Having an SCI and being on a ventilator can present challenges for maintaining body temperature through extreme temperature changes. Because of my injury, I’m unable to feel if I’m cold or hot. The only way I know is by using a thermometer, often when it’s too late. Also, the temperature in the air can be very hard on my lungs because I’m on a ventilator.
When the vent pulls the air in, it goes through the tubing, into my trach, before reaching my lungs. There is nothing to heat or cool the air so it feels the same in my lungs as it does outside. When someone breathes through their nose, the hairs regulate the temperature of the air so it’s not such a shock to the lungs. Many people with spinal cord injuries, as a result, have trouble regulating their body temperature.
Attached to my vent and tubing is a humidifier chamber. This electric chamber heats the air being pulled in from the ventilator going into my lungs. There is a bag of water attached to moisten the air as well. If the humidifier is not plugged in, the air is fairly cold.
There is also a humidity sponge attached to my tubing that moistens the air when the chamber doesn’t have electricity. If there is no humidity going into the tubing and no humidity sponge, the air is very cold on my lungs. It feels like when you go outside in extremely cold weather, take a deep breath, and feel that icy pain in your lungs.
The average human body temperature is 98.6°F. When the body is in a warm environment, the brain sends a signal to the rest of the body (via the spinal cord) to cool itself by perspiring. However, most people with spinal cord injuries are unable to sweat below their level of injury. To read more about temperature regulation in those with spinal cord injuries, this article by Apparelyzed.com explains it further.
As with most people with SCI, my body used to have a hard time regulating its temperature. When the environment around me was cold, I would be cold; when it was warm, I would be warm. In one instance, about six or seven years ago, I was just watching TV in our living room. My mom came up to me and touched my arm only to discover I felt like ice. I took my temp and it was 91.5° which shocked me because I couldn’t tell that I was cold at all. They heated up towels and blankets and piled them on me. It took quite a while but I finally warmed up. It was a very scary experience because at that point I was on the verge of hypothermia.
Despite my past, I don’t have problems with regulating my body temperature as much anymore; it is usually stable between 97°F-97.6°F. I also sweat both below and above my injury, which is one reason I believe that my spinal cord injury is incomplete. This is unusual for high-level quadriplegics such as myself, but definitely a good thing. I couldn’t imagine having to worry about my temp dropping or rising so suddenly and unexpectedly anymore. Although, this is one thing that many people with spinal cord injuries often have to deal with on a daily basis.