I am looking out of the window. The sun is shining very brightly, snow has covered everything and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. You feel like getting out of the house and going for a walk. Very few cars are on the streets and even fewer people walking. But things can be deceiving. I look at the thermometer and it happily shows -32 °C. No wonder so few people are outside and the ones that are, are wrapped in clothes. But despite what the thermometer says, I will be going out soon.
At the moment in Finland we are going through a cold spell. Well it is cold even by Finnish standards. The outside temperatures have stayed between -25°C and -32°C for a week now. For those of you who are not familiar or have not experienced these extreme temperatures I just say this: When it is -30 °C and you go out, the expression you have on your face (angry, sad, smiling laughing…) will remain on your face until you get out of the cold. It would be fatal to venture outside without proper clothing.
The cold spell could last between 1 to 4 weeks but it won't effect the daily routine at all, buses come on time, you are expected to be on time at school, work or an appointment just as if it were +30°C. Those who live in other Scandinavian countries or Canada probably know what I am talking about.
But this writing is not entirely about extreme weather conditions. My wife Mina used to suffer from continuous and horrible pains and aches all over her body. At one time we thought that she is just imagining and these are just in her head and do not really exist. After almost a year of seeing different doctors and specialist she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgy. This is simply put a kind of rheumatism, but of course much more complicated. Nobody knows what causes it and how to cure it.
If you are active you can at best try to alleviate the pain to some degree. Its victims are almost entirely women. Most people who have this are often caring, compassionate, helpful and emotional people. She is a nurse and a very caring one. About 5% of the population has this illness and as I said earlier over 95% are women. This illness has many symptoms that help identify it. I am not going to go into the illness in further details either because this writing is not about this illness either, not entirely anyway.
After experimenting with different things to make her life as normal as possible, she was asked by her friends at work to try swimming in the lake. You might wonder what is so special about that? Well the difference with this one is that the water is very cold (+1°C at the moment) and the outside temperature, as I mentioned earlier, could be as low as -35°C.
There is an association just for people who exercise this activity here in Finland. It has thousands of members. In every town or village you have designated places where the association provides the members with a warm changing room and places a water pump in the the lake in order the stop the water from freezing over. The opening in the frozen lake is about 5mx5m. The thickness of the ice in the lake could be almost 1m.
People slip into a bathing suit. Some have divers gloves and socks. These gloves and socks will keep their hands and feet warm since they are almost the first parts that feel the cold in the water and furthermore it would be a painful experience if you touch the steps or the wooden pier with your bare, wet feet or hands.
I am sure most of you have tried touching a frozen metal pipe or object with your tongue and know the consequences of it. So imagine you go into the water and after a few seconds or a couple of minutes you come out of the lake and step on the frozen pier. So most people protect, at least, their feet by wearing special shoes, socks or even normal woollen socks. A hat is also advisable and if based on this writing you are willing to give this a try, remember NOT to immerse your head into the water.
The first time my wife tried this “madness” was over 4 months ago. The outside temperature was about +17°C and water was about +15°C. The lake was free of ice. She jumped out of the water as soon as she submerged in it up to her neck. I, sarcastically, commented to her “I think you should have stayed a bit longer for this thing to have any effect!”. She said it was terribly cold and impossible to stay longer. Deep inside I was very proud of her, you see she was a person who always complained about the cold and had ice-cold feet that made me jump whenever they touched mine in bed.
For somebody like that to be ready to try something as drastic as this just goes to show how desperate she was to get some relief from the pain. She dreaded going into the water again but there she was the next day ready to go. This time she stayed longer and on the way home she told me she felt just wonderful. She was numb all over and pains and aches had abandoned her for a while. She had not felt like this since her problems had started. No amount of pain killers had given her the luxury of being without pain.
After coming out of the water her body turns almost red since blood circulation on her skin is many times the normal. So since then she has been coming to the “hole in the ice”. She looks forward to the time she can come for her daily swims. She has not taken pain killers for over two months now. She has decided to battle this thing with all her might and up to now it has been a winning battle for her.
For those of you who want to know the science behind the effect of swimming in icy waters and pain relief here it comes: her body does not sufficiently produce certain hormones (such as Cortisol) that are involved in response to stress or pain. So the body needs an external stimulant such as a shock to produce these hormones. The body experiences going into the icy water as a shock and produces these hormones which in turn help her deal with her pains better.
We, the rest of the family, have tried to adapt and made sure that she has time to do all that is necessary to stay in good shape. As a mother to two young sons and a nagging husband, she has to be in good shape mentally and physically. After all she is the heart and soul of our little unit. We try to do the things that are stressful to her and cause pain such as cleaning the house, lifting heavy things and such . She religiously does her daily exercises, goes for her walks and of course her swims in the “hole in the ice”. No matter how cold, stormy or dark, she is always there dressed to go.
The lake is about 500m from where we live but we usually go for a brisk walk that takes about 1 hour. She says the experience is much more pleasant if she has broken sweat before going into the water. Many people here walk with a stick that resembles ski sticks. This is known as “Nordic walking" and has been developed by the Finns. The good thing about it is that using it while walking exercises the muscles of your shoulders and upper arms as well as your legs. Give it a try if you have pains in your shoulders or upper back.
So now she is getting ready to go and I have to get ready also. I am actually looking forward to going with her. It is heart warming to see her glowing, smiling and praising how great she feels on the way back. She rarely has cold feet nowadays and the cold does not bother her much. This time however I am taking my digital camera with me so that I could show them to those who find it hard to believe. I am going to take a few photos of our short “pilgrim” to this “shrine” that really bestows health upon its visitor and rids the visitor of her ailment unlike all the other shrines I have visited in my lifetime