Sunday, May 10, 2009

Raynaud's Syndrome

I have Raynaud's Syndrome. It struck the winter of 1990 when I was doing field work in the Olympic Mountains. I was on a December field trip where it had snowed for the previous days. I went drove up the Wynoochee Valley Road to the gages on the Wynoochee River and smaller streams. I had finished some of the lower gages and went to the gages below Wynoochee Dam and Big Creek, a creek entering the Wynoochee River below the dam.

I arrived in the morning to Big Creek where having driven most of the road through a few inches of snow to about at foot at the gage. I parked and did the usual routine of servicing the instruments in the gage (takes about an hour) and then prepared to do a wading measurement. The water was much above freezing and the snow had dimished to just a gentle snowfall. I put on the chestwader (warmer than hip boots and helps avoiding getting wet if you slip), grabbed the measuring gear and walked to the measuring section.

Measuring streamflow is done by a variety of methods and instruments, but the traditional methods are either by wading or from cableways or bridges. Wading measurements are made with a tagline for measuring the width and determining location in the cross-section for individual vertical measurements of depth and velocity, with a wading road and attached velocity meter, and a stopwatch and station-measurement notes.

Once you set the tagline across the stream, you determine a 20-28 representatives sections for individual measurements. This takes 1-2 mintes per section, taking 40-60 minutes for the whole measurement. You're constantly holding your wading rod and adjusting the depth of the velocity meter with one hand and holding your field notes and pencil with the other. When you're done you release the tagline, wade back across and reel in the tagline.

To do the last thing you put down your wading rod and field notes (aluminum note holder). I laid the wading rod down and realized my left hand wouldn't move to release holding the wading rod. My hand and fingers was literally locked around the wading rod. My right hand was also locked in a postion from holding the pencil. There I was with two curled hand and fingers which wouldn't move.

I finally slid the rod out of my left hand, and with the curled hands reeled the tagline in, bundled up all the gear and went back to the truck. It took several minutes to grasp the truck keys in my pocket and open the door to start the enginer and heater. After the heater begin blowing warm air I put my hands over the vents for 15-20 minutes and they uncurled enough to finish the work (another 30 minutes).

I went ahead and finished servicing and measuring the second gage for the day. It was a cableway measurement which is just a little easier because you're using and changing your hands continually throughout the measurement so they don't get locked in one position. And later that afternoon the hands got better, but the problem persisted throughout of the rest of the field trip.

I went to the doctor the next week who diagnosed I had Raynaud's Syndrome, and likely the secondary type and a genetic hand-me-down. Once it triggers it doesn't go away the rest of your life. Since it prevented continuing in the field the following summer I moved into an office position, a technical manager where I spent the rest of my career.

And over those years while doing photography I found the condition got worse for two activities with photography during the winter. The first is simply the exposure of my hands in the cold with my cameras where I use fingerless gloves to ensure I can hold the camer and use the controls. I'm down to about 15 minutes where I have to warm my hands for another 10-15 minutes before resuming using the cameras.

The second is photographing events or situations where I have to hold the camera. It's the same issue. I can't hold the camera for more than 15 minutes before I have to relax and move the hands for a few minutes. But over the time in the cold, the hands become stiffer to where after 1-2 hours, I have to quit and seek shelter for 30+ minutes to warm the hands and get the fingers moving again.

I thought all this was just in my hands, which is the most common experience, and mine so far because I've always been able to walk around barefoot even in the winter, even walking home barefoot 3 miles in the rain this last fall because my shoes blistered my feet so bad I couldn't wear them. Or so I thought even through this last winter.

Well this spring when the first real warm weather began I noticed my toes, which had been cold and nearly white all winter, started to swell and turn bright red, and for a week literally hurt. Over the next month the red turned to deep reddening and then blistered. Not big obvious blisters, more like thin scabs, but enough to realize it's a mild-like case of stage two frost bite.

This last winter the temperatures didn't get below freezing, but the sustained cold with Raynaud's Syndrome created the same situation when significant circulation returned to the toes, they reacted like frostbite. And now I have 3-4 toes on each foot with the damage. I still go barefoot most days around the place, but until the weather gets better I'll have to wait for the toes to fully recover and return to their normal size and color.

So that's my life now and my work in photography. And I won't touch on the issue it's also a problem with my nose. No one likes a cold nose.

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