Ice Ice Baby

By Kristi Krause

Last summer I was mid-relapse and hating life. I like to think of flares and relapses as living in a “dark cloud of despair”; a type of brain fog that grows thicker, heavier and angrier as the day wears on to slowly smother the life out of you. Invisible, yet it can not be ignored. Working then felt disastrous, but my patients and coworkers never caught on to my struggles. I was new to MS and beyond frustrated at how much power it had over me. By lunch break, I would send a hysterical text to my husband, “I just can’t do this anymore”. He, my neurologist, and reality joined forces to try to nudge me toward leaving critical care. To that, I stubbornly responded, “Absolutely not, it’s my comfort zone!” The fear of a future reviewing charts in the muggy, stale basement of the hospital fueled my search for help with symptom management.

I read about how cooling measures increase the transmission ability of nerve impulses through areas of brain damage, but had no idea that there were vests, scarves, and gloves made for this purpose. The thought of wearing ice sounded miserable because feeling cold is fairly loathsome. I was desperate when I put it to the test one day at work. Between the disaster direct admission to ICU and my tracheostomy patient having hourly panic attacks, I was severely fatigued by first break. I escaped into the supply closet, grabbed an ice pack to put on my head and five minutes later, the brain fog was gone and I was high. It was almost as glorious as a double espresso shot! Returning often to the closet for the next fix, I became an instant ice junkie.

I started browsing the internet for cooling items and ordered most of what I found. Some were duds and others a godsend. I worked with wearable ice packs under my scrubs, and had extra packs in the freezer to change out at break and before getting into the hot car to drive home for the day. My MD wrote a prescription for a cooling vest so insurance would reimburse the cost (instructions on how to do this are online). I have both ice and phase change inserts for it and I use the vest while  working out during most of the year.

My favorite scarf to wear while cleaning the house drapes around the neck for carotid cooling. I still have to take breaks  while trying to accomplish simple household tasks that were once no big deal, but far fewer and shorter breaks than normal. Eating a popsicle during said break restores energy even faster!  Cooling items can be worn to summer sporting events or for “pre-cooling” on the way to dinner, the grocery, whatever. Music venues, however, are not so welcoming for wearing ice, as security believes you might be smuggling bags of illegal substances. Do not try this! Instead: arrive well hydrated, have a drink, eat the ice, ask for more ice, eat ice the whole time you are there, use the hand fan you brought, and go home before your body begins to feel weird(er).

Summer can be embraced with excitement for people with MS. Cooling measures can allow even the least mobile of us to get outside and soak up the sun. The benefits of sunshine versus vitamin D supplementation are possibly numerous and poorly understood, but why wait for science to figure it out? I am a simple girl; if nature made it and we ran around naked in it for thousands of years, then I believe it might good for us to stop being afraid of it. I do know that with safe levels of sun exposure, there can be a boost in mood, the body can regenerate ubiquinol (ever heard of CoQ10? Hello mitochondria!), and produce immune-modulating effects by generating the hormone, vitamin D. My tips for maximizing these benefits are to drink/eat something green before going outside, waiting about thirty minutes before slathering yourself with sunscreen (depending on where you are, so use common sense), and don’t wash off the vitamin D from your skin as soon as you go indoors.

MS tends to emerge at the worst times in a young person’s life, and new mothers are not exempt. Summer heat can be doubly threatening to someone expecting. As long as I have something frozen on my body, stay hydrated, and remind myself to take breaks, then the dark cloud of despair is kept at bay during summer. My ice vest and cooling gear are even more important to me now that I am pregnant! I workout at a snail’s pace, am easily winded, have frequent temperature fluctuations and painful cramps in strange places. But I still get out there, however sad my little workouts may seem, because I am exercising for two now. Sometimes it takes hours to hit my mileage goal for the day, but I would rather be slow than say “I can’t.” Baby and I will be healthier and happier because of it. I imagine that when August arrives, I will be waddling around the track, wearing my ice vest blissfully unaware of the sweltering misery that I have been warned about when one is due in late summer.

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Never an Easy Season with MS

By: Matt Cavallo

I was really excited. My allergies were horrible and I was feeling absolutely miserable. Why does this excite me you ask? When I feel horrible, I get inspired to write and was going to write a piece on allergies and MS as a follow-up to last year’s, Is There a Relationship between MS, Allergies and Histamine blog.

Then, this happened to my local weather in Arizona:

matt blog

Out here in Arizona, we say that three straight days over 100 degrees kills all the pollen. I don’t know if this is true or not, but my allergies certainly haven’t been bothering me since it got into the 100’s at about Friday of last week.

But guess what? The heat has been killing me!

Luckily, I got a Kool-Max cooling vest, similar to those in the MSAA’s Cooling Program. Now, even in the dog-days of summer, I can still participate in activities or chores and not feel trapped inside by the summer heat.

This got me to thinking, is there ever a perfect season to have MS? We all know that the summer heat, no matter where you live, is not good for MS. The symptoms of heat exposure can cause a pseudoexacerbation, or brief episode of neurological symptoms not classified as a relapse. These pseudoexacerbations can come and go all summer long as the heat and humidity persist.

However, during the cold dark of winter, us MSers yearn for a hot summer day. The low light of winter is not generally considered good for people with a Vitamin D deficiency, as most of us living with MS may experience. Winter also presents trip hazards with ice and snowy conditions, so those of us more prone to falls have a harder time getting outdoors and staying active during the winter.

Fall presents many of the same trip hazards. As soon as the leaves turn colors, they drop to the ground and become slippery to walk on. Fall also has dramatic temperature fluctuations where it can be summer hot one day and then brutally cold the next. This is where cold and flu season start to come into play along with the pseudoexacerbation possibility from those really gorgeous summer-like fall days.

That leaves spring as the only possibility for an easy season living with MS, am I right? Wrong. Spring is the reason I started writing this blog. It was nice this year, but the pollen kept me from enjoying it. I could not differentiate from an MS day or a sick-with-allergy day. The inability to breathe really caused excess fatigue rendering me unable to discern the difference between allergies and MS symptoms.

The truth is there is no easy season when you live with multiple sclerosis. However, each day is what you make of it. Don’t let the changing seasons stop you from living your life, rather adapt with the seasons and plan accordingly. Wear sunscreen, stay cool and don’t let MS stop you from having the best summer ever!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Tips for Staying Cool and Conserving Energy

As the temperature continues to rise during these summer months there are several ways to help beat the heat and conserve your home energy. Start by trying some of these tips to lower your energy bill and keep your home cool!

  • Keep doors closed to uncooled parts of your home. If you have central air conditioning, close off the vents to any rooms that you will not be using.
    • Tip: The lowest level of a home is often the coolest. If you have a basement, plan to spend most of the day in this room, to avoid over cooling the rest of your home.
  • Using ceiling and other fans, even if you have air conditioning, helps to provide additional cooling and better circulation of the cooled air.
    • Tip: Place a bowl or tray of ice water in front of a fan to increase the chill factor!
  • Seal any holes or cracks around doors and windows, this helps to eliminate cold air leaks. Make sure to seal around window air conditioners with insulation.
  • Close the blinds and shades in windows facing the sun to keep out the sun’s heat and help fans and air conditioners cool more efficiently.
    • Tip: Check out energy efficient curtains or blackout curtains to help keep the light and heat out of a room!
  • Clothes dryers and dishwashers produce a lot of heat. Use them in the early morning or late evening, not during the hottest part of the day.
    • Tip: Wash clothes in cold water and air dry in front of a fan. This tip works the same as the bowl of ice water!
  • Turn off TVs, computers, and other electronic devices rather than use standby mode. Electronic devices can create additional heat in the home.
  • Unplug items like cell phone chargers, DVD players, microwave ovens and other appliances. They still use energy even when turned off!
    • Tip: Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the power switch when the items are not in use.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps keep families safe and healthy by assisting families with energy costs. Check in with LIHEAP about energy conservation and low income energy assistance programs. Often in the summer months, those with lower incomes, or individuals with disabilities are offered discounts on their energy bills to help keep their homes cool during the summer months. For information on applying for LIHEAP assistance, please contact your LIHEAP State or Territory agency.

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