It is 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in February, and I’m sitting in a chair with a laptop computer warming my thighs like an obedient lapdog. I’m swaddled in a cozy bathrobe. My feet are toasty warm inside slippers as I sip hot tea with honey. I’ve raised the blinds on the windows, and as I watch the wet snow swirling sideways in a chaotic display of white, I can’t help feeling giddy that work was cancelled today. I have an overall sense of unproductive euphoria as the gears and pistons of capitalism freeze over. Could blizzards be good for health?
On a normal day I would be 30-40 minutes late seeing patients by now. I would have a dull headache from concentrating all day on hundreds of problems, symptoms, and questions, and my blood pressure would be about 135/84, pulse 89. But the white flakes of water drifting on the winds seem weightless, elemental, and self-sufficient. They certainly have no interest in me as I enjoy their infinite procession. I estimate my blood pressure is 108/72, pulse 61.
For breakfast I would normally swallow a bowl of carbohydrates in milk in less than 3 minutes while collecting my things for work. I would be swilling down too-hot coffee laced with stimulants as it burns the roof of my mouth. Despite a quick spike in my blood’s glycemic index, I’d be feeling shaky and hypoglycemic within a few hours. But this morning I ate a whole wheat bagel spread with brie and tomato, took the time to carve up a grapefruit, and sipped green tea with real honey as I talked with my wife for the first time in days at the kitchen table. This was around noon, as I had slept in like a bear. I haven’t felt shaky all day.
I’d certainly feel accomplishment at the end of a work day at the office. I’d have sorted through abstract ideas and tried to solve problems all day. But shortly I’ll be going outside to shovel snow. Exercise. This physical exertion will undoubtedly give me a more tangible sense of accomplishment, with fatigued muscles aching with pleasure as I warm up again beneath a hot shower. I don’t think it’s romantic or clichéd to state that physical labor is more real labor. The visible piles of snow I will have created are much less nuanced an accomplishment than the piles of tests and prescriptions I would have otherwise generated today. I’ve been able to speak to those patients who needed urgent advice on the telephone, and I hope the rest who haven’t paged me can safely wait until tomorrow.
Normally I get home late. My back hurts as I labor over dinner preparations. I fill my stomach with good food, but it is usually too close to bedtime. The glass of wine or beer with dinner relaxes my lower esophageal sphincter tone as well as my mind, but when coupled with a supine sleeping position surely creates damaging acid reflux. This may one day lead to esophagitis, if not ulcers and even cancer. But tonight I will have time to execute a meal like the French, to eat it slowly and deliberately, and to give my stomach the gravity and time it needs to move all that tastiness safely into my small intestines.
And finally the blizzard has created the necessary preconditions for snuggling in bed. I am confident that few other human activities are more regenerative, restorative, and preventative than snuggling someone you love under multiple bedcovers in a freezing house. This is the main reason blizzards may be good for health.
As I drift off to sleep, I’ll be acutely aware of the pleasures of shelter, of not being cold to the bone and miserably soaked. My fingers will not ache with frozen blueness, and I am not an animal huddled and exposed.
If you are in the snow I hope you also received some benefit today. At the very least I hope you get a day off from work soon. It’s good for you.