Countdown to Winter

Today in southeast Michigan, the temperature reached 88 degrees, humidity 70%. A distant crack of thunder and one, count ‘em one, flash of lightning threatened a storm that never happened. A tornado warning siren suddenly blew while I walked into the grocery store. I barely got inside the door when I was shooed away by the flustered manager who told me the store was closed and I’d have to find cover in some other building. I was not daunted, nor was I scared or worried. Tornado warning sirens in my town are like the boy who cried wolf. After so many false alarms, I just can’t muster up a solid case of gut-wrenching terror anymore. Jaded and complacent, I drove thru McDonald’s for a chicken sandwich on my way home. No deadly twister scooped me up and flung me into oblivion as punishment for my cavalier attitude. Maybe I was protected by mucho layers of good karma. But it’s more than likely that it never would have happened anyway. As far back as I can remember, extreme weather only ever ruffles the edges of the township before wrecking some nice people’s homes in the next town over. What's more, my little hamlet is like the Bermuda Triangle: You can barely get a signal for your cell phone no matter what carrier you use. People have reported talking to friends on their cells who are driving through my town when their calls were abruptly dropped, and the friend was never heard from again. (Probably not true, but I love telling people that story who aren’t from here.) There’s probably a meteorological explanation for all of this nonsense, but it’s more fun thinking the lost city of Atlantis might somehow be responsible.

Multiple sclerosis-wise, I’m not happy that it’s the end of August and the steamy heat is still knocking me back whenever I step outside my air-conditioned apartment. I use some intestinal fortitude—or is that the MS hug tightening my ribcage?--to forge ahead to my car through the nearly visible curtain of humidity. I wistfully recall crisp autumn afternoons and low electric bills. This summer has been so brutal that the A/C pushed my energy bill into triple digits for three months in a row. I yearn for winter and a forty-dollar energy bill.

But is winter really any better? I would be wrong to fantasize it as an escape from that oppressive heat/humidity combo that threatens a sudden pseudo-exacerbation at any moment. Because it’s a fact that battling any kind of infection can produce the same symptoms. I have been struggling with frequent infections during the past four seasons, which, yes, included winter. It’s also a fact that I experience more pain in the winter. My hand, neck, and leg pain make regular appearances when the temperature dips towards freezing. It is eased by directly applying heat such as a heating pad. Taking a long shower helps, too, if I need a head-to-toe warm-up. I’ve been told that exercising helps warm us up, too, relieving pain and spasticity. About all I can muster during the cold months is getting out of my recliner and walking to the refrigerator then to the computer and back to my recliner. It definitely reduces my lower back and pelvic pain. Frankly, I don’t like the word ‘exercise,’ it sounds too intense, like a new lover that wants to move in way too soon. I mean, who said triangulating a walkthrough in my apartment was any kind of commitment? I mean, you gotta sit, you gotta check your emails, and you gotta eat, right? And you have to move your body to do those things. So why make a huge logical leap from something that is basic biology and a Law of Physics and slap a label on it called exercise? It’s downright daunting, not to mention counter-productive. What’s really maddening is that when I actually do exercise, I feel better. Darn it.

Anyway, what we’re mainly talking about is anticipating the various scenarios that can bring on a pseudo-exacerbation, or just a bout of pain or stiffness. The best we can do is anticipate them and remember what to do to help relieve the symptoms.

By the way, the medical term for that pseudo-exacerbation is Uhthoff’s Phenomenon. If you want to amaze a doctor, use that one in an appointment when you’re describing your last event. I always impress new doctors when I use fancy medical terms, they usually ask me if I’m a nurse. They have very, very low expectations of us. It’s fun to shake them up from time to time. Just one more way to pass the time during the dark, cold months of winter. Hope yours is mild and pain-free.

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