Learning to live in a freezer
December 5, 2016 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I suffer from significant cold-intolerance, probably due to an small but uncorrectable level of anemia. I can't spend my life huddled in my wheelchair under electric blankets turned up to 11. Need (frugal, wheelchair-bound, significantly dexterity-challenged) ideas on how to cold-proof my body for life, work and transport.

My experiments confirm that I need an ambient room temperature of 85F ($500/mo energy bill) to avoid feeling like I'm in a permanent deep freeze and curling up in a ball for wamth. I can't get by just heating one room and staying there. I need to not only feel warm but to breathe in warm air as well. I don't seem to generate enough body heat to warm up an insulated jacket. I originally guessed Low-T, low thyroid or lack of EPO as the culprit, but my GP sees no supporting evidence.

One further note - this also appears to be a case of disregulation; when I first wake up after nightly sleep, my thermostat works normally for about 15 minutes until I fully wake up.
posted by zaixfeep to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You can buy portable hand warmers that recharge, or you can purchase these.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:48 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

It may be cheaper in the long run to move some place very warm where you'd infrequently need heat or A/C.
posted by cecic at 2:59 PM on December 5, 2016 [17 favorites]

Not feeling chilled at any point might help.

Here are a few of my favorites: fleece sheets, warm fleece clothes. Helps SO much.
You are in a wheelchair? Don't let your bum get cold! You could get an electrified one or not electrified. Lava buns is microwavable but thermaseats use your warmth.
A scarf makes such a big difference for me for feeling warm and if you want you can pull over your mouth is you are feeling a chill. Luckily they are stylish.
Warm feet! Get the warmest cozy socks and put them on when you are bed and get them good and warm before you get up!
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:01 PM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Fascinating article in the Atlantic about the importance having warm feet. Basically, people wearing flip flops in an office building will experience it as being a lot colder than people with standard business shoes, even if the rest of their attire is the same. So yeah, warm feet!
posted by selfmedicating at 3:07 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Costco has a $20 down throw that's pretty amazing.
posted by fshgrl at 3:15 PM on December 5, 2016

I'm the same way about needing to breathe warm air! A simple mask helps a lot, although it presumably cuts down on, um, oxygen. I have ones like this that I like for outside use.
posted by cogitron at 3:15 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

So if you packed a few hot socks of rice around yourself, would you be comfortable (similar to your electric blanket example) or would the chilly air that you're breathing wreck you? If you genuinely do need warm air to breathe, then maybe a better climate is your best bet.

Also, if you drink a cup of warm tea, does that lift your core temperature enough to be warm inside an insulated jacket?
posted by aimedwander at 3:16 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are many USB-powered devices (seat warmers, fingerless gloves, heated socks, etc) that would become nice portable items with the help of a USB power supply (usually used for battery charging).
posted by aimedwander at 3:21 PM on December 5, 2016

I need to not only feel warm but to breathe in warm air as well.

A warm-mist humidifier helps me when I can't turn the heat up high enough to warm the air I breathe (usually when I'm sick). I use this one: Vicks WarmMist Humidifier.
posted by homodachi at 3:22 PM on December 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

As an Aussie that moved to Northern Indiana I find myself cold pretty much all the time in winter. What has helped was upping the humidity in our drafty 100 year old house. We set it to 60% humidity in front of an air intake & general humidity levels in the whole house have risen. We can now keep the thermostat about 10F lower than we used to. The moisture also makes the air feel warmer to breath. Ours is evaporative, but possible steam ones would have an even more dramatic effect on how warm the air feels to breath.

It cost about $99 on Amazon at the moment we got it on sale for a little less & it has made winters bearable for me now.

Possibly a smaller desktop model on your desk at work would have a similar effect at least in the immediate area.

There are now battery powered heated coats for sale. I've seen them recently at Home Depot. While not the most attractive they might help for the transport side of things.
posted by wwax at 3:25 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ginger tea will warm you from the inside out.

Also, I am wondering about your wheelchair. I've never used one so I don't know, but they look like they would not retain heat very well at all, compared to a regular upholstered chair. Can you do anything to add heat-retaining mass to your chair? I actually find that heated things (cushions, foot warmers, hand warmers, electric blankets, etc.) end up making me kind of dependent on them for warmth and somehow colder in the end. I think insulation works better.
posted by HotToddy at 3:36 PM on December 5, 2016

Apologies if this wouldn't work for you, but can you do any exercise? I've found that any amount of moving around significantly helps me get warmer and the effects last a while if I exercise for about 30 minutes.

That said, here are some other ideas, from a fellow cold-prone, cold-intolerant person:
-Dry feet and dry socks are always warmer, regardless of type of sock material. I know that wool socks are supposedly warm even when damp, but that has only been my experience when I'm doing something seriously warming, like hiking. Change your socks frequently and dry between your toes when you do. (I learned this from my dad who suffers the same cold issues.) I often "floss" between my toes with the ankle part of the sock, then put it on.
-Shoes or slippers at all times. If your shoes get damp from perspiration, change those regularly too. If you have forced air, leave your spare pairs in front of the heat vent so they're warm when you put them on.
-Reheatable rice packets are heaven. I use one at the base of my bed if my feet are cold when I go to sleep.
-Lots of layers, especially silk long underwear. I'm talking like two shirts and a sweater and maybe a vest levels of layers, paired with long underwear, pants and wool socks. (If you want to try the silk long underwear and it's outside your frugal budget, I would be happy to buy you a pair as an early holiday gift--memail me.)
-Drinking warm tea, soup for meals, oatmeal for breakfast: hot foods can help raise your core temperature
-A wool hat whenever possible (I sleep in one in winter...)
-You said an insulated jacket doesn't warm you up, but was it down? I've found nothing insulates quite like it.
-A scarf, any kind, though wool is best.

I guess in order to feel warm, I need my feet, neck, torso and head to feel warm. The rest usually follows.
posted by purple_bird at 3:40 PM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I had this problem and it got much better when I started taking Flintstones chewable vitamins with iron. Every other supplement makes me sick, but not these . You could also try iron-fortified cereal.
posted by Violet Hour at 3:42 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you live in a place where they have Uniqlo, you might look into their Heattech clothing line. It doesn't include heating elements or anything—it's just woven in such a way that it helps trap and supposedly generate warmth. I can't vouch for the line's actual warmth-generation capabilities, but it is very warm to wear, to the extent that I used to have to pick and choose the days I wore my Heattech turtlenecks and limit wearing them only to the coldest days so I wouldn't get too hot. The only reason I don't wear those turtlenecks now is that I outgrew them. I've also found Champion fleece-interior track pants to be the same way—I start sweating while wearing them even when it's cold out.
posted by limeonaire at 3:44 PM on December 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

- Make sure the back and seat and leg areas of your chair- any parts that are in contact with you- hold heat well and don't suck heat from you. Try adding a layer of fleece or sheep or something that holds in heat better.
- See if you can add something heat-retaining to your leg area- I think sometimes having your legs kinda "out in the air" but not moving much can make them really cold.
- Floofy wool on your feet - sheepskin insoles are really nice and warm.
- Microwaveable rice bag thingie tucked in somewhere, maybe on your lap.
- I'm anemic too, and it totally makes you cold! Floradix liquid iron supplement doesn't make me feel sick, and it tastes nice - kind of like orange juice.
- Wearing a 100% silk scarf around your neck is really nice and warm without being heavy or sweaty. Vintage silk scarves (tuxedo style too) are abundant and inexpensive on eBay.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:09 PM on December 5, 2016

This may be a no-go, but I'll leave it to you to consider: if there's any way you can add short bursts of major (for you) physical exertion to your day, you may be able to recapitulate that first 15 minutes of the day feeling. I'm perpetually cold, have been since I was a teenage. My mom has Raynaud's and my extremities routinely temp at 10-15 degrees below my husband's with my infrared thermometer when I feel like my circulation isn't working right. The *one* thing I've found that breaks the positive feedback loop of (I feel cold -> body shunts heat to core to conserve energy -> I feel colder -> repeat) is exercise. If I spend 5 minutes climbing the stairs in my building, I can reset to reasonably warm for the next 2-3 hours. Weight lifting doesn't warm me up *as* quickly or keep me warm quite as long, but same basic effect.

Apologies for answering your "I am very cold in my wheelchair" question with "climbing stairs works for me!", but perhaps there's some type of exercise that isn't incompatible with your disability that might have a similar positive effect?
posted by deludingmyself at 4:24 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am also a cold intolerant person. I work outside and as it gets chillier I am finding a lot of worth in:
-a thermos of hot tea or coffee to carry around as needed (hydrating helps me warm more efficiently I read somewhere on the internet once)
-merino wool or synthetic (uniqlo heatteach!) leggings and long sleeve underlayers
-merino wool knee socks
-lower than 20F days, those Hot Hand hand and foot warmers
-merino wool buff scarf for pulling up and down and around my face as needed
-a wool hat
-boot dryer for shoes overnight
-gloooooves! Gloves gloves gloves.
-pretty much just create your own fur coat out of merino.

At home I maintain this pattern in the fabrics I wear in winter/to sleep, with the addition of a down jacket because it won't get ruined on construction materials at home. The humidifier and down comforter helps at night/when we're in the room they stay in. I drink a lot of tea.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 4:31 PM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wonder how difficult it would be to build heating into your chair? For me, there is nothing more warming than underfloor heating (especially in the bathroom in the morning, ultimate luxury goals) so maybe making your wheelchair heated would be more effective than any top-down heating approach, and need less heat to work?

I assume that they do sell heated wheelchairs but they're indescribably expensive. But some combination of heated chair pads, adjustable straps and Velcro, portable power converter and intelligent placement of extension cords around your home and workspaces might do the trick. It sounds like an awesome project for a crafty and technically minded friend to help you with.
posted by Mizu at 5:21 PM on December 5, 2016

A battery powered heated jacket.
posted by slateyness at 5:23 PM on December 5, 2016

Wool ski socks made by far the biggest difference to me when I lived in a cold climate. Even wearing a sweatshirt and microfiber pullover and equivalent legwear I'd still feel uncomfortably cold in plain cotton socks. With the socks I usually had to ditch either the pullover or wear a T-shirt underneath except on the coldest days indoors.

The other thing that made a big difference was a nice hat. I was lucky in that I had several my SO crocheted for me out of different materials, so I could match the warming factor to the given day's temperature. Wool on the coldest days, cotton or poly on the days when I needed just a bit to take the edge off.

Oddly, the socks made a bigger difference than the hat, but with both I could do a single layer indoors with no problem, despite having a drafty house that rarely got above 65.
posted by wierdo at 5:45 PM on December 5, 2016

I'm anaemic and get cold very quickly. In NZ in winter recently what helped was good socks (wool, wool, wool) and I very much appreciated a pair of fingerless gloves I had for extra warmth because my hands chill easily. I had a jacket with deep warm pockets that helped too, but the gloves when I had to work on my laptop and type made that less painful.

A thick wool scarf helps a lot. Silk doesn't work for me, only wool, ymmv. A hat helps a lot, the beanie style is best, one that goes over your ears. You can get such a huge range of adorable hats now, and if you don't like wearing a hat, you can go for a wide headband of knitted material that covers your ears at least, so you're warmer.

I absolutely recommend the Uniqlo heattech too, good stuff. They ship stuff too. They do camisoles and leggings and it's all lightweight and washes and wears easily. It's easy to layer under regular clothes and nicely warm.

Sheepskin liners in your shoes are SO NICE, and can be bought on Amazon. If you can get Uggs or Ugg-knock-offs, get them. They look stupid but they feel amazing and snuggly warm. I would consider a sheepskin on your chair - my sister uses one for her car seat and it's so good on cold days.

Instead of electric blankets, you can go old-school and get a hot water bottle in a knitted cosy, and sleep under a duvet with a thick wooly blanket on top. Pop the bottle near your toes in half an hour before bedtime, snuggle in (on cold nights, use two bottles, one to cuddle with!) and in the morning, wake up super toasty. The wool blanket traps all the heat, the bottles warm up under the duvet which makes a big warm cozy nest inside your bed. That's what my old-school style sister does and it was awesome on cold nights.

She also moved her bed to be right next to the fire in her living room during winter, and then back in the bedroom for summer. She hangs "winter curtains" in all the rooms for winter - between doors and on the windows, thick material that's very draft-proof and goes down to the floors. She bought them from a second-hand charity shop and they're all charmingly mismatched because she has the knack for that, florals and solids. But it really does make a difference to drafts, having the winter curtains up for rooms with heating on. Then in summer, the curtains go down and light cotton ones go up.

And re: anemia, maybe push your GP about getting properly tested. I was on standard supplements and then had an ER visit and got switched to mega doses of iron because if you've lost a lot of iron, you need to build up the stores and depending on why you're losing it, you may need more than you can get with an off-the-shelf supplement and food supplies (I have internal bleeding, so steak ain't gonna cut it unless I eat a cow a day). With the correct iron supplements, you should be feeling better within a few weeks, if anaemia is the issue.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:46 PM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have you already tried wearing a thick wool hat? That plus super warm socks might make a difference.

There is also some kind of exercise my dude learned when studying tai chi, I think it's called "warm hands" or something. He basically learned to make his hands warm at will.

None of this will help with the breathing cold air, though. While a humidifier (especially a steam humidifier) will help, that uses electricity too. My low-energy solutions:

- *** Get a really good drying rack or two, and dry your laundry -- just in winter when it's naturally dry -- inside your house. You can also dry lightweight knits and jeans on hangers, distributed well (so they aren't all in a bunch). Get padded hangers for this. Some stuff will be too wrinkled this way, but you can always run that in the dryer, briefly, with some damp stuff, to get most of the wrinkles out.

- Time baking/oven use for when it's coldest, and hang out in the kitchen
posted by amtho at 6:52 PM on December 5, 2016

This might be the longest shot - but I take cinnamon capsules for circulation (part of an autoimmune thing). Is there any chance that might help??
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:55 PM on December 5, 2016

I have not direct experience, but Dewalt (the power tool manufacturer) is making heated jackets and hoodies that run off the same batteries that power their cordless drills. Some also have USB outlets so you can charge your phone off the same battery pack. One example here here.
posted by 445supermag at 7:55 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

An ELECTRIC throw (a smallish blanket, actually) has a made a huge difference in my comfort on cold, damp Northwest days. They're inexpensive, and lots of places sell them. Mine is soft and fluffy, which is nice. I can drape it around my shoulders and chest, or lay it on top of me before I pull the covers up.

Are there any spinal cord injury or wheelchair user support groups in your area? They will have many, many suggestions and sympathy, to boot.
posted by kestralwing at 7:59 PM on December 5, 2016

Depending on how severe your anaemia is, you may need intravenous iron. It helps A LOT MORE than iron tablets. It's a 45 minute to 2 hour iron infusion... done at outpatient clinics.

Your GP may be able to do it herself, or refer you.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 8:43 PM on December 5, 2016

A budget-conscious friend takes Wellesse liquid iron instead of Floradix.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 9:06 PM on December 5, 2016

That's 29 C?? Yikes... Nth getting an opinion for treatment (and/or views on causes) from another doctor.

How well insulated is your home? Could making some changes there be part of the equation? Some ideas are here . Weatherstripping windows and blocking a draft under the front door will help a bit- and I know I've seen a plastic that can be attached to windows to mimic double glazing at Home Depot (can't recommend a particular one, sorry, I have the opposite problem). Maybe a friend or relative could help with this kind of thing (or if you rent, your landlord)? Or someone from Craigslist? (Actually you might be able to get a personal recommendation for a handyperson from friends on Facebook, or through a Facebook group.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:25 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

It might also be worth looking into energy efficiency programs/grants that might be offered by your local government, if you haven't already.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:30 PM on December 5, 2016

A couple of sets of this polypropylene thermal underwear kept me warm for a decade in a drafty, uninsulated, badly heated farmhouse. One potential caveat: my then-wife found them too scratchy to wear. I'm pretty tender, but I never had a problem with it.

Also, you can use athletic wristbands to keep your hands warm.
posted by bryon at 9:49 PM on December 5, 2016

This company makes those folding camp chairs, but with reflective aluminum sewn into them. They claim it raises your temperature by 11 degrees in only a couple of minutes in cold weather. I would consider getting one of the chairs, removing the posts and just sitting on the cushion. Alternatively, you might want to look into other emergency blankets for sitting on.

They also sell silk sleeping bag liners (Amazon has a ton listed). When I have needed to sit in the cold for a long period, I've slipped my legs into one and pulled it up around my waist. It made a big difference.

I am thirding that more humid air may feel warmer. I also need to breathe warm air, although not quite as warm as you. Be cautious! I gave myself mold with my humidifier....

You might also want to talk to an ENT about the needing to breathe warm air. It was mentioned to me post nose surgery, so they may have a way to treat it.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:13 PM on December 5, 2016

My quadraplegic grandfather swore by his wheelchair cushions. In winter he had heated ones with a thin wool blanket on top that went up over the wheelchair back, and monster-thick wool socks my grandmother would knit him. You can find lots of handmade toasty wool socks on Etsy. They'll last forever. Downside: they can be too thick for shoes. That said, as my grandfather was quadraplegic, he had very swollen feet that meant he couldn't wear shoes. He did fine outside in winter with thin wool socks under the thick handknit ones.

He also used blanket throws over his lap; his favorite were (you guessed) handknit wool ones. Polar fleece also works!
posted by fraula at 6:49 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

After being in a manlift all day and even more freezing than usual because of the additional exposure to the elements, I came back to suggest blanketing/blocking behind the seat of your wheelchair where wind or cold air might be closer to your body. We can't plywood off the lift basket for safety reasons, but man it would make a difference. So Nthing the suggestion of blankets, pads, or even a sweet sheepskin liner to improve insulation and protection.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 8:45 PM on December 6, 2016

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