there is limited opportunity to work off that stress.
  • Keep in touch with family members, friends and neighbors on a regular basis so they know you are okay. The other people in your life are probably going about their regular activities, so it is up to you to check in.
  • Limit the use of social media, preferably to less than two hours per day. There is no sense wasting valuable hunkering down time by wasting time on social media.
  • Invite visitors periodically, especially if there is an interesting show or sporting event on television that they may want to watch with you.
  • Drink plenty of liquids, but limit alcohol consumption.
  • Catch up on overdue correspondence, on e-mail, or prepare greeting cards for upcoming holidays.
  • Read enough to finish a book a week. Start a book exchange with neighbors if getting low on unread reading materials.

While I realize that my rules may not work for everyone, there may come a day when even the most 'outdoorsy' wheelchair user decides that hunkering down sounds like a great opportunity. When that happens, these rules may come in handy.

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.