How Hot is Hot

Old people and young people react to temperatures differently. This is a fact I must constantly deal with in caring for Grandpa. Young people can take great extremes in temperature better than the elderly, and generally a younger person prefers a cooler ambient temperature than a older person. Thrown into this, some of us, even in our youth, prefer hotter temperatures and that preference becomes more marked as age increases.

I definitely fall into the cooler category, and, whatever Grandpa was in his youth, he very much prefers it warm in these latter years of his life. While Grandma is not so extreme as Grandpa she also prefers it warmer than I. The result is that the house is almost constantly warmer than I would like, and it is usually unpleasantly stuffy. I love a nice pleasant breeze. I think fresh air moving through the house is conducive to good house. Grandpa, on the other hand, can’t abide the least hint of a breeze and is sure any puff of wind forebodes oncoming sickness. So, while I would throw every window open and let in some nice outdoor air, the windows generally remain shut.

Thus I don’t wear long sleeved shirts unless I am going out of the house and the heavy duty short sleeved shirts that I found so comfortable back home now seem unbearably heavy to wear most of the time, and the jeans I used to wear without a thought became stifling over the summer. It sometimes felt impossible to get comfortable–not only because it was so hot but because there was no movement of the air. It felt completely stifling.

During the day it can be hot, but the nights are always the worst. Grandpa and I share a very small bedroom. I feel bad if Grandpa wakes up in the morning and says how cold he was the previous night, so as much as possible I suffer with what feels like stifling heat to me so he won’t have to suffer with what feels like frigid cold to him. I try to get myself some relief by encouraging him to go to bed fully clothed and cover him with a sturdy blanket so that I can open the window (some) without him waking up in the morning and complaining about how he froze the previous night. But it is a difficult balance as the temperature fluctuates during the night and Grandpa doesn’t know enough (anymore) to add an additional blanket if he gets cold so I must think of it for him. The night starts out warm, so he may shed clothing and/or blankets while I have the window open and as the room cools toward dawn he will complain of freezing (when for me the temperature has just become bearable).

I don’t think I have ever sweated so badly at night in any previous summer of my life. I have never lived with air conditioning so hot summer nights are nothing new, but back home we could alleviate the problem by putting fans in windows and creating a nice strong breeze. Grandpa, being so very sensitive to the least hint of a breeze, means our bedroom remains stifling and that–more than simple high temperatures–has been the cause of my troubles.

How hot is hot? Or maybe we should say, how stifling is stifling? You might have thought soaking your pillow with sweat, or soaking your sheets with sweat, was only a proverbial saying, or only something that happens when you have a raging fever. Not for me. On the bad nights I will wake up several times a night to find my pillow wet with sweat. I flip the pillow over to find a dry side, and wake up a few hours later to find that side wet as well. On the worst nights it is so hot I can’t cover myself with anything. For most of the year the room is kept so warm that I can’t cover myself with anything more than a sheet. My rule of thumb is that if it gets cool enough that I can actually cover myself with a blanket then it is time to start piling more blankets on Grandpa because it means he’s getting cold. On the really bad nights my entire bed gets wet with sweat and when I get up to take Grandpa to the bathroom I come back and find my bed damp and cold. So I have to roll over and hope I can find a dry spot.

There are much worse problems in life than a stifling bedroom, but dealing with sweat soaked bedding is probably not a problem one would naturally consider when contemplating the difficulties of caring for the elderly.

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