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Is This The Worst Winter Ever?

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2014, by Ashley Snyder

By Dr. Kathryne Buege

Watching the news the other night, I heard Diane Sawyer exclaim, "Is this the worst winter ever?"  One storm after another, extreme weather, "polar vortex," icy conditions, schools shut down because of below-freezing conditions.  Thanks to Punxsutawney Phil, it looks like we have 6 more weeks to endure.  Ugh!

For me, living in Erie, PA and commuting to Buffalo has been a challenge these past few months.  Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Driving through blizzard conditions on the Thruway
  • Sliding into a ditch on my way to work
  • Buying snow tires
  • Driving through blizzard conditions on the Thruway (again)
  • Shoveling my driveway and porch in snow up to my knees
  • Straining my back, neck and shoulder
  • Driving through blizzard conditions on the Thruway...and being the last car to make it through before they shut it down.  That was pleasant.
  • Survived Polar Vortex in Olean and was the only MASH Urgent Care location open
  • Although my mother taught me never to curse or use foul language ("it means you are not smart enough to better express your thoughts of feelings" in her Southern twang), I've found myself silently "venting" as I drive clutching the wheel white-knuckled to and from work

Having said that, I thought I'd share some survival tips and remind you click our link on Facebook, "How to Survive the Freezing Cold."

First, I travel with these items:

  • rock salt and a shovel
  • blankets or a comforter
  • water and non-perishable food
  • a flashlight and batteries
  • hand and feet warmers (they even make MEGA warmers claiming instant heat for 12 hours)
  • ibuprofen
  • two guardian angel magnets for safe travels (given to me by a neighbor who was a UPS driver and had his share of driving through awful weather)
  • change of clothes, extra boots and a jacket

Yes, I've been told my packed minivan resembles The Beverly Hillbillies at times, but I'd rather be prepared than not.

My hands have poor circulation due to Reynaud's Disease, and my fingers instantly freeze in the cold weather or in response to stress.  First, they turn white and are numb, then become red and painful as the circulation returns.  Because of this, I worry about damage from the cold from frostnip or frostbite.  

What is the difference between frostnip and frostbite?

  • Frostbite is likely to happen in body parts farthest from the heart and areas exposed to the cold.  This involves tissue destruction and the initial stages are called frostnip.
  • Frostnip does not involve tissue destruction.  It is the superficial cooling of the tissues, most likely occurring, again, in exposed areas.
  • Chillblains are superficial ulcers of the skin that occur when an area is repeatedly exposed to the cold.

The treatment?  Do NOT rub, massage, shake or otherwise apply physical force or cause excessive movement in the frostbitten regions.  This can cause ice crystals that have formed in tissue to do further damage and can be HARMFUL. 

What to do?  Splint or wrap frostbitten extremities and decrease movement.  Passive rewarming involves using body heat or ambient temperature to aid the person's body in rewarming itself.  this includes wrapping in blankets or moving to a warmer environment.

Active rewarming involves immersing the injured tissue in a water bath that is held between 40 and 42º Celsius (104-108º Fahrenheit) and requires more equipment, typically found in a hospital setting.

Stay warm Buffalo, and chin up!  Even though we have 6 more weeks of winter predicted, there are a few things to look forward to: the Olympics are here and The Walking Dead is back!