Heat and MS

By Suzanne Marriott

It is known that exposure to heat causes a worsening of symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis. This was certainly true for my husband, Michael, who suffered from MS. Our first experience with hot weather was when he was first diagnosed and was waiting outside his doctor’s office for me to pick him up in the car. Unfortunately, I got confused trying to figure out the correct exit from the parking garage and he was left standing outside in the warm afternoon. When I finally picked him up, he said, “Why did you do this to me?”

We hadn’t realized that the heat would affect him. We’d both thought that he’d be better off waiting for me to pick him up than walking all the way to the car. But he had weakened considerably in that short period and had been afraid of falling down. He later apologized to me, realizing I hadn’t meant to abandon him to the heat, but we had learned an important lesson that day, one we never forgot. 

As the summer went on and the weather became hotter, we employed several strategies for keeping cool. We began by using a cooling vest that had long, horizontal “pockets” into which I inserted frozen packets. This helped him enormously when we were out and about. Cooling neck wraps also helped, along with lightweight clothing and drinking plenty of fluids. Before we finally invested in an air conditioner, one of our favorite things was to lie naked together on the bed with the fan blowing cooling air over us. This was also a nice way just to come together, being close, but not so close as to subvert the cooling effects of the fan!

When Michael was still walking with the aid of his two hiking poles, he had a wonderful experience in the Eel River in Northern California. Because of the coolness of the water, he was able to walk across this narrow stretch of river without the aid of his poles. The following is from my memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey.

While I’m experimenting with swimming against the gentle current and letting it carry me back to where I started, I noticed Michael has been standing at the opposite bank for quite some time. I go over to him.

            “What are you doing?”

            “I’m watching the dragonflies,” he tells me.

            I notice a host of dragonflies flitting among the reeds that grow along the bank. We both stand transfixed, watching their transparent wings reflect the sunlight, transforming them into prisms of iridescent color. They’re creating a miniature light show as they dart and twist, abruptly turning and changing direction.

            There, standing side-by-side in the still water, our bodies touch and our love flows gently between us. Despite his disability, he has walked across the river independently, and he’s excited to share his reward with me—the wonder of dancing dragonflies.

            In the years to follow, dragonflies will become a powerful symbol for Michael—a transformative symbol of strength and renewal, a symbol of being whole.

Well, those are just a few of the ways we outwitted the heat and Michael was able to keep cool. At least the heat, though it had its negative effects, did not result in a permanent worsening of his condition. Other things did, of course, but that’s another discussion.

About Suzanne

Suzanne Marriott’s memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey, tells the story of the ten years she cared for her husband who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Suzanne holds a BA in English, an MS in Education, and an MA in Transpersonal Psychology. Her interests include wisdom practices and mystical experiences, Jungian psychology, spending time in nature, and travel. Suzanne lives in an ecologically conscious cohousing community in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California. Connect with Suzanne at https://suzannemarriottauthor.com and www.facebook.com/suzannemarriottauthor.

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About MSAA

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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