Few people know, say, let alone SPELL Reynaud’s Phenomenon. Reynaud’s (Ray-Nodes) is a very complicated problem that results in arterial spasm whenever digits (especially fingers) are subjected to cold conditions. And cold conditions can be as warm as 50 degrees. Reynaud’s sufferers’ can have either blue or white fingers when subjected to whatever cold weather is too cold for their arteries. Blue is better, white is worse. While I don’t want to be too morbid, the pictures below are sad reminders of what some people suffer in the cold weather. Dead looking, icy cold fingers, numb and non-functional until the blood flow returns.
In a cold room, the tips of my fingers turn blue as a blueberry, and my hands are icy cold. Despite the discomfort, I can’t resist “grossing out” my colleagues when this happens! Awful, awful me…generally people scramble to give me warm towels. And I humbly accept them, and ahhh, the comfort.
When outside, within a minute, my fingers (especially the middle three digits to the second knuckle) turn dead white and numb. So how does one “re-vascularize” fingers (to put into medical lingo)? Don’t get your fingers too cold (duh) and gradually warm the fingers and massage them. It doesn’t reverse quickly; for me, it’s about 15-20 minutes. For some, it takes hours. And a lack of arterial flow for hours can lead to necrosis. And that leads to surgery, sometimes amputation. So I am fortunate that my fingers return to normal “so quickly”. But imagine a leg that has fallen “asleep” that you can’t wake up. Then imagine degrees of that over and over all winter long.
For me, Reynaud’s started the exact time that I developed UTCD/IA (Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease/Inflammatory Arthritis) about 2 years before I was diagnosed with cancer. Reynaud’s is associated with inflammatory conditions, although it also can develop separately. In any case, it is a royal pain. And each year it has gotten a little worse….EXCEPT when I was on chemo! But as chemo put my inflammatory disease in remission for a short time, it stands to reason that my fingers were in better shape as well. I shocked my Rheumatologist when I told him that I would rather be on chemo than live with the daily pain and problems of inflammatory disease. On the Individualized Disease Severity Score Scale, inflammatory disease ranks lower even than dialysis and cancer for quality of life.
As to Reynaud’s, I am in fear every time I drive in cold weather that if my heater stops, my fingers will become non-functional. And I don’t go out in the cold for more than a couple of minutes, no matter the gloves. Yup, there are expensive battery powered gloves. I accidentally washed them. They died a cold wet death in my washer. Yes, I am an idiot. But they took a long time to warm up. So I was not impressed. I do have warm packs that I keep in emergencies. There is also a blood pressure medication to help dilate the blood vessels, but I don’t currently use it as my treasure trove of medications are hitting my upper fiscal (and tolerance) cliff. Polypharmacy = polyproblems!
While this condition is aggravating, I am mainly bringing it to people’s attention as most have never heard of this at a season when it is most difficult for sufferers. But personally I am so grateful that I have access to electric and gas heating and warm gloves! So many other people in cold climates around the world who suffer this condition don’t have these resources. It makes me feel guilty for the comforts that I enjoy on a daily basis. Below is a short “poem” about Raynaud’s from a first person perspective.
Reynaud’s phenomenon, winter’s bane!
Outside my reddened, bruise-patched skin,
returns to haunt me once again.
Inside, tissue slowly dies within.
Digits of red, white and blue,
this disrupted arterial flow
a sickened Independence hue.
Loss of Feeling, sensation be-numbed,
bitter cold, white as snow;
an icy tomb from pinky to thumb.
Artificial warmth, unsentenced prison cell–
yet Praise God for heat to warm this sheep!
Someday in heaven I will be well.