Flag over Lake

Handling Extreme Temperatures after Spinal Cord Injury

This Summer Deserves a High-Five

Last spring I wrote a piece for this blog called “This Past Winter Deserves a High Five.” My weather-based jubilance stemmed from the fact that I had just lived through the warmest winter of my life. Winters can be harsh on wheelchair users-especially in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the only two states I’ve lived in-for a variety of reasons, such as the difficulty of wheeling around in the snow, awful parking issues, and the ramp on my van acting temperamental due to the extreme temperatures. The winter before that was the worst winter of my life because the Minneapolis area got nailed with a hands-down state record 30+ inch snowstorm at the beginning of December and just like that it became the longest and least accessible winter season I’ve ever experienced. Just awful. So having a winter where we barely got any snow, it barely reached sub-zero temperatures, and that it even reached 55 degrees at some point in late January or early February was truly something to celebrate. It was awesome. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have summers, which can also be tough on me (and many of my fellow quad peeps) because our bodies don’t regulate heat like able-bodied folks. For example, I don’t sweat. To that end, I’ve often compared myself to cold-blooded animals because during the summer it seems like my body temperature rises to the temperature around me. So once the temperature gets above the mid 80’s it can be hard to spend extended periods of time outside without stating to feel over-heated. And once I get over-heated it takes quite a bit to cool me down again-usually a lot of cold water and air conditioning do the trick. I feel like the older I get the quicker the overheating goes down too. It’s rough. Obviously, that reduces the amount of normal summer fun that I can have, like spending a whole day at the beach and the like. For ten years my parents had a cabin on Lake Wissota in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. On average I would spend the weekend there about once every three weekends or so, including all major summer holidays. But then over the summers of 2011 and 2012 the number of weekend visits got reduced drastically because both of those summers were very hot. Each one included stretches of multiple weeks where the heat was consistently in the 90’s and 100’s. That kind of heat made leaving the house dangerous, let alone spending any significant time outside. As a result, I barely visited the cabin because it wasn’t worth my time or gas to travel home just to sit inside in the air conditioning. I spent both of those Fourth of Julys staying inside and watching movies instead of doing something fun outside, which is practically impossible when it’s like 98 degrees. There have been plenty of times where I have had little choice but to endure the heat. For example, I have season tickets to Wisconsin Badger football, and I went to lots of hot September games siting in old uncovered seats where I probably should have left early instead of baking in the sun for over three hours until the games were over. Other times I’ve been at parties that I didn’t want to leave despite the heat. Some of those situations involved inaccessible bathroom issues so it was hard to walk, er roll, that fine line between drinking enough water to keep me cool but not so much that I would need to use the bathroom often. Anyway, that is why by analogy I declare that this past summer deserves a high five, because this summer was unseasonably cool-the coolest summer I ever remember having. It was awesome. For the first time since 2004-my first summer living in my Minneapolis apartment-I didn’t even turn the air conditioner on until sometime in late June. That’s unprecedented. I think we only had about two total weeks of weather that stayed consistently in the 90’s. That’s even more unprecedented. One of the ironies is that of all the summers that I’ve lived in Minneapolis the coolest one is the one where I’ve spent the least amount of time at home because of my job. Other than a 2.5 month internship during the summer of 2006, a job at Best Buy during the summer 2008, and a temporary job that lasted half of last summer, I’ve spent the majority of the warm summer months-between my law school years and unemployment-roasting my tail off inside my apartment. My air conditioner is in my bedroom but I spent most of my time in the living room where my desk, computer, and TV are, and it’s hard to get the cool air to flow out to where I was. Plus my apartment is on the side of the building that takes the brunt of the sun all day, so my whole apartment gets really hot during the summer. The only way I could keep even reasonably cool was crank the AC and drinks lots of cold water. During the dog days of the summer my electricity bill would jump from about $35 per month to around $90 because of the extra AC expense, and I would easily drink 1.5 to 2 gallons of cool water each day to keep my body’s core cool enough. It was hot and expensive. This summer there were plenty of hot days that I left the AC off until I got home, so I’ve saved lots of money that way. The crazy thing is that they crank the AC so high at work that even on those 98 degree days I was often wearing long sleeve shirts at my desk because I sit under a vent and learned early in the summer that without an extra layer I would sit and shiver while I worked. But easily the best aspect about this super cool summer was that I could spend lots of time outside without the threat of overheating. It was great. Too bad that I was so busy with my job and nonprofit work that I didn’t get to do anywhere near the amount of summer-type activities that I would have liked too. And one of the other ironies of this summer is that my parents sold our cabin last fall so of all summers to finally be able to spend virtually unlimited time outside by the lake I wasn’t able to. So that was a bummer. But overall summer of 2013, you deserve a big high-five from this guy because you were the coolest, man.

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