By Mirembe Martina
A woman whose skin becomes hard occasionally bathes in oil everyday to prevent it from becoming hard at all.
The woman in question is 40 year old Nicola Whitehill who has a condition which makes her skin and blood vessels harden, restricting her movement. The conditions are Raynaud’s phenomenon and systemic sclerosis (scleroderma). In addition to bathing in oil everyday, she has to wear gloves daily. If she were to put her hand in the fridge, her fingers turn blue and cause a lot of pain.
Ms. Whitehill was diagnosed with the conditions 16 years ago and her skin has continued to tighten. Ms Whitehill, from Southport, Merseyside, said of her conditions, “It’s a full time job just managing the symptoms. When I wake up I’m like the Tin Man. My whole body is stiff and feels like leather. I have to bathe in liquid paraffin and then cover myself in cream otherwise I can’t even straighten my arms out in front of me.”
She felt unwell and decided to go and relax in Malia, Crete, for a week to unwind. “No matter how many early nights I had, I was tired,” she said. “I had no energy and my ankles were swollen, with very tight skin all over my body. It was when I tried to take the lid off a jar and realised I couldn’t even manage that, when I knew I needed to see a doctor.”
Four years did she have immunosuppressant drugs and suffering from nausea and general pain before discovering her body had started to stiffen. She was diagnosed with Raynaud’s and systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) in 1997. Scleroderma is a disease that results in the hardening and thickening of areas of skin and with Ms Whitehill, the condition can also affect the internal organs. The condition causes the skin to become thick and puffy which can restrict the movement.
At the moment, Ms Whitehill’s internal organs are not yet affected but suffers from ulcers, which build up on the tips of her fingers and toes, because of an inadequate blood supply. Changes in heat trigger her condition, and simply a cool breeze or air conditioning can drastically alter her body’s temperature.
“I treated it just like a cold at first, and thought I’ll take the tablets and it will go away. But then just walking even 100 yards became painful. I didn’t change my life for seven years because I never really admitted to myself how serious it was. It’s like having the worst hangover ever, times by one million,” she said.
She went on to add saying, “I was always on the table, dancing the night away. I didn’t look after myself properly and I worked very long hours. But all of a sudden, I couldn’t just jump out of bed anymore. Now I respect the symptoms and try and work around them.”
To get ready for the day, Ms. Whitehill has to have three-hours to prepare herself to leave the house. She has to wrap up in many layers so that she does not get cold and turn blue, however, that is if it is not hot. “I live in gloves and Ugg boots, and when I leave the house I look like an Eskimo, all year round. I can’t walk in proper shoes anymore, but I have to be thankful for the things I do have. I have to go to my local hospital every month, as well as twice a year I go to see my consultant in London. I have to prepare for that to make sure I have enough energy. I have to rest up and try and do as little as possible two days beforehand.”