While many parts of the central and eastern USA have seen near record high temperatures in the past couple of weeks coupled with a very mild weather pattern this winter over the majority of the country, the end of winter may not be closer than we think. Amidst mostly cloudy skies, and temperatures in the low 30s, the famous groundhog "Phil" saw his shadow in the little town of Punxsutawney, Pa last week signaling "six more weeks of winter". Whether or not you put stock into Phil's predictions, historically winter weather is often carried deep into March for most of the country. With these cold weather patterns, often we see unexpected snow falls as well.
For the ostomates who live in northern climates and are experiencing this less than mild winter weather, it is very important to use caution when fighting back the snow especially when shoveling. Due to the abdominal incisions, ostomates are at higher risk of strained abdominal muscle injuries and must also take appropriate steps to protect against injuries to the stoma.
If more winter and snow is indeed in our future according to Phil, please take the following precautions to mind while working through the piles of snow that may be heading our way this late winter season.
- Physicians Advice: First and foremost, if you are questioning whether you are fit to shovel snow please consult with your Medical Provider Team. Your Physician or Ostomy Nurse will be able to determine if you have weight limits or restrictions when it comes to pushing or lifting. Make sure that you discuss your plans with your Medical Provider Team before rushing out to overexert yourself.
- Proper Support: Consider wearing an abdominal binder while shoveling snow. The primary purpose of the abdominal binder is to lend support to the abdomen after your ostomy surgery. It can also help the the ostomate handle everyday activities, such as coughing, sitting up, and walking during the early healing phases after your surgery. For these reasons, many ostomates will have an abdominal binder from their surgery. Use it for extra support while you shovel snow and to help protect your stoma.
- Dress Appropriately: Layer your clothing to stay warm. If you are too warm and begin to sweat, remove a layer of clothing to prevent from sweating while in the cold air. While sweating is good for cooling you down in the summer, it is not so good for cooling down in the middle of winter. Wear boots that are warm, water-proof if possible, and most importantly ones that will prevent you from slipping.
- Use Proper Technique: Pushing a shovel full of snow is much easier on your back and abdomen than lifting and throwing a shovel full of snow. Start from one side and plow through the other, dumping the snow off the side of your driveway or walkway rather than trying to throw it aside. Hold the handle of the shovel off to the side of your body, opposite your stoma, as your push the shovel along. Holding the shovel to your side is safer in the case you hit an uneven part of the driveway or sidewalk as the handle will not drive into your abdomen or even worse your stoma. Don't hold your breath as you push or lift heavy shovels full of snow. Take a deep breath before you lift and exhale as you strain through the lift.
- Stay Hydrated: It is very important to stay hydrated before, during, and after your snow shoveling. Snow removal is a very strenuous exercise that you shouldn't go into lightly. Many people attempt to tackle their driveways and sidewalks unprepared and end up straining either their abdominal muscles or lower back muscles mostly due to overstrain and poor hydration.
- Take Your Time: The entire driveway doesn't necessarily need to be finished in the next 30 minutes. Take your time, rest between passes with the shovel. If you find yourself getting tired or winded, go inside and sit for a few minutes to rest before tackling another portion of the job.
- Be Smart: Sometimes you have to know your limits. If you are not physically fit enough to safely shovel snow, please look for other options. Hire that entrepreneurial kid in the neighborhood to shovel for you, call in favors from friends and neighbors, or guilt your kids or grandkids into coming to see you and while there, shovel the driveway for you. At the end of the day, a cleaned off driveway and sidewalk is not worth injuring yourself or having to face another surgery due to not being prepared or able to do the job yourself.
Whether or Phil's predictions about the weather come true or not, be careful this winter and take care of yourself first.