As with everything else in zebra country, our reaction to and relationship with heat is a paradox.
On one hand, we need to be kept warm; Since we can’t really rely on the structure of the joint itself to hold any position, we’re held up entirely by muscular tension, so being cold and thus more tense causes problems; Ranging from just stiffness and exhaustion, all the way through to dislocations and spasms. A good rule of thumb is “Even if you don’t feel cold, if you don’t feel hot, you’re too cold.
Another reason to keep your average zebra warm at all times is that most of us have some degree of Raynaud’s. Raynaud’s sign (Or Raynaud’s syndrome, or primary or secondary Raynaud’s) is where in cold weather, or when under stress, the blood vessels in the extremities (Hands, feet, ears, nose, genitals, and in severe cases scalp, calves, forearms and breast) constrict, reducing blood flow even more than is normal for in cold weather, resulting in an array of unhealthy colours (Ranging from white and grey through to dark red, purple or blue), loss of feeling and function in the affected parts, and then absolute howling pain upon sensation and movement returning later. As you can probably imagine, trying to reduce a luxation that was cause by the spasms caused by the cold with a hand that is basically just a lump of insensate gristle is a lot like trying to fold an origami crane, out of gold leaf, whilst wearing boxing gloves and someone is standing behind you with an electric cattle prod to zap you every time you make a mistake.
So, even if we’re enjoying the cold, even if it feels refreshing and pleasant to be outdoors on a crisp winter’s evening, we’re probably going to suffer for it the next day.
Plus, heat is a really useful painkiller – even on a hot day, applying a hot water bottle, or a rice pack (A pillowcase full of rice, heated up for about 1 minute per 300g of rice in the microwave, is a shockingly good emergency heat source) to a sore joint or a set of cramped muscles can be a lifesaver. Not to mention the sauna or the steam room, both of which are invaluable weapons in the fight against deconditioning – Swim hard, sauna, three-minute cooldown with drinking water, then stamina swim, then sauna or steam, then a shower, then home to sleep it off.
“So” I hear you thinking “It’s simple then. Treat your zebra like a tropical plant, and they’ll be fine.”
Nope. Once again, it’s a paradox.
Too much heat – Even being slightly too warm for slightly too long – is a disaster. Low blood pressure and a fast heart rate means that overheating, and especially overheating and dehydrating, results in fainting, confusion, fatigue for hours or days afterwards and general failure. Personally, once I get above about 23 degrees, I need to spend most of the day lying down, drinking something with ice in it, or I’ll end up falling through the day like a drunk, slurring my words, not really managing joined-up-thinking, and having to sit down (or curl up on the floor) every few minutes to rest and stop the world from spinning. Apparently, the answer is to eat more salt – In my case, keeping a couple of packets of salt from the canteen in my wallet – but even that doesn’t help much, and of course, overheating completely kills the appetite. We sweat too much, or too little, and either way, heat isn’t good for us at all. Not to mention that in many cases, the heat, and bright sunlight, and the dehydration that comes with that can cause a full-blown migraine.
On balance – Cold-weather-problems are unpleasant, but at least they can be managed with a bit of rest, painkillers, and warm clothes. Hot-weather-problems, that result in days of fatigue, sickness, confusion and a horrible sense of helplessness, are a thousand times worse.
And this is why I often wonder about moving to Tristan da Cunha, where it’s a balmy 16 degrees, with low cloud cover, all year long.
(Notable runners-up to be “H is for…”; Hot water bottles, hands, heart murmurs, headaches, hyper- and hypopigmented scars, hyperactivity, hydration)