I haven’t kept everyone updated for a good few weeks now as things have been very very busy for me… in particular the last couple of weeks have been crazy. So I will start by rewinding back to Sunday December 15th.. the day before my mum was due to fly home from Kunming, and when I would have to start surviving by myself!!
Kunming is known as the ‘city of eternal spring’ and when I researched its climate before arriving, I found on numerous websites that it said it does not have bitter coldness in winter or extreme heat in summer. It sounded like perfect weather for me, and I therefore packed accordingly. And the first few weeks demonstrated this nice mild climate. But of course, the weather then took a slight turn and sure enough, on Sunday December 15th, snow fell in Kunming for the first time in 10 years. It had been getting very very cold in the run up to this, and when I saw that snow was forecast I was pretty surprised. It wasn’t really settling though so we went about our day and night and didn’t think too much of it…
And then we woke up early on Monday morning to go to the gym and were greeted with this.
Quite a lot of snow had fallen overnight (by Kunming standards anyway), and the sky was heavy with snowfall still. We trekked to the hospital (my mum tipped me out of my chair into an icy puddle on the way…but that’s another story) and the view from the gym window was extremely festive.
But, as I mentioned before, this was the day that my mum was due to catch her internal flight to Shanghai, and then her connecting flight back to Heathrow. We were informed early in the day that her flight was delayed, but an hour later we heard reports that the airport was in fact closed. The snow was now a massive inconvenience and we were frantically trying to find another way for mum to get to Shanghai. We enquired about a train, but that takes two days, and after hearing that the airport was re-opening in the afternoon once the snow had stopped, mum went there with Jenny (Ali’s family’s translator who is so lovely and beyond helpful!) to see if she could catch a different flight.
From the sounds of it, the airport was absolute carnage. Ten thousand people were stranded there as 5cm of snow had covered the runways and meant that all planes were grounded. As this type of weather is so rare (Jenny, who is my age, has only seen snow two or three times in her life), it is not surprising that the airport was not particularly prepared. Over two thousand military and civilian volunteers were called in to help clear the runways.
As well as the runways being covered in snow, the conditions were a near white-out. Visibility was extremely poor and it would have been very dangerous for flying.
So after spending a couple of hours at the airport trying to get a flight, mum and Jenny abandoned hope and returned home. Mum re-booked her flight for the weekend and it meant that I would get to keep her to an extra few days.
Of course the snow had completely melted by Tuesday, and the airport was running smoothly again by Wednesday. But the temperatures remained unseasonably cold, getting to about -5°C at night, and barely getting above zero in the day. This would be bearable if it was warm inside, but nowhere in Kunming has central heating. It is deemed unnecessary as the weather is ‘spring-like’ all year round (except for now!). We have a couple of portable heaters in the apartment, but can only run two at a time because it overloads the electricity and causes a powercut. The gym is also quite cold. There are quite a few draughts as it is a large open plan area of the hospital.
I will also mention at this point that body temperature regulation is something that is affected when you have a spinal injury. I have found a good explanation from the apparelyzed website to explain this.
” A normal, healthy human is able to maintain a constant body temperature of approximately 98.6°F despite the temperature of the environment. In a hot environment, the body sends a signal to the brain via the spinal cord to say the body is overheating, the brain then sends a signal back down the spinal cord and tells the body to cool itself by perspiring which evaporates and cools the skin preventing hyperthermia. In cold weather, the body senses the lower temperature and our brain tells our body to constrict the blood vessels in our extremities, and keep the warm blood around our vital organs preventing hypothermia. Our brain also tells us to put more clothes on to warm ourselves up. Most people with complete spinal cord injuries do not sweat below the level of the injury. With the loss of the ability to sweat or vasoconstrict within affected dermatomes the patient becomes poikilothermic and needs careful control of their environmental conditions. Therefore, if a paraplegic or quadriplegic is in an outside temperature over 90°F, especially when the humidity is high, the body core temperature will begin to rise (Poikilothermia) and the individual will become hyperthermic. Likewise in a cold environment, the body may not be able to get the messages through to the brain that the body is cooling down, and if left untreated, the person will soon become hypothermic. “
I really struggle with regulating my body temperature and I am often freezing cold when no one else is. I pretty much always have a hot water bottle with me, and once I have got cold I find it extremely hard to warm up again. I find it very frustrating, but it is just one of the many secondary complications of a spinal injury so I try not to dwell on it too much.
A few days into the ‘cold snap’ I was getting pretty fed up. I would come home from the gym for lunch and would get straight into bed with numerous blankets, duvets and hot water bottles. It would take the entire 2 hour lunch break for me to warm up, only to then get cold again in the arctic gym in the afternoon. So I mentioned to mum that if it were a direct Kunming to Heathrow flight then I would just go home with her until the worst of the Kunming winter weather was over. She went off to the shops, but returned 5 minutes later and announced that she thought I should come home for Christmas and come back when it had warmed up.
I thought the idea was crazy at first, but after speaking to my dad and finding out that in fact it was pretty easy to change my flights, I decided that I actually really wanted to spend Christmas at home with my family. I have a great home-gym at my parents’ house so after discussing with the physios and Dr Zhu, I was given their blessing to return home. They were not keen on the idea at first as they feel I am progressing well on the programme and taking time off could slow my progress. But I have promised them that I will keep exercising whilst I am in England, and I will return to Kunming soon to pick up where I left off. I actually think that the cold weather was having an adverse affect on my walking… I was doing much better before the cold weather arrived.
I flew home with my mum and arrived in England on Monday (23rd). I decided not to tell my sisters as I wanted to surprise them. And that was possibly the greatest Christmas present of all (I know that sounds so cheesy!) Pip burst into tears when she saw me, Sam screamed (like a proper loud terrifying scream) and Nicky just didn’t seem to believe that I was actually home. I have had the nicest week being in a nice warm cosy house surrounded by my family and it genuinely has been one of the best Christmases ever.