Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The MS Goldilocks Zone

o-HABITABLE-ZONE-PLANETS-570 The Earth resides in a Goldilocks zone – the temperature is just right. If our orbit was any further from the sun then all water on the planet would be in the form of ice, and life probably couldn’t exist. If our orbit was any closer to the sun then any water would be in vapor form, and life probably couldn’t exist.

Most people with MS expend considerable effort to seek out and occupy their own, personal Goldilocks zone. If the ambient temperature is too low in our homes or on our streets, certain problems like spasticity crop up. If the temperature is too high, all sorts of bodily functions can go on the fritz. I’ll explain how this plays out for me.

Before MS I welcomed the dramatic change of seasons that we experience in Maine. I had passionate outdoor interests geared for every month of the year, such as snowmobiling in the winter and golfing in the summer. You can read about my snowmobiling here and golfing here.  Obviously, for reasons that have nothing to do with temperature, I can’t enjoy these outdoor activities anymore. Not only that, but it’s difficult for me to even go outside at all in the winter. When my body temperature drops, my spasticity increases. The net effect is that instead of my feet staying nicely in the foot pedals of my wheelchair, my legs stick out semi-straight. I do go out in the winter, but only on the warmer days or when I am getting in the van to go to another climate controlled venue.

But the bigger issue for me, and for most people with MS, is my heat sensitivity. When we should be celebrating the arrival of spring, with its warm breezes, blossoming flowers, and green grass, we are instead fearful of temperatures rising above the mid-70s. We reluctantly huddle in our houses with the shades pulled or the air-conditioning cranked. I wrote about last summer’s distress here.

Each person’s reaction to high ambient temperatures is different. For me, I suffer from a general sluggishness. I get weak and tired and probably a little grumpy. I can endure the heat for short periods of time, but if I overdo things I am fairly useless for several hours.

English: Leaving traces on soft sand dunes in ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the United States there are a wide variety of climates. Shouldn’t people with MS consider seeking out and then moving to that ideal climate – one where it never gets too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter? Theoretically, yes. However, the only place I’m aware of with comfortable temperatures year-round is the coast of California, but who can afford to move there? I live in coastal Maine, and I couldn’t imagine relocating anywhere south of here on the East Coast. I can barely deal with the summer temperatures that we have.

For years I suffered throughout the summer. The only air conditioner we had was a window unit in our bedroom. On the hottest, most humid days, I would retreat there with my computer and my television. This year, I could bear the indignity no longer. We parted with more money than we can afford in order to purchase a ductless central air-conditioning system. Our house is configured such that one of these units can do the job for both my living area and my bedroom. Each day this summer I have looked at the outside temperature and the inside temperature, and decided if it is an air-conditioning day. I don’t hesitate for a second to pull the trigger on my A/C’s remote control.

I asked for and received a letter from my doctor indicating that the purchase of this air conditioner was a medical necessity. That means the cost of the unit will qualify as a tax-deductible medical expense. Don’t get too excited, though. The rules for deducting medical expenses don’t always result in actual tax savings. A complete explanation of this tax code cluster-fuck will have to be the subject of a future blog post.

I resent the fact that I am as confined to the inside of my home during these mid-summer days as I am during the harsh winter months, but at least this year I’ll remain comfortable and relatively energetic for the duration of my house arrest.

I have created my own, personal Goldilocks zone.

Here are some links to peruse for more information about MS and heat sensitivity:
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  1. Enjoy your Goldilocks zone! It is similar to my Tammy World! I make it so nice here by including things like your blog! And people love to visit me in Tammy World! I think they enjoy the escape! Thanks for writing!

  2. Spending the day - as I bet you are - inside. I'm passing up a big 4th cookout with friends, and watching movies on my computer instead. MS sucks.

  3. You've said it all, Mitch. I'll be going to a party later, but I'll stay in the a/c sunroom.

  4. I am so lucky this year. My "Goldilocks Zone" is between 76 - 84 degrees as long as there is low humidity.

    Today, around Chicago, is going to be one of those days!!!

    We continue to host a HUGE 4th of July party and for the past several years I've patiently sat at the kitchen table.

    But not today!!! I'm going to be outside with the guests as much as possible. I may even try throwing some bean bags from my scooter!

  5. Tammy,

    Tammy World? Sounds like a great place!


    Against my better judgment I will be attending the fireworks on the Eastern prom in Portland tonight. My cooling strategy is to bring bottles of water and continuously douse my baseball cap.


    Hope you have a wonderful Fourth of July!

    Mary Ellen,

    Yes, it depends on lots of things like humidity, breeze, and shade. In my house I keep it at 72 but I can stand a little bit higher outside if I have anything working in my favor. Good luck with your beanbag game!

  6. Thanks for this timely post!

    The idea that AC could be considered a medical necessity had not occurred to me. I will explore it and see if it is advantageous.

    My wife and I are currently getting quotes from several HVAC companies in order to get a heat pump installed. We've been relying on a portable AC in my study for years and it's come time to get the whole house reasonable so I'm not holed up in the study for most of the summer each year.

    My comfortable temperature limit is 73 degrees. I wonder what it is for most people with and without MS.

    Enjoy your summer!

  7. MS and HEAT don't mix. I'm glad I live in Seattle. A fan is all we need here. My MS thanks me. Stay cool, man!

  8. Darren, my unit is essentially a heat pump without the heat option – only the cool option. I already have a very efficient heating system in my house.

    Diane, yes, I bet Seattle is one of those cities that is pretty close to the MS Goldilocks zone.

  9. I live right next to Seattle and yesterday we had 86 degrees outside. I am grateful for the moderate temperatures but they still can get into the 90s - too much for me :)

  10. We moved from Michigan to Washington state pre-diagnosis, and a lucky thing, as things have developed. For life with MS, Michigan would have been way too cold in the winter, way too hot in the summer, and our 1908 house had no AC.

    Puget Sound is Goldilocks-land; not too hot, not too cold. They issue warm weather alerts when the forecast goes above 80, and the threat of snow sends everyone into a tizzy. Still no AC, but with several big shade trees around the house, we don't really need it. If you gotta have MS, this is as good a place as any to do it.

    Keep Calm and Keep Cool.

  11. Love it! For years, I have jokingly referred to myself as Goldilocks when it comes to temperature..."not too hot, not too cold"
    i just found out about your blog from the Wheelchair Kamikaze, and just like the WCK, you have a wonderful, refreshing way with words. I am looking forward to reading past posts and to the future ones as well!

  12. DJ, welcome to Enjoying the Ride. Even being mentioned in the same breath as the Wheelchair Kamikaze is high complement. Thank you!