Junior Brigette Todt was already stressed on that cold winter day in 2006 when she was on a trip for a Scholastic Bowl competition when she realized her hands were more than just abnormally cold.
“I kind of couldn’t feel two of my fingers on my hand so I took off my gloves,” said Todt. “I thought ‘Wow, probably my hands shouldn’t look like I spilled ink all over them.’”
Ever since she was a child, Todt knew her hands and feet often got colder than they should have, even sometimes turning white, but when she confronted her family doctor he advised her to wear gloves. She wore gloves in the band room while playing the clarinet. She wore gloves to all her classes. However, when her hands actually turned blue, she knew something else was wrong.
She showed her teacher at the competition her hands and he had to immediately call her father.
“Just the look on his face when I showed him I’ll never forget. It was something like horror,” said Todt. “He took me out into the hallway and proceeded to freak out a little more than I did.”
While waiting for her father to pick her up, Todt sat at the school trying to figure out what was going on.
“It was very strange,” said Todt. “It was almost a question of ‘what am I?’”
By the time Todt got to the emergency room with her father, she had warmed up her hands enough so they had turned white again. The doctor directed her to a rheumatologist who diagnosed her with Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
“It’s a phenomenon,” said Todt. “I have a phenomenon and that’s something that’s odd to think about. You have to take that in and deal with it.”
Raynaud’s Phenomenon is a condition which prompts blood veins to stop circulating in some areas, such as the hands or the feet. The reaction is triggered when a person gets too cold or stressed out. Todt says her hands will turn white and then have blue tinges before turning dark blue, then the color returns as she warms up her hands.
“For this reason and a lot of other factors I try to keep my stress level low,” said Todt. “It’s almost like a warning system for me.”
As a child, Todt remembers touching other people with her cold hands jokingly trying to get a reaction, which was surprise from most people. She also recalls having a hard time throwing snowballs because she could not feel her hands. Her toes can also lose feeling in them during the winter months if she is not careful.
“The thing about toes is they kind of help you walk,” said Todt. “Winter for me is a pretty time but a time when I want to be indoors.”
Though her skin changes color or loses feeling, Todt said she has never experienced pain as a result of Raynaud’s Phenomenon. However, while she warms up her hands there is a burning sensation as the blood returns. If she does not warm up her hands, nerve damage could occur, but she said that is very unlikely.
Todt’s aunt also has Raynaud’s Phenomenon, so she was familiar with the condition. After being diagnosed, Todt could joke about what was going on.
“I try to keep a humorous outlook on it,” said Todt. “How many people can refer to themselves as a chameleon?”
Not much is known about Raynaud’s Phenomenon, but Todt said her condition may be a result of a larger condition she was diagnosed with at the age of two, fibromyalgia.
“It’s a series of chronic pain and chronic fatigue,” said Todt. “There are all kinds of symptoms but nothing to treat it. I grew up with the pain so I’m able to cope with it.”
Todt said there are some days when the pain overwhelms her, but on most days she is able to deal with it. As a result of fibromyalgia, Todt feels like her muscles are cramping up, which usually is due to some sort of overstimulation which means the body needs to rest. In her case the muscles are fine; they just send a signal to the brain saying something is wrong.
“The way I think about it is like phantom symptoms,” said Todt. “Your body just becomes a hypochondriac, I guess.”
There are also other sensory details which trigger a reaction in Todt, such as music seeming to be pounding in her head, certain types of fabric, and irritation from bright lights. At first, Todt thought there might be something wrong with her when she experienced pain trying to move around but she thought perhaps she was overreacting. After being diagnosed, her pain made more sense.
Not much is known about fibromyalgia, but Todt keeps an eye on recent developments in finding a cure. Currently, medication is being tested in order to keep the symptoms under control. Todt said for some people, the affects of fibromyalgia can be crippling.
“I’m really lucky. I count my blessings every day,” said Todt. “I have these things and it offers me a new perspective on life.”
Though Todt lives with the chronic muscle pains and circulation issues, neither condition is life-threatening.
“It’s not something to be ashamed of or something to be scared of,” said Todt. “I want to live my life to its fullest and not put restrictions on me.”