Winter Warnings

This winter has been a brutal one for most people in the U.S. (abroad as well, apparently) and most of us have heard of the dreaded Polar Vortex, descending upon unlucky parts of the country, and unleashing snow and frigid temperatures. Living in Minnesota has been particularly difficult this winter: day after day of below zero temperatures, snow that just won't quit, dangerous black ice covering everything. Even though March is almost here, the Twin Cities just suffered through another massive snowstorm, making driving and even stepping outside your house treacherous.

I recently thought I was in the clear and was going to make it through this winter unscathed, but I was wrong. The morning before the snowstorm, I slipped on a patch of ice on my driveway on my way to leave for work. In an instant, my feet and legs flew out from underneath me and I fell straight back, landing hard on my head. I laid there for a while, curled up in unbearable pain, afraid I had broken my neck or that blood was gushing out of my head. Luckily my cell phone was in my jacket pocket and I managed to call my dad and told him what had happened. Soon after, he drove me to the ER where I was treated for a head injury, given a CT scan (which was normal, thankfully), and sent home with Tylenol and ibuprofen.

Over the course of the day, the intense pain radiating from the giant lump on the back of my head started to subside a bit, but the rest of my body was stiffening up and growing worse--especially my neck. During the fall I must have somewhat twisted onto my left side because my left elbow was bruised and my upper left leg was also sore. Strangely, absolutely nothing happened to my hands or wrists, which also made me believe that I had fallen mostly on my head. Falling on ice while having RA and not having some horrible injury happen to your hands or wrists seems a bit of a miracle. So that's something to be thankful for, right?

Speaking of RA, as I'm sure many of you already know, it's crucial to be careful and protect your joints during winter weather, especially when walking on snow or ice. A "normal" healthy person falling on snow or ice can be disastrous, never mind someone who already has fragile, inflamed joints. The big, glaring lesson I just learned from my fall is to always carefully test out the ground, even if it looks okay. Had I slowly stuck a toe out onto the cement before striding out to my car I would have quickly realized the driveway was not wet, as I had thought, but was pure ice.

Other tips I would suggest for avoiding injuries during winter or even early spring, when snow and ice is melting and dangerously re-freezing:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Test out the surface you're going to step onto to make sure it's safe. Just because something may look wet or not slippery doesn't mean it is. And use common sense to try to avoid being in areas that might be slippery and dangerous. For example: If you're out shopping or running errands, don't park your car next to a snow bank or a frozen puddle.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. Wear boots or rugged shoes that have good, sturdy soles with sufficient traction for snow and ice. Don't go running around wearing flimsy tennis shoes or dress shoes. I've been guilty of this many times and it finally caught up with me.
  • Wear appropriate winter clothing. The cold weather can make RA symptoms a lot worse, causing increased stiffness and pain in joints, so it's important to keep your body well-insulated. Also, what if your car happens to break down and you're stuck without a warm jacket, heavy mittens, or boots? I know I sound like my mother here, harping on this issue, but she is right. You should always be prepared in case something like this happens.
  • Go SLOW(ly). When walking outside during wintery weather, try not to be in a hurry. Often when we are rushing somewhere, we forget what we're doing and then BAM! We fall and smack our head onto the ice and have to go to the ER. Take your time. I know that's easier said than done, living in the crazy-busy world we live in. But it's better to go slowly than to end up breaking bones or damaging your joints.
  • Ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Having an arm to hold onto can help prevent slips and falls. It doesn't make you look weak or wimpy--it's the smart thing to do.

Do you have any other good tips to help us survive the rest of winter? Please share them if you do!

And, wherever you are, despite the Polar Vortex, I hope you're enjoying a pain-free and fall-free winter. Be careful out there!

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