Chronic Pain, Blizzards, and the Risks of Winter

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This weekend a blizzard hit the East Coast. Its center hovered close to my house, right around the Baltimore/DC area. There were certainly areas that got more snow than we did, but the 29.2 inch record that assaulted us was enough for me.

On Friday morning, I hesitantly drove into work, knowing the storm could be on its way as early as right after noon. Typically, I work from 9:45AM to 12:45PM on Fridays, and I had concerns about driving home when the roads were slick with the beginnings of snow.

I had called into work that morning. “I just want to make sure the office is open this morning.” I was greeted with a “Yes we are open.” Unspoken was that it would be silly of me to cancel work over a little snowstorm.

When I got to work, I overheard the Clinic Manager conversing with the office staff. They were deciding if they were going to be open the next day. As if they would have any choice after a blizzard came through all Friday night, continuing into the entire weekend. Wasn’t the decision already made?

Thankfully, work was cut short on Friday for me because most of my clients cancelled due to the impending snow.

The weekend came. The snow came as expected. The roads were treacherous and our apartment parking lot was and is a disaster. Sunday I got the notification that work would be open starting at 12 noon on Monday, meaning I would have to go in for my 4:00PM to 8:00PM shift.

My heart sinks. I do not want to go out in these conditions.

Because of my chronic pain, I do not want to take unnecessary risks. I know that keeping places of work open is often due to financial reasons. I can assure you it does not come out of a desire to care for our clients well, which should be the whole point.  To that end, I do believe it is often selfish to make your employees come in when the conditions are treacherous and the employees are not absolutely necessary for someone’s health or safety.

This morning I was just trying to decide if I was going to call in to say that I was just unable to make it when I got another text:  Work is closed today.

Work was cancelled, and I am so relieved.

What most healthy individuals do not understand is that something that is a little risk for them can be a HUGE risk for someone with chronic pain or illness.

Getting stuck in the snow may be an inconvenience when you are healthy, but it would be a disaster for me.

If I had to stay in my car longer than I planned to be out for the day, I would have a relapse.

If I had to shovel snow…well I can’t shovel snow.

If I had to walk to get help…well I can’t walk more than about 5 minutes without triggering a major unrelenting flare-up of pain for the next few months.

If I slipped on the ice…I don’t even want to go there. It would be disastrous for my pain.

If I got into a minor car accident that would have no lasting effects on a healthy individual…I can guarantee it would set me back for months, maybe years.

I do not have the resources to manage anything beyond driving to work, getting through work, and staying at work.

Add a snow-related inconvenience or disaster into the mix, and I would be toast.

The moral of the story? Be kind to your neighbors with chronic pain and disability this winter. Don’t ask someone to take unnecessary risks if they don’t want to – they may be living under circumstances you are not aware of. Shovel their snow, salt their driveways, get them groceries, and check in to make sure they are ok. These things may be inconvenient for you, but they are dangerous for us.

And for those of us with chronic pain and illness? I am speaking to my own self when I say I think we need to stand up for ourselves and not be bullied or shamed into risks we do not want to take.

First snow of the year, and I already can’t wait until winter is over.

How did all of you fair with the storm?

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18 Comments

  1. Oh good, I am so glad you got to stay home this weekend and stay safe.
    I was reminded of when I still was able to work, the only time I ever called out was when we were snowed in or iced in. No matter how much pain, how sick I was feeling, or after-procedure pain, I would get someone to drive me if needed, but never called out except for snow. You are so right that the snow and ice is incredibly dangerous for our bodies. I hope this is a short winter for you and spring comes soon! Stay safe. Hugs.

    1. Glad to know I am not the only one – I feel exactly the same way. I think I have taken one half sick day on one occasion since chronic pain started for me. I honestly take less sick days than everybody else because every day is sick day. But snow and ice are such huge risks! I also hope the winter is short. Spring and summer are my happy time 🙂

  2. I’m also relieved you didn’t have to drive today. It would be tragic (ridiculous?) for you to have worked so hard, progressed so much, and gotten yourself to where you are today, to have it put at risk for no good reason. Sometimes people don’t know what they are asking for when they insist upon something… something seemingly benign can have drastically different ramifications for one person than another.
    I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I must say I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the blizzard photos over the last days. I don’t particularly enjoy being in a blizzard of my own, but it’s fascinating to watch someone else’s:)
    Linda

    1. Oh my goodness you took the words right out of my mind. Thank you for knowing me and my situation so well – it would be a lot to risk after making it this far.

      Not insensitive at all lol I would feel the same thing if I were looking from afar 🙂 I really don’t think my pictures even do the situation justice!

  3. Well said! You cover all the facets of this very real issue, always on one’s mind if one is living with chronic pain or lack of mobility/agility/endurance. Just getting the mail in winter is a serious challenge for me with an inclined driveway and snow piled high around the mailbox. (Taking my car helps the first but not necessarily the second!) You cover not only the need to ask for and/or offer help to people during this season, but also the hidden calculations of risk that we go through daily, especially problematic for those who work outside the home. Personally, I have to fight the urge to “just do it” and risk injury in certain instances. Really the costs of injury are too great to let ourselves be pushed beyond the physical limits that we know better than anyone else.

    1. Oh my, I’m glad our mail is right in our apartment. That is definitely a treacherous chore! I also have to fight the urge to “just do it.” This post came partially out of that. If work had remained open I would have really had to fight against myself to cancel. I don’t want people to think I’m not dedicated or slacking, but in the end I know I need to stand up for myself – it’s ok if other people don’t understand. Because you are so right about the costs of injury being too great – so not worth it!

  4. Healthy people forget all too easily how much harder everything is for a person with any type of disability. Chronic pain can be very erratic in its intensity, but there are certain things we know from experience will exasperate our condition and cause more problems. I easily identify with everything you said about how for a healthy person it is an inconvenience but for a person in pain, it is a disaster. Perfectly put.

    1. Yes so true! And I think its not just that healthy people forget – I think many of them just don’t know these things in the first place. I’m so glad to be warm and safe in our apartment <3 Did you get any snow from this storm?

  5. Dear Esther, I feel so stupid for not realizing that blizzard was going your way x_x Thank goodness nothing happened to you. I loved your blog entry it is spot on. The cultures of places where snow is rare is frightening to me.
    I’m from a place in Quebec that had twice the amount of snow as others and snow was the way of life. People were understanding that if you were stuck, you were stuck. If it was dangerous, everyone would tell you to stay home because it was never worth hurting or getting yourself in danger for. They knew you had tried or were using your common sense.
    Neighbors would help their needy ones, teenagers would help their dads shovel, and the frail ones would be inside warming up hot chocolate. I don’t know if teenagers still help but I know snow days are still snow days and no one ever heard of anyone losing their job for not being able to come in. That’s the snow culture.
    BUT until I moved to the big city of Toronto which is irrationally terribly ill-equipped, I thought that also applied to all of Canada. Nope! And what you described, the anxiety, the despair, the doom running in our heads that is very real as a patch of ice becomes as dangerous as a freshly zambonied ice rink for shoe-wearers, the snow to get through sucking the little energy out of us, the greedy or blissfully healthy one who thinks anyone not coming in is a sissy/lazy because “he made it” (not mentioning he has no kids to worry about or lives close cause he can afford to), the parents complaining schools are closed for the safety of all because they are more afraid of those bosses than sending their kids out in awful conditions. .. that I never thought I’d witness in my life. But it happens every single time there is 5 to 10 cm in this city. Yes, just 5-10cm and the town is at war in Canada. Budget cuts, people not being educated about snow and a fear for their jobs if you don’t have a good boss.

    Back home we are so well equipped we only started to worry at 25 cm (but still would not see any disabled or old people out or wondered what they were doing. Only the stubborn old people refused to stay home but you’d see them on the news later. The wise ones stayed home). But here in Canada’s biggest city it is utter chaos at 5cm I still can’t believe it after almost 10 years here. I can’t imagine what it is like for the USA 0_0
    My husband is now home based but when he had to brave this crazy city I was sick with worry cause a fall meant his artificial hip or both would have to be redone. Yet he felt compelled to go because of the shame factor of his macho ex boss. Last year his Fernale boss allowed him to stay but I still worried for all those people who should not be out there but are afraid for their jobs. It’s a work accommodation that should be obvious. They can make it up another time if they are so worried, disabled people are willing to do anything to keep healthy.

    Ah, snow and winter really get us going. But I think it’s that fear to fall and never get better. Or you know a twist on ice will be felt for weeks and throw you off for that long. Butterfly effect but the butterfly is a snowblower!
    Take care, let’s all have got chocolate. 🙂

    1. It really does make such a huge difference if a city is used to deal with large quantities of snow or not. When I lived a bit north in Pennsylvania, we were must better equipped. Thankfully work was cancelled on Monday and by the time I had to go out today, the roads were almost all the way clear. I am so glad you husband is home-based now so he doesn’t have to go out!

      Will definitely need to get into my chocolate stash here 🙂

  6. Well said 😊 In addition to the blizzard- I had to “make arrangements” to obtain medications in the middle of the snow storm! My husband was worried that the snow storm would confine him to bed in pain from inability to fill his prescription (here they won’t fill his medications until he is out) It all worked out okay, but it made me wish for simpler days, when medications weren’t treated as they are today and patients could make provisions for emergencies such as a snow storm 😔

    1. Oh my, sounds like that was a pain to figure out! I hadn’t thought of how many problems a blizzard could cause for access to meds, but that is so true.

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