Portsmouth, England

Aha – you thought I was getting scared of The Big Row, didn’t you?! No, when I talk of cold feet I’m speaking literally, not metaphorically….

I spent much of this morning being gently broiled in an oversized oven, before having various limbs immersed in cold water and photographed with a thermal camera Рall to evaluate whether I suffered any long-term damage as a result of my mild frostbite while dogsledding in Minnesota last January.

The good news is that the frostbite has probably not caused any permanent after-effects.

The not so good news is that having constantly wet feet for the first month of the Atlantic crossing probably HAS permanently affected their ability to warm up, so I will need to take very good care of them in the future.

Dr Howard Oakley at the Institute of Naval Medicine was able to offer me some excellent advice that should help me ward off future problems. But it was sobering to find that I am not as indestructible as I like to think I am. Maybe that comes with the territory when you turn 40…

For the record, here is Dr Oakley’s diagnosis:


Thank you for attending my clinic today – it was a great pleasure to talk to you, and hopefully we will have been of help to you.

You have a history of at least two episodes in which I think you may have sustained some form of cold injury. The first was when rowing the Atlantic, when your feet sound to have been wet for many days, although perhaps not classically as cold as would normally be expected. The second more overt injury was mild superficial frostbite of your fingers, when sledging in North America last winter. That resulted in local
blistering that has since healed well.

Infra-red thermography of your right hand is generally within normal limits, with a small discrete patch at the tip of your middle finger that was slightly cooler than it should be; this coincides with an area of previous blistering.

Infra-red thermography of your feet showed that you have a mild to moderate degree of cold sensitisation, which is consistent with your history.

Thermal sensory thresholds were normal in your hands, but your warm threshold in your feet was grossly abnormal. This pattern is characteristic of old non-freezing cold injury of the feet.

I think that you have had an old non-freezing cold injury (‘trench foot’, ‘immersion limb’, etc.) of your feet, probably when rowing in the past, and a mild superficial frostbite of your fingers. Whilst your fingers are completing a very good recovery and should not prove a particular problem in the future, I am more concerned that you could suffer from cold feet that grow worse with further cold or wet exposure.

We discussed various measures that you could consider to help your feet (and hands), including arm/leg warmers, creams such as Sudocrem (UK), Bag Balm (US dairy farming), and Assos cycling short cream (bum). You
will clearly benefit from intervals in which you can give your feet a break from wet conditions and care for them, if possible.

I will be very happy to see you again if you ever wish, and wish you every success in your future endeavours.

Very best regards,
Dr Howard Oakley”

I also liked Dr Oakley’s other doctor’s orders: hot footbaths and a tot of whisky…. but unfortunately it is apparently not available on prescription!

So the search is on for “Bag Balm” – any dairy farmers out there?

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