Neanderthals, Heat, and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Studying biological anthropology as an undergraduate was intense. The classes were so demanding that years later my graduate level courses in psychology would seem vapid and elementary by comparison. The anthropology courses I had to take were the type of stuff college kids love to complain about; hard tests, difficult jargon and Latin words, and a huge array of timelines, locations, and minute and esoteric details that had to be memorized and quickly applied to concepts and theoretical arguments. Our school had replicas of ancient fossils of a variety of hominids, and we had to memorize the name of all the bones and the myriad facial and skull structures, and then reconstruct the entire skeleton piece by piece. It was tremendously hard work, but I absolutely loved it.

Of all the hominids I studied, the most fascinating to me were the Neanderthals. The total volume of a Neanderthal skull is on average 200 cubic centimeters greater than that of a modern human. That is a big head! They also had large barrel chests with powerful lungs, complimented by short muscular legs. Despite popular representations of Neanderthals as cave dwelling idiots with clubs slung over their shoulders, there is compelling evidence to suggest they were quite sophisticated, lived in complex social groups, had some form of language, made tools, cooked vegetables, and even buried their dead. Did I mention they had big noses to fuel those big lungs? They were well adapted to the colder regions of modern day Europe, and their stockier, more robust bodies held heat well for that reason.1, 2

I'm pretty sure I am a Neanderthal, and the last of my species. I am a creature of the cold. I am built for snow. I have big lungs, a big nose, and thick legs. I live high in the mountains of the Wasatch Range, deep in the woods, and I love to trudge around in the freezing temperatures. When the thermometer drops, I feel alive! I dream of one day living in the arctic regions of the globe, far away from the direct sunlight that warms the ground and air and drives me mad. When it is hot outside, I slothfully mope around the house, grunting and making brutish sounds. I can't sleep at night, and I sweat all day long. I retain an immense amount of heat. In the winter though, when everything starts to frost over and I first see those beautiful crystals of snowfall from the sky, I begin to come out of my heat induced hibernation.

Certainly I am kidding about being a Neanderthal, but since I was diagnosed with RA, my preference for the cold has gone through the roof. The heat this summer has been unbearable. I have never felt so fatigued. I go to sleep broiling with fans blowing directly on me, wakeup in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat, and then crawl out of bed in the morning like a searing desert. Heat has always bothered me, but with RA and the medications, its like I am living in a pit of magma.

I now refer to my weather app on my phone as my misery meter. I open it up and think, "hmmm looks like Monday and Tuesday will be despondent, Wednesday will be a trip to hell, Thursday and Friday look survivable, but the weekend will be two days of abject misery!"

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