Personal Winter

Since I completed treatment for cancer, I experience a Polar Bear Plunge year-round indoors or out. My radiation ended in November, but it wasn’t winter yet and the temperatures hadn’t reached below the 40’s. Yet, I was welcomed to the opposite of hell weather, yet hell, nonetheless. I am immersed in frigid cold no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

My treatments wreaked havoc on my body that interfered with my ability to get warm. I developed a severe case of Reynaud’s Syndrome. Signs and symptoms included cold fingers and toes, color changes to my skin in response to cold or stress. Shortly after my second round of chemo, my fingers turned blue and felt cold and numb. The patient techs were unable to obtain an oxygen reading of my fingers because of their coldness. I began to experience blisters and cracking of the skin on my fingertips, which the doctors found baffling. While they acknowledged that Reynaud’s may be the culprit, they had no suggestion to minimize my pain and discomfort. Their words of comfort: “It will get worse before it gets better.”

And they were correct. I became virtually incapacitated with fingers that hurt 100% of the time. I was unable to button my clothes, prepare a meal or dial a phone (not true, I don’t have a rotary phone although I would be unable to dial it if I did).

A specialist advised me to wear gloves 24/7, indoors and out. My circulation in my fingertips was nil, shot to hell and I was now relegated to finding gloves to match all my outfits, including pajamas. Hey, I decided to make it as fun as possible.

So many joys of life have changed by necessity because of my new Arctic state. A warm beer’s frothy head, while not thirst-quenching, does slide down my throat quite smoothly. Ice cubes are no longer welcome in my refreshing glass of tepid tap water. Ice cream has become anathema, unless I let it melt into the “soup” of my childhood, when my parents raged at me for wasting perfectly good ice cream.  Hmm…perhaps a prescient part of my psyche was preparing for the eventuality of a warm ice cream journey in my later years? Youth is wasted on the young, they say, and while I was perfectly content to ladle Dolly Madison fudge ripple down my adventurous throat, Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy just doesn’t lend itself to liquification.

The pinnacle of each day involves a hot shower followed by a rough and tumble encounter in bed. Not the wild nights of my not so distant past when my husband and I would find ourselves in a jumble of bedclothes after a salacious interlude between the sheets. Now my bed experience consists of a deep dive into five layers of wool blankets and flannel sheets, bedecked in a flannel nightgown with socks and gloves to match. Should a tornado remove our roof, I can only assume that I am prepared with appropriate garb. I wonder if my insurance company will pay for my exorbitant hot water bills. I, for one, deem them a medical necessity.

As with all that is negative, a silver lining peeks through the dark sky. With my newly formed frozen persona, I am no longer tempted to push the limits of fashion by wearing skirts too short for my age. Then again, if being outlandish gives me pleasure at this rough point in my life, who am I to deprive myself of the indulgence? I’ll toast a warm Guinness to that.

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