When the doctors first told me I was cold-blooded after my accident, I didn’t believe them. “How was that a possible?” I thought. I know one of the worst things in the world happened to me, I broke my neck, but I didn’t transform into an amphibian while I was at it. How can a human be cold-blooded? I was utterly confused.
Of course after they explained it to me it made sense, but it still doesn’t make it any less weird. Essentially what happens when you injure your spinal cord above the T4 level is your ability to sweat and regulate your body temperature no longer works. As the Brits say, you can still get on ok, but you have to be extremely vigilant about your body. You essentially have become its babysitter.
Monitoring the temperature of the room you are currently in, or the temperature of the atmosphere you are currently in, is something you must constantly do when you have a spinal cord injury of this nature. You must teach yourself to be hyper-aware and then adjust accordingly. When it is over 90°and I’m outside, I can only be out in direct sun for about 20 minutes until I begin to overheat.
And this is when I bust out my trusty water bottle or cool wet towel and put it on my head. Mimicking sweat is the name of the game. You can survive without being able to sweat as long as you do just this. And when it’s cold out, my body temperature will drop like a rock. This is partially due to not walking, but it’s mostly because my body cannot warm itself up internally very well. I have to employ a collection of long socks every winter to make sure my legs don’t become ice cubes by the end of the day. Even in a heated home this can still happen.
As the years have grown since my injury, I have noticed my ability to regulate my temperature is even worse than it was in my acute phase. It seems to be the worst when I’m in bed. Finding the right temperature is sometimes impossible some nights. I go to bed freezing cold, waiting to warm up, and eventually I wake up around 3 hours later the exact opposite. I’m so hot I take off my pajamas, throw the covers off me then turn on my fan so it blows directly on me. I must wait about 15 minutes, but after that my body will cool off to the right temperature.
It’s quite frustrating however when I’m around an able-bodied sleeper. I’m reminded of how fidgety I’ve become, how much my injury has also impacted my ability to sleep. It really isn’t fair, but I guess there’s no way to avoid this. A broken inner body temperature regulation ability is never a good thing. It’s strange though…the more I cook, the more I feel as though I’m better at dealing with my strange body. When I monitor the temperature of food, it’s much the same with my body; constantly checking it and making sure everything is ok.
This might sound a little bit morbid, but it’s the truth. They try as hell to teach you how to handle your body in every way before leaving rehab, but with such huge changing things like this, it’s just impossible. It takes time and practice, and even then, your body may change and you must re-learn it.
Sigh. Living the cold blooded quad life is one crazy ride. Thank God I am a patient lady.
Affected too? How do you regulate your body’s temp post-injury?
Photo courtesy of Flickr