Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sleeping rough at Christmas

It is a fact that an alarming number of people are facing hard times with many folks living an existence with no roof over their heads to call home. Parallels can be drawn to the Victorian Christmases, where for a privileged few there was prosperity and quality of life second to none. However for many working-class, the winter was a time of hardship and deprivation. No change there one century and a half onwards. Sleeping rough is fraught with dangers and not just of the human kind, bad as that is. Battling the elements is a major challenge with hypothermia ever present. Hypothermia arises when the body temperature drops so low the key organs can no longer function. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol can add to the situation by increasing heat loss and preventing a healthy blood supply to the feet and toes. It is therefore important to keep warm and dry especially at night and particularly when exposed to the elements. A sleeping bag keeps the body warm at night by slowing down heat loss. Trapped air heats up and acts like an insulation layer next to the skin. We need energy to keep warm and this comes from a good diet. There are two ways to loose heat through a good sleeping bag, if it gets wet and if the fluffy section (down) is compressed by body weight. It is important to keep the bedding dry and always sleep on an insulating roll (exercise matt). Sleeping bags should be long enough so the feet do not touch the bottom of the bag when your nose is level with the front of the opening. Many people sleep tucked up with the bag tight over the knees and buttocks so make sure the bag is big enough so no part of it gets stretched and compressed when you are sleeping. The extra space at the end of the bag is an ideal place to safely keep your shoes (in a paper bag) and it is best the air the feet when sleeping. In severe weather wear panty hose to keep the legs warm but try not to sleep in your boots or shoes. A bag with a generous hood and neck muff (a draw strings) keeps the head warm which is very important. Our body temperature is controlled by sweating but this will also dampen the sleeping bag. Some people use a cotton sheet as a bag lining which is easy to wash and dry. However constant use of a sleeping bad will cause it to get damp, loose its warmth and get mouldy. Airing the bag will restore the warming properties and this should be done in sunshine or airing cupboard. Washing bags needs careful attention so use either a front-loading washing machine (set to a gentle cycle) or in a bath in warm soapy water. Make sure you rinse out the soap thoroughly before drying. When using a front-loading tumble drier at gentle heat put a couple of tennis balls in to pumble the bag or if you prefer, a pair of trainers. Alternatively allow a whole sunny day for the drying in the open air.

Foot Note
Routine foot hygiene should consist of daily washing and inspection. Use hand hot water with soap but do not steep the feet in very hot water as this causes them to collapse. Use a mirror to check heels, the sole of the foot and in between the toes for cracks and sores. Hand creams moisturise the skin and gentle rubbing stimulates the circulation giving the feeling of walking on air. If you discover any cuts treat them with antiseptics like Betadine and cover with a clean dressing. Report unhealed wounds to the doctor or nurse. Regular washes remove bacteria which cause smelly feet and a light powder of baby talc will help absorb normal sweat. If you suffer sweaty feet then ask chemist for medicated powder to sprinkle on your socks and into your shoes, over night. When weather permits mild exposure to sunlight helps air the feet and bathing them in salt water takes away mild aches and pains. Remember to keep them dry.

This article first appeared in Pavement Magazine

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