When Carol Tonkin goes to the supermarket, she arms herself with a sweater, warm footwear and mittens—and that’s just in the summer. “I get strange looks but I don’t care anymore,” she says. Carol has Raynaud’s phenomenon. Supermarkets tend to be cold, and reaching into refrigerated or frozen food sections is likely to trigger a painful reaction, she says.
The Minnesota native believes she’s had Raynaud’s most of her life. “I thought everyone experienced the cold the same way,’ she said, ‘with fingers and toes that turned colors and often became painful.” When her fingers and toes turned blue during swimming lessons, her mother reasoned that her thin frame was to blame. “You don’t have enough meat on your bones, she told me.”
It wasn’t until her 20s that Carol heard the word Raynaud’s. “I happened to have an attack when I came in from the cold to my regularly scheduled gynecologist appointment. He casually said I probably had Raynaud’s and should move to a warmer climate,” Carol recalls.
The doctor’s nonchalant comment didn’t cause alarm, and he didn’t recommend she consult with other medical professionals. She didn’t get bloodwork done to rule out any underlying diseases associated with Raynaud’s but hasn’t experienced any symptoms to indicate a more serious problem.
Her career as a dental hygienist was challenging because dental offices are kept cold to prevent the spread of germs. “I wore long underwear and a turtleneck or sweater under my scrubs,” she said. “I would have loved to drape a blanket over me, as we did for patients,” she laughed.
When Carol brought a space heater into the room, a co-worker complained that it wasn’t hygienic because it might disperse germs. “But it was a radiant heater that didn’t pose any such risk, so I was able to keep it,” she said.
In frigid Minnesota, where below-freezing winter temperatures are the norm, Carol has learned to always ensure her core is always warm. “I wear a hat, carry a sweater, avoid iced drinks, use insulated cups, and use hand and toe warmers. I use mittens because gloves aren’t warm enough for me,” she said. She uses HotHands© hand and toe warmers, along with Ocoopa rechargeable hand warmers. At home, she uses a heating pad in bed and—her new find—a Proaller brand electric heated foot warmer that she finds especially helpful.
“I learned about the Raynaud’s Association from an insert in the Ocoopa (hand warmer) package,” she said. “I was astonished to learn there’s an association for Raynaud’s, that it wasn’t just a medical word. I’ve learned so much about what others do to keep warm from the Raynaud’s Association. They made me feel that I’m not alone. Before, I used to feel like I was an oddball.”
At the age of 65, Carol no longer cares about the stares she often gets when she’s bundled up in layers during warmer temperatures. “When I was young, it used to bother me what other people thought,” she said. “I’m not self-conscious anymore. I know I’m not the only one with Raynaud’s. Far from it!”
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Editor’s Note: Carol’s career as a dental hygienist was challenging in ways she never knew, until we recently brought it to her attention: The repetitive impact on the fingers of working with vibrating tools and equipment each day can result in a form of activity-induced Raynaud’s called Vibration White Finger. It’s one of the few conditions where there’s actually been a causal relationship associated with Raynaud’s. In Carol’s case, we doubt it caused her Raynaud’s, as she suffered symptoms from childhood, but it may have aggravated her condition over the years. Upon hearing about Vibration White Finger and how it may have affected her Raynaud’s she says “If I had known, I probably would have chosen a different occupation all those many years ago.” Doctors really need to pay attention to a patient’s full history, lifestyle and occupational issues that can affect their health and well being!