Jul 212011
 

The heat dome rose up out of the US and expanded itself north to smother Toronto in record-breaking heat for July 21st, only 0.1 degrees Celsius off the all-time record for the entire month of July. On the news, reporters warned us to drink lots, to watch for signs of heat stress, and to watch out for the old, very young, pets, and chronically ill. But one group was not discussed, is not ever mentioned: people with spinal cord or brain injuries who can no longer sweat because of their injuries.

But then I’m not sure many in the medical community are aware of this problem or pay attention to it either, in Canada anyway.

I do not remember being asked if I’d stopped sweating after I was diagnosed with a closed head injury. I was not told that it could be a problem. I was not given any suggestions for how to keep cool when your body’s main mechanism to cool itself is shot to hell. Yet I ranted often about how hot I was, how much I burn. Methinks, the word “burning” ought to have twigged something in the minds of medical professionals because when you sweat, you’re hot, you’re sticky, you’re broiling, but the feeling of burning skin is unique to the no-sweat mode I think. My skin also had these hot red rashes that would pop up in different places but usually around the neck, on my arms, and wherever clothes hugged the body like at the waist. And if I didn’t deal with them, they swelled. The only way to get rid of them was to run cold water on them till the skin was numb then slather on melaleuca-oil cream. But never mind all that — I was dismissed.

Perhaps I didn’t use the “right” words to twig the doctors to the fact I didn’t sweat anymore; perhaps I didn’t mention anything about how hot I was because by the time I was in their offices, I had cooled down in the air conditioning and the burning/sweating issue had dropped to bottom of mind as we discussed more difficult immediate problems like writing.

My acupuncturist noticed.

And she noticed when I began sweating after I had undergone about a year of brain biofeedback treatment.

At that point, I had become so used to the sweat-free state, it was like going through adolescence all over again: becoming aware that you’re sweating, learning how to use anti-perspirant, taking care to avoid sweat stains.

When I tried to Google about sweating and brain injury, the only articles I found were about those so injured they were in hospital ICUs, in comas. Not me. Not my kind of brain injury. Not relevant to me, it seemed. So I kept figuring things out on my own.

After I began sweating again, I was reminded of how effective that stinky, sticky function of the human body is in keeping you cool and helping you cope with the heat, even being comfortable in it.

Unfortunately, I don’t sweat whenever needed. It’s like whatever part of the brain that controls sweating is not working at a hundred percent. Sometimes it only has some body parts sweat, not the whole body. Sometimes it barely turns on sweating. Sometimes it judders to a stop, and I burn again. I have to remember then to drink more water with lots and lots of ice in it and not to move much, if possible. Before I began sweating on and off again, I used to chew ice, drink ice water to cool my insides, take lots of cold showers until the water stopped running hot off my head, soak my feet and arms in cold water, not exercise, stay in the shade, wear hats that were made for sun protection, stay indoors; I found it far more difficult to cope with heat that was not as high as today’s record-breaking heat; I became weak and fatigued more than usual; I also found it impossible to sleep.

This year is markedly different. I can drink water and it comes out, not hangs around in my tissues; I can walk in the heat; I can sleep easier, though I think tonight’s temps will challenge that majorly; I can still exercise and think, albeit not as much as usual. In short, the heat has not stopped me dead. That’s what sweating does for a person.

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