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the cold can be dangerous for spinal cord injury patients? Wolfgang Illek has been paralysed from the neck down following a bike accident and knows why.
I am lying in my bed, shivering all over. My teeth are chattering and my wife says that my feet feel like blocks of ice. Even though I can’t feel my body from the neck down, these symptoms tell me that my situation is quite serious...
What has happened? Affected patients frequently suffer from disturbed body temperature regulation. Our bodies not only overheat easily, but also start freezing when the temperature drops ever so slightly. The big problem is that the cold doesn’t give us goose bumps, which usually provide added insulation by creating little air pockets. Given that we cannot feel the cold, we develop hypothermia quicker than others - often without even noticing. This can result in diseases such as cystitis or pneumonia and - in the worst case – frostbite.
As always, this means that I need to plan many things well in advance. I wear several layers of warm clothing in winter. However, I need to ensure that the clothing isn’t too tight, as that could disrupt my blood circulation. As a precaution, I always bring along a thick pair of down trousers and a jacket. I drink warm tea and never spend more than two hours outside, no matter how glorious the winter day may be.
When I begin to shiver, it is usually already too late to counteract the process. I then need to relocate to a warm environment immediately. Naturally, I would love to take a hot bath in such situations. Given that I’m dependent on help, I usually don’t give in to that particular wish. Warm drinks, a radiator, and crawling into my bed with thick blankets are among the most effective countermeasures. Nevertheless, it often takes hours for me to warm up. The fear of the possible consequences lingers much longer than that.