It’s field day! Out in the fresh grass while the sun blazes down from a perfect blue sky, I feel dizzy with excitement. Our team is doing well in the relay races and I’m having fun being outside the classroom. Suddenly, my teacher pulls me aside. “You’re bright red!” She looks panicked. “Come with me, we have to get you inside!” I am whisked into a car and driven around to the front of the school.
The school doesn’t have air conditioning, except for a window unit in the principal’s office, where I am instructed to relax on a couch and drink water. The school nurse puts cool cloths on my forehead and my dizziness begins to subside. I am calm, but mellow, as I lie there listening to the hum of the air conditioner while my friends shout and play outside. That was second grade. It’s the first time I can remember the heat getting the best of me. But it wouldn’t be the last.
I grew up in the 80s. We didn’t have air conditioning in our house, in our car, or in school. I knew that, due to my ectodermal dysplasia, I was susceptible to overheating, but I didn’t usually give it much thought. This was just my normal, and that meant feeling tired or grumpy on occasions where it was hot and I was not able to cool off. Usually it was my mom or a concerned teacher who would note that my face was bright red and that I should probably stop running around like a maniac and cool down. Even as I got older, into my teens and early 20s, I would continue to push myself to endure situations where I very nearly could have given myself heat stroke. (Did I mention that I have a stubborn streak?)
When I was a kid, I basically lived in our swimming pool all summer. Even now, I can just close my eyes and imagine the relief of my hot skin sliding into the water. Then, a moment of bliss, as my head plunges beneath the surface, sounds are muffled, and every part of me is relaxed. If I wasn’t in the pool, we were at the beach, or a water park or at the very least, jumping through the sprinkler. I’m telling you, I spent most of the summer in a bathing suit.
Heat intolerance isn’t limited to the summer months. Sometimes the winter can be just as bad, with the dry air and overly warm indoor spaces. I learned that getting myself worked up emotionally was also a factor in getting too hot. I wrote about my experience with overheating and itching while at the dentist in this post on my personal blog.
Despite not being cut out to handle the heat, gardening has been one of my lifelong passions. I spent several years working on farms, growing everything from squash and tomatoes to day lilies and tropical citrus. In the earliest days of farm work, I suffered a lot. Some days I would come home with a raging headache, and quivering limbs.
I soon learned to bring lots of water and to force myself to drink as much as I could, even if I didn’t feel thirsty. I tried cooling vests and bandanas with crystals which were supposed to hold water and keep you cool. Instead, these trapped my body heat and made me feel worse.
I learned to take an old, long-sleeved, cotton button-down shirt and plunge it into a bucket of cold water. Then I’d wring it ever so slightly, and put it on over my tank top. The cool fabric would suck the heat out of my arms and torso almost instantly. Of course the shirt would dry out within minutes, but it was more comfortable for me than the vests or other things I tried.
I would also fill a bucket with cold water and step into it to cool off my feet. My feet are one of the areas of my body that don’t sweat at all. I often refer to them as my “hot potatoes”, because even in the winter time, I have to stick them outside of the bed covers at night or else they get too hot. Working at a job where I had constant access to a hose also allowed for me to spray myself whenever I needed. Cold well water is a beautiful thing.
Another way to keep myself from overheating on the farm was to work with my boss to create a good schedule. I would start work really early in the morning so I could avoid the afternoon heat. I also requested that I be able to do any work in the greenhouse first thing, so I could be out of there before it turned into a stifling oven of death. I made efforts to avoid the sun, or to wear a wide-brimmed hat when I had to be out in it. Of course, drinking lots of water and taking breaks if I began to feel too hot or dizzy was also important.
Finally, as I alluded to before, keeping calm really does help keep you cool. There have been many times where I’ve gotten worked up for some reason or another (I am one of those “overly sensitive” people), and my body heats up like a furnace.
One incident in particular was when I was about 14, and I’d gotten a rather bad sunburn from a day at the beach. I was miserable from the discomfort, I was hot and I was itchy. My parents were relaxing on the couch and I walked into the room and began throwing a temper tantrum about how hot and itchy I was. The more I cried and stomped dramatically, the worse I felt. They both just looked at me like I was nuts, which only aggravated me further. I finally ended up taking a cool shower and slathering myself with aloe, which is what I should have done in the first place, minus the tantrum.
Over the course of my life I’ve learned what I can and can’t do, and I’ve learned how to prevent or treat some of the issues that arise when dealing with the heat. I don’t let ectodermal dysplasia keep me from doing the things I love. I just figure out how to make things work, and I know lots of others like me are doing the same thing.