Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Question of Degrees

Of all the many downsides to aging, my pet peeve of the moment is that I am cold all the time. I remember when I was a kid and my friends and I would always snicker at the "old ladies" with the cardigans over their shoulders. They seemed to emerge any time the temperature dropped into the 70's and they would layer up in long sleeves, pants, a sweater and often a scarf as well. And this was springtime in Los Angeles! I noticed that my mother, born and raised in North Dakota, which often posts the coldest temperatures in the nation, would bundle up at the slightest breeze and allude to her thinning blood. Well, apparently the apple does not fall far from the tree as I find myself constantly fighting a chill. It would seem that I am a journeyman old lady!

Shortly after my 40th birthday, I began to notice how hard it was to stay warm in cold weather. At first, I blamed it on my Southern California roots which had ill prepared me for our tours of duty in cooler climates. I dressed in layers and amassed a closetful of "kitchen sweaters" which made my kids cringe when I wore them out of the house. In spite of my best efforts, I kept shivering. One day, I noticed that one of my right fingertips was white. All the other fingers were flush with color but this finger looked dead from knuckle to tip. It tingled as if it were asleep. I ran it under hot water, massaged it and tapped it on a hard surface to get the blood flowing, all to no avail. It changed from white to blue, looking badly bruised and finally, after more than an hour, it returned to its normal hue. My sister, Mary, identified this phenomenon as "Raynaud's Disease", a not uncommon occurrence in middle-aged women after exposure to cold weather. My pseudo-scientific mind find this intriguing as it never occurs in my left hand and seems to focus on a different finger each year. At first, it happened exclusively in my middle finger and now it is only in my pinkie, but never in my thumb. My kids think it is funny and as it is not limiting in any way, I just wait for it to pass. The only aspect of it I find truly irritating is its reflection on my advancing years.

As Mr. and Mrs. Heat Miser, Al and I have always kept our house as cool as tolerable in the winter and just below sweltering in the summer. While our energy bills would seemingly belie the efficacy of this practice, we resolutely kept the thermostat at 64 degrees throughout the coldest months of the year. Last night, the boys and I came home from a basketball game, soaking wet and chilled to the bone. I quickly shed my wet shoes and layered on my dowdiest kitchen sweaters. Walking past the thermostat, I stopped and stared at the blinking "64" and was struck by the realization that this was almost 35 degrees below my body temperature. Now wonder I am so cold all the time! I brazenly pressed the "Up" arrow once, twice, three times, four times...68 degrees! Moments later, I stood in the kitchen under the ceiling vent, rejoicing in the rush of warm air wafting over me, my pinkie slowly thawing. Later, watching "Bones" with Joey and Jack, I was truly relaxed without the chill and muscle tension that usually rack my body. I left the heat turned up for a couple hours. By the time, I went upstairs to bed, I could feel the cool winter air reestablishing its dominance, but by then, I was ready for it.

I do not think I am ready to sacrifice our kids' college funds for my numb fingers, but I have seen and felt the light and I will not spend the rest of my life huddled under blankets. So, I am off to the hardware store to get a space heater, just as soon as I can wake up my pinkie!


  1. I sleep with socks and gloves on, and often turn on the electric blanket.

    I've been this way my whole life. That's why I moved to California. I am so thankful that I'm here, and not back in NJ.

  2. In Riverside on some of the hottest days of the year, I will see the old broads walking with a grey cardigan on. Makes me think of Mom's outdoor sweater (the most heinous thing ever. Let's get her a new one soon. Seriouoly, that sweater makes me nauseous). And my dear Ellen the apple does not fall far from the tree in so MANY ways indeed!