Allergic to the cold, literally

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When I was a kid, I grew accustomed to an expected occurrence if I was in the cold for any period of time.

If we went sledding for an hour, I would come back to the house with itchy legs. It didn’t matter if I was wearing coveralls and long underwear – it was just a fact. The itching would grow worse as I warmed up and eventually gross, horrible hives would form. It would often take about three hours for the hives and urgency to scratch to dissipate.

Luckily, it was always just my legs.

When I was a young adult, the hives and itching associated with cold spread to an additional area – my hands. I remember milking cows with the brothers on cold winter mornings, with the constant hot-cold-hot-cold intervals resulting in Leprosy-like symptoms between my fingers.

When I was in my late 20s, our beloved dog got himself lost in a blizzard, so I ventured out to find him. It took about 30 minutes – and resulted in a good portion of my forehead being frostbitten. So that added a strange nuance to my cold allergy – with a strip on that part of my head turning bright purple whenever it is exposed to cold air.

In other words, I’m not a big fan of cold weather and certain parts of my body literally revolt against even limited exposure. I thought it was bad before . . . but it’s taken on a surprising new twist.

It first happened in early January of 2014. YNT staffers, including me, were in Milligan to cover the filming of the York High School band in the exciting Super Bowl video for Pepsi. We were also there to cover the subsequent outdoor concert, in which country music star Lee Brice performed.

For any of you who were there that day and/or night, you have to remember how dang cold it was. I mean, it was almost unbearable.

We were among the hundreds who huddled like cattle in front of an outdoor stage to pretend the song “Parking Lot Party” pertained to us even though the temperature had dropped well below zero.

That night, when I finally left Milligan and happily cranked the heat in my vehicle, I noticed a strange sensation. My entire face felt like it was on fire.

I stopped to buy a coffee in Fairmont. I noticed people were giving me strange looks. Their looks of sympathy mixed with terror confused me.

When I finally returned home and walked through our front door, I heard the strangest thing.

“Oh my God!” exclaimed the husband, with his deep voice taking on an additional tone I likened to a siren. “What happened to your face?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, completely dumbfounded by his proclamation.

“Go look in the mirror,” he said.

When I saw my reflection, I nearly fell to the floor. My face was distorted, to the point I didn’t recognize myself.

It was beyond bright red, covered with massive welts and swelling hives. My raised eyelids were huge globs of skin while other areas seemed to sag.

We determined it was a result of the cold air – I was having a reaction on my face, like I was having on my legs.

Luckily, the next day was a Sunday and I didn’t have to go anywhere – because the crazy reaction was not only not subsiding, it was worsening.

It took nearly two days for my face to go back to normal.

“That was weird,” I reflected on my plight. “Hope that never happens again.”

But ever since, just the smallest stints of cold air make the Elephant Woman symptoms appear.

On a cold day before Christmas, I was outside for about 15 minutes when it was about 20 below zero. My face felt like it was on fire and I waited for the swelling to begin. Fortunately, that time around, it only resulted in great big bumps on the left side of my head.

Here’s hoping our temperatures stay above normal for the rest of this winter. But if they drop and you run into me . . . here are some tips:

If my face looks like I’ve been beaten by Mike Tyson, burned with a branding iron and exposed to high levels of radiation . . . don’t panic. Just save yourself from the horror by looking away . . . it’s that simple.

If you see me scratching like a dog with fleas . . . don’t be afraid. This is not a communicable disease.

And say a little prayer for the Elephant Woman because it appears I am not just testy about cold weather, I am literally allergic.


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