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Frostbite Is for Real!

Bitter cold and howling winds greeted me when I walked to work this morning, but not everyone seemed to notice.

Twenty-somethings without hats bounced along as if New York wasn’t under a winter weather advisory. Bankers couldn’t be bothered with gloves either. Then, I saw them: A stream of parents leaving a daycare center with their hat-less, glove-less tots in tow.

What happened to those playground rules that kept me from recess when I didn’t have proper outdoor clothes?

Three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have noticed. Over the holidays I got frostbite while visiting my family in Chicago. The temperatures were hovering near zero, but I went running—until a wind gust nearly knocked me sideways. Normally, that would cause my eyes to water. This time, an icicle froze on my eyelashes. I hurried home, but it was too late.

Dad and I, answering to “Dumbo” because my burned, blistered ears swelled until they resembled the Disney elephant’s, spent the afternoon in the ER where my doctor quickly explained the frostbite basics:

Frostbite, which is a burn, can happen in a few minutes if it’s very cold or in above-freezing temperatures if there’s a strong wind chill. It usually affects body parts with less blood circulation—fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, and ears. Children, who don’t realize they’re at risk and lose body heat more quickly than adults, are prone to it. Also, once you have had frostbite, it’s a long-term concern. The frostbitten body part might ache when temperatures dip, and you’re more susceptible to repeat cases and sunburn.

I’m still not fully recovered. Both ears ache when it’s cold; and the right one, which was more severely affected, has a small scar and flaking skin. The entire incident could have been avoided, too, if I had followed these guidelines: 

1. Do not go outside in very cold weather.
2. Wear warm clothing and dress in layers.
3. Come inside at regular intervals.
4. Take extra clothes if you’re traveling.
5. Keep dry.

My advice? Enjoy sledding, skating, and snowball fights—but bundle up!