I talked with someone at a party last night. No, really. I had an actual conversation with someone I don't actually know.
Jeff and I went to his company's Christmas party, which was held basically outdoors, at the Phoenix Zoo. Now, Phoenix is warmer than, say, Chicago in December, but it still gets CHILLY at night. My friends and family know very well my aversion to anything even remotely resembling cold. Fortunately, the event planners had made certain that there were heaters in the seating area, and I plopped myself down right next to one. A bit later, one of Jeff's coworkers came in with his wife, and she plopped herself down on the other side of the heater. One or the other of us made some introductory remark, and we soon discovered that we share the same medical condition!
See, I'm not totally a singular and bizarre freak of nature. Though it is a rather rare condition, there are others who also have Raynaud's disease. We lose circulation in our extremities (usually hands and feet, but sometimes nose and ears, as well) very easily; we often wear gloves/mittens* and heavy socks to insulate our hands and feet; we also have to keep our entire bodies, particularly the bodies' cores, warm, to prevent blood from being mistakenly drawn from our extremities back to our vital organs. If we don't stay warm enough, we can get frostbite, in weather where other people might be comfortable wearing only a sweater. I myself have primary Raynaud's, which is more severe and is "stand-alone", i.e. not a secondary symptom of another disease or disorder.
Further chatting with this woman revealed that we share some other medical conditions, too: hypoglycemia and low blood pressure. I haven't found it in any literature (let's face it, nobody is handing out huge grants for Raynaud's research anyway), but I wonder if there is some sort of correlation. The low blood pressure thing makes sense: One mightn't have enough blood pressure to combat the constricting vessels and push the needed blood to extremities.
Well, it was nice to just hear from someone else who really understands what life is like, day in and day out, for me. Raynaud's is not like a major disease (e.g. polio) or a severe handicap, in that it doesn't really impact my life in an extreme way. I am mobile, and can function normally from day-to-day. Yet it really does impact my life in ways I don't always remember. For example, I make conscious choices about living in hotter, drier areas of the world; I might dream of doing brilliantly on the GRE and getting offered a fellowship at some big-name school back east, but realistically, health-wise, I'm not going to be able to live anywhere in a location that gets much more than slightly cold at any time of the year (so that pretty much leaves Hawaii, Florida, and the Southwest, which is where I currently reside). Air conditioning is literally a pain for me and can make me cry, and it's often an ordeal to just walk through a refrigerated aisle at the grocery store. I really don't wear short pants, or even many skirts or dresses, because they just don't keep me warm enough. I have to tote an extra wrap, plus gloves and hat, almost everywhere I go, so I'm always hauling around more stuff than I want. [I ought to carry a balanced snack, such as a protein bar, with me at all times, to combat blood sugar issues, but I've gotten lazy about that lately...] It's the little things that other people might not even notice, but they add up sometimes.
So I'm glad I met a fellow Raynaud's sufferer, even if it was just once at a company party. I'm glad that I was reassured that Phoenix really is a great place for people like us, as long as we can stay outside in the summer, to avoid the crazy air conditioning. If she's survived this long, there's hope for me, too.
*I believe that this is how Wendy first recognized me during our first year of college: I was "that weird girl who always wears gloves in class".