Summer in the (Humid) City
Summer has definitely arrived in New York City and you don’t need to look at a calendar to confirm this. New York is notorious for being miserably hot and humid in the summertime (very similar weather to Minnesota, actually), and I was aware of this before deciding to move here in late Spring. But, I thought and hoped with the modern conveniences of air conditioning available that it wouldn’t be a major problem. It’s funny how assumptions can really kick you in the butt, isn’t it? You’d think I’d learn by now, but no. Yes, there is AC here, however central AC in houses and apartment buildings seems pretty rare. I’ve also been surprised to find many coffee shops/bars/restaurants without central AC. Instead, sweaty heat-afflicted New Yorkers rely on the drone of AC window units chugging away and fans whirring night and day. This works OK for the most part, except you better hope that your AC unit doesn’t break. Mine did, and on one of the hottest, most humid days I’ve experienced here so far. To say I felt like dying that day, with sweat running down my face even while I lay motionless on my bed, my right ankle puffed up like a water balloon–that wasn’t much of an exaggeration. I don’t do well in heat and humidity. My RA certainly doesn’t like it, either.
During all of my nearly-18 years of having RA, people continually ask me if certain things “trigger” flare-ups or make my RA better or worse. Can you tell if a storm is coming? No. Does the cold weather make your arthritis get bad? No (I actually like it, for the most part). Does drinking cherry juice while standing on your head make your arthritis better? Yes, of course. But seriously, no, no, no. Day-to-day I don’t usually notice significant things that affect my RA–whether it’s the weather, a giant gluten sandwich, acupuncture needles stabbing my body, or a copper bracelet wrapped around my wrist.
But there is one thing that absolutely makes my RA worse and that’s humid weather–compounded even more by high temperatures. Heat and humidity drive my poor right foot and ankle CRAZY. My fingers and wrists tend to swell more, too. Maybe it’s odd that I’ve always preferred cool weather for my RA, when it seems like so many people with arthritis are always going on about how the cold weather makes them worse and they need to be in a warm climate. Not me. Give me dry, cool air please. Let me stick my foot in a freezer for a while. To me it makes sense that heat and humidity would aggravate someone’s joints with RA, because your body is already inflamed. Humidity increases swelling in people who don’t have RA or any kind of inflammatory disease, so it seems that it would cause extra problems with those of us currently battling inflammation.
Yeah, humidity. I really hate it. It makes my fingers puffy from prednisone look even more like little sausages, and limits their ability to move and bend and function comfortably. Stiffness gets worse, bloating gets worse, fatigue skyrockets, and aches I usually don’t have reappear. But stiffness, bloating, increased fatigue, and aches are easy to deal with compared to what the humidity does to my ankles–especially my right foot and ankle (my notoriously chronic “problem areas”). My right ankle and foot are constantly swollen and in pain anyway; I’ve written about this in previous articles about my frustration trying to get help for this “flare-up” that seemingly never goes away. So I’m walking around and standing on a swollen and painful foot and ankle on a daily basis, which I’ve had to adapt to, of course. In “normal,” pleasant weather I can deal with it pretty well, most of the time. But when it gets to be summertime and the heat and humidity hang around for days on end, my foot and ankle often become unbearably uncomfortable and intensely PAINFUL.
So what can I do when the weather becomes tropical for days at a time? So far the best solutions or “treatments” I’ve come up with are using ice packs on my foot and ankle as much as I can. Wrapping my ankle to help constrict the swelling also helps, although this often causes discomfort because I don’t like anything touching my ankle when it’s hurting. Wrapping and icing at the same time works pretty well, though. The only other things I can think of are to keep my feet elevated the best I can, and to hibernate in wonderful cool air-conditioned rooms if possible. If you have any other good ideas about how I can lessen my heat and humidity suffering in NYC this summer, I would love to hear them. I’m already starting to have nightmares of my foot exploding as I stand waiting, sweat-drenched, in the stifling subway underground in July and August.