The temperature outside is in the teens or single digits. It’s snowing and windy. Baby, it’s cold outside.
But I don’t live outside. I live in a modern house. With insulation, and good modern windows and weatherstripping and a furnace. The indoor temperature is a controlled and constant 68º. So why am I freezing?
(OK, so I’m not actually freezing. My son has just finished the summer on the South Pole where it is actually beyond freezing – daytime temperatures in the -30º range.) A lot of people with MS, myself included, are adversely affected by heat. When the temperature rises, we crash. Sensitivity to heat is common and understood in multiple sclerosis. I remember July afternoons when I was still working, stumbling across the 50 feet of parking lot from the office back door to my car. Heat is my Kryptonite.
But I’d never heard of the same kind of sensitivity to cold. And never experienced it until this winter. It started with feeling extra stiff and immobile, which I attributed to fatigue (as I do most unrecognized symptoms.). Then I wondered if it could have any relation to the fact that I always feel cold, especially my feet.
I put it to The Google. It’s not imaginary, it’s a thing. It’s called thermoregulatory dysfunction. David G. Baker, in The Journal of Applied Physiology, (for a good time, follow them on Twitter: @japplphysiol) says that heat “can turn a limping gait into no gait at all,” while, “hot air from a hair dryer can turn a hopeful morning into an exhausting one.” (Let that be a lesson to you.) I don’t entirely understand the mechanism, although it makes sense intuitively. Put spaghetti into boiling water, it gets all limp. Which makes the inverse also logical – put cooked spaghetti into the freezer (which I don’t recommend), it gets hard. It is essentially the same for the already compromised nerve conduction in the multiple sclerosis brain. Heat it up, it goes limp; cool it down, it seizes.
So I add another horse onto my MS merry-go-round. I plug in the space heater and put on my wooly sox. Or strip down to t-shirt and shorts in front of the fan. Keep my cooling vest and heating pad at the ready. Or both.