United States Army veteran Gary Kern remembers when he first experienced the pain of Raynaud’s phenomenon. “I believe my Raynaud’s began in Germany during the winter of 1962-64,” he recalls. “Being from California, it was my first exposure to cold, indeed frigid, weather.” In fact, that winter was the second coldest on record in Germany.
The period coincided with the combat readiness during the Cold War. Assigned to a Mechanized Infantry Division as a Light Weapons Infantryman, Gary’s training consisted of vigorous physical training along with the study of individual military occupation specifics and other tasks. “Much of our daily activity was stressful, both from a physical standpoint and also from a mental standpoint,” recalls the 78-year-old veteran. “So, in my case, Raynaud’s was triggered by both cold and stress.”
Cold weather boots were impractical for him because they made feet sweat, contributing to frostbite that befell some of his military buddies. Gloves were impractical during training exercises with weapons and, in his case, operating a command radio.
The military in those days demanded an ethos of no whining, complaining or sick call, according to Gary. “Doing any of those would jeopardize chances of promotion or select assignments.”
He initially learned about his primary Raynaud’s diagnosis from vascular testing, and then from the Raynaud’s Association via social media outlets such as Facebook. Fortunately, his veteran service representative told him that Raynaud’s is a condition listed on the VA disability website, providing a benefit at his disability rating of $157 per month.
After Gary retired from the Army, he worked in law enforcement in San Francisco, where the weather was relatively mild, and the stress was certainly less than it had been during the frigid winters in Germany! But living in a mild climate in California was not an escape from Raynaud’s. “Walking into an air conditioned room can trigger an attack for me,” he points out. “Stress coupled with cool or cold conditions exacerbates the severity of the attack.”
He has found many effective products and coping strategies from the Raynaud’s Association, he says. “I’ve learned about the best gloves and hand warmers. The hand warmers help me keep warm at night while watching TV,” he adds.
Gary says he’s inspired by all the people who have learned to adapt so well to their Raynaud’s. “My cardiologist has Raynaud’s. “In spite of the disease, he performs delicate heart and vascular procedures,” he says. “I’m so glad there’s such good advice and support for all of us.”
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