For the first time since my injury, I broke an actual sweat a couple days ago. My arms were moist, my chest, neck and upper back were a little wet and I could actually wipe off some sweat off the top of my head that was slipping out under the acupuncture needles that were buried into my scalp.
Why am I pointing this out you may wonder?
One of the many less noticed but still significant aspects of my Spinal Cord Injury is the effect on body temperature, specifically the lack of ability to sweat. It’s not something that people think about very often, but sweating is extremely important in maintaining body temperature and cooling the body down when it starts to heat up. The nerves that control the ability to sweat are affected by the damage to the spinal cord, particularly in an injury like mine, high up in the spine in the cervical vertebrae.
I first noticed the challenges of not sweating just three months after my accident. On an unseasonably hot day in early October, I was enjoying a rare outdoor lunch, sitting in the sun in a beautiful park when after only a few minutes I started feeling very hot. I touched my head and face to check for perspiration but to my surprise, my skin felt as dry as leather. Not one bead of sweat. I stayed a bit longer only to find that I was unbearably hot.
I have to take a quick break from the story to explain how unusual this was. Before my accident, I LOVED being in the sun. Thanks to my ethnic heritage and my quick tanning skin, I’ve been able to avoid getting sunburned for most of my life. I would lay on the beach in direct sun for hours and hours, I was the guy at the restaurant who didn’t want the table in the shade, and I suffered immensely when I had an office job and had to accept being inside on a bright, beautiful sunny day. So to be overheating after only a few minutes of sunshine was an entirely new experience for me…
I cut the lunch party short and moved to the shade to escape the sun, with the hopes that I would cool down and continue my outdoor picnic. While it definitely felt better in the shade, I found that I just couldn’t bring my body temperature down. I started getting more and more uncomfortable and eventually decided that it was time to go. Sitting in the car as we drove down the hill, I checked myself for any sign of sweat again. Nothing. It only took me a few minutes to realize that I had to do something. We stopped the car and I poured two full liters of water over my head and body, right there in the passenger seat of the car effectively drenching the car seat and dashboard. Ahhhhh relief, finally. Luckily, my body temperature did come down but I learned that the lack of ability to sweat was something I had to be aware of in future situations.
In the months since this incident, I’ve had many intense workouts. I’ve challenged myself physically in novel ways and have pushed my limits on numerous occasions. Yet, despite these exhausting workouts, I’ve only had a few little drops of sweat making a cameo on my body before they disappear again. So to finally have a moment where I actually broke a sweat that lasted more than a few seconds certainly felt like a small triumph. The problem certainly isn’t solved and I’m not sure how soon I’ll get back to being my previous comfortably-sweating-during-physical-activity-yet-not-embarassingly-so self but at least it’s a start. I hope to be drenching many a exercise mat quite soon with my perspired goodness. Yup, that just got said.