I used to be able to tolerate weather extremes. I especially liked winter even if it was really cold. I never seemed to tire of being outside despite how hot or cold it was. In fact, up until my mother moved to Richmond in 2007, we used to take walks on Saturday and Sunday mornings each and every weekend.
I can’t believe some of the weather conditions we walked in. If it was really warm, we would just drink water, put on shorts and walk. If it was really cold we would bundle up in layers and walk. If it was raining, we would take our umbrellas and walk. And if it was icy or snowy, somehow we would find ways to evade major patches or ice or mounds of snow so that we could get in our walks. We were both Type A walking fanatics!
I remember Snowmageddon in February 2010. It snowed for two days leaving anywhere from 18 to 32 inches of snow across the Washington D.C./Virginia/Maryland area. Needless to say, no one was going anywhere for a few days, and the federal government shut down. But then came the day when it was possible to try to go into work, and I decided to walk to the subway. I thought “No big deal. I just have to walk one block and then I’m in the underground and on my way to the subway.” However, I soon learned that the underground was closed due to water leaks. So I steeled myself for the 10 minute walk in the outside across ice and in the cold. I was not happy but I was determined and I made it into work. I was invincible!
But like my energy and my adrenaline, my weather invincibility is now a thing of the past. Now like so much in my life, temperature extremes are something else I really need to heed or they may impact my heart health. Trust me, I’m not making this up. If you listen carefully to the weather forecasters on really hot days and really cold days, they will tell people with heart, respiratory and other conditions to use caution and limit their time outside.
It seems to me that over the last four years, I have become overly sensitive, even anxious as I listen to weather forecasts. It seems to me that along with the fact that there is damage to may heart, I also have an anxious feeling about preserving what is left of my heart. The anxious feeling is adversely impacted by the continual use of the term “weather alert day.”
I mean no disrespect to the those who forecast the weather. I suspect that when you have a day with record breaking heat or cold, well it provides more meteorological grist for the broadcast mill. I mean, having record-breaking weather is like probably like the Kentucky Derby of weather forecasting. So if I was in their shoes, I’d be announcing this exceptional weather event with much excitement and fanfare.
But I’m not in their shoes. I’m in the shoes of a heart failure patient who sees a cardiologist and an advanced heart failure doctor. I know full well that my heart is damaged, and I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t want to cause it any further damage. So when I hear weather forecasts that say we’re going to have a high of 96 degrees, a feels like temperature of 106 degrees, and the entire DC area will feel like a blast furnace in Dante’s Inferno, well, I get a little nervous. I fear that if I go out in the hot air, just even to walk across the street, I am in jeopardy of damaging my heart even further. So when I hear the words weather alert day throughout the course of news broadcasts, I begin to live in a state of fear.
Let me be clear. I certainly do not want the weather forecasters to lie to me. They are talented, energetic and intelligent people. When we are confronting the threat of deadly hurricanes, tornadoes and incredible blizzards, the meteorologists do a great service by giving us as much warning as possible so that we can prepare accordingly. Additionally, they project an image of being friendly and approachable. They seem like the kind of nice buddies you’d like to have over for a barbecue, assuming that it’s not a weather alert day!
As I thought it through, I started to gain confidence that I could look at temperature predictions on my own and make common sense decisions about how I should go about my business indoors and outdoors. I didn't need anyone to warn me that it was a weather alert day. But I realized that maybe the forecasters are aware that there are some people who need some drama injected into the weather forecast so that they use appropriate caution.
The other thing that I came to realize was that like everything else, a forecast for a weather alert or a storm is in essence a risk prediction. What I mean by this is that the forecast is a prediction based on data over an extended time that has the capacity (and often does) change. There is no certain curse of impending doom, but a warning to those who might be impacted stay alert and be prepared.
It also dawned on me this summer that I only had half the equation. I know that the weather forecasters are telling me that extremes in temperature have an impact on people like me. But the part of the equation I have been missing is exactly what that impact will be. It is not fair to expect meteorologists to give me that information, because they are not doctors. They can only tell me that based on their expertise and analysis, it looks like there is a weather pattern coming in with really hot or really cold temperatures, and so people who fall into my health category may need to adjust our plans accordingly.
Fortunately, I just happened to have an appointment with my cardiologist during the absolutely awful month that we call July. The heat was incredibly intense, as was my anxiety. So I asked him what the deal is with heart patients and heat. He said the concern is not daily activities (like say maybe walking outside to your car, or taking a short walk. The concern is the people who exercise out in temperature extremes, or who just stay out for extended periods of time.
When he said this, my mind went back to all the people I see running outside in the hottest part of an extremely hot day. I beg to differ with Noel Coward that only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the noon day sun. I've seen a lot of females and males of all countries exercising outdoors when sanity would seem to dictate otherwise. For those of you who are exercise fanatics who are still heart healthy, take a word of advice. God made early morning hours for exercise, because the temperatures are at least a bit lower and the sun is not yet shining at full force. Or if you can do a workout indoors, that is just as good!
What about the impact on Melanie or other heart patients will not be running and pushing the exercise envelope but want to be outdoors for a little while? Well, there is an impact but not as dire as I was fearing. The cardiologist said that if I were to walk from his office to the nearby Mall (probably a half mile walk) on a hot day, I would likely be tired because it is harder for the heart to pump in hot weather. The impact for being outdoors in extremely low temperatures is similar. Having this knowledge made me feel much better. It's not like I'll damage my heart to the point that I will die just because of the mere fact that I go outside in hot or cold weather. I just need to moderate the amount of time I am out, and the speed at which I am moving my body when I am outdoors.
There is another reason why I needed to put the weather into perspective. I have noticed that when I start to feel burdened by heart failure, it helps me to get outside my condo building to be a part of nature and to just see people walking around and living a normal life. So if I let the prediction of weather extremes impact me too strongly, I will lose this positive influence of being a part of the world.
So I decided to revert to the advice that I have learned the hard way too many times. The best thing I can take with me wherever I go is my common sense and the priority of balance. Now if the temperatures are extreme, I go outside and I walk at a measured pace. In other words, I do not try to break any race walking records.
I tested this concept a few times when the temperatures were above 90, and the feels like temperature were even higher. I may have been muggy and hot, but the ability to be out in society and watching the world in motion far out-weighed the heat. So I will no longer be a prisoner in my condo, looking forlornly out the window as the world goes by. I will be a happy, fortunate and faithful participant of life.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.