The Wheelchair User’s Guide to Surviving Winter

Guest_Blogger By Guest_Blogger On January 16, 2015 RHF News
Written by Heather Kuttai

Alarmed would have been an understatement when I saw them: dark purple-black spots on all of my toes. “What on earth are those?” I thought. Considering the circulation problems I have had with my feet, panic struck: “It couldn’t be gangrene, could it?!”

It wasn’t. Luckily, I had a doctor’s appointment the next morning. “Frostbite,” he declared, and then frowned my sneakers. “It’s -20 outside. What part of living in a Canadian winter do you not understand?”

I understand many things about winter – I live in the prairies after all. I also understand nearly 40 years of living with a spinal cord injury too, and that in the spirit of ease and speed, two things that so often elude a wheelchair user, I often choose sneakers that pop on and off over the cumbersome, awkward boots that add an extra layer of complication to transfers. As my doctor arranged for test and a visit to a vascular surgeon, he also ordered me to go shopping for boots. I’m sure my non-disabled friends would enjoy a prescription for new boots! I also started thinking about the other things wheelchair users should have in order to survive a Canadian winter.

  1. Layers
    It’s true what they say. This includes moisture-wicking long underwear, even though it can be awkward in the bathroom. Wear 2 pair of socks, and yes, boots. I bought a size bigger and wider than I need, which makes them as easy as sneakers to slip on and off. Almost.
  2. Vitamin D
    You’re probably not getting enough. A deficiency in Vitamin D has been linked to many health concerns – from low mood to pain. Ask your doctor for an appropriate dosage.
  3. Cellphone, charged
    Bad things can happen; don’t get caught without it.
  4. Prepare for emergencies
    Keep a backpack attached to your chair or in your vehicle packed with all the things you need to live – from extra medications to personal care items to a first aid kit. If you drive, Emergency Vehicle Kits are a must. Keep your gas tank full. Have a CAA Roadside Assistance membership.
  5. Heat Bags
    I rely on my microwavable bag of oats (i.e. Magic Bag) to warm me up, relax, and fall asleep. Watch you do not over-heat the bag which will leave your house smelling like burnt popcorn. I have also, on two separate occasions, accidentally lit mine on fire. And be careful using electric blankets or heating pads which can burn your skin.
  6. Keep Moving
    Find ways to often sit in natural light, get some exercise, and see your friends. Preferably all at once! Given the temperatures outside and the challenge of getting around in the snow, these things are easy to neglect, but your physical, mental, and social health will take a hit if you don’t.
  7. Take care of your skin
    This is true for every day, but skin is particularly vulnerable in the winter. Check for pressure spots, gently exfoliate, and moisturize. Watch for exposed skin, like your back when your shirt or jacket rides up.

    And please. Pay extra attention to your toes.

About the guest blogger:

Heather Kuttai is a decorated Paralympic athlete, Team Canada coach, published author, wife, and mother. She is a wheelchair user as a result of a car accident at six years old. This did not prevent her from receiving her Masters of Science degree, having a family, or getting a job. Today, she lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Be sure to follow her on Twitter!

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