Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, is a former trauma nurse who now leads The University of Vermont Medical Center. She currently serves as co-chair of the RiseVT board, and co-chair of the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance board.

Health means something a bit different to everyone. For some, the picture of health is running 5Ks with family. For others, it’s being able to manage a chronic condition such as hypertension or diabetes without needing to go to the Emergency Department. For still others, health means being able to kneel on the living room floor without pain and play with our grandchildren. There’s a common thread – when we’re healthy, we are able to enjoy the things that bring meaning to our lives. Health care today is no longer about just taking care of patients who come to the hospital when they’re very sick. It’s about developing habits that help us all get and stay as healthy as possible.

We know that it can be difficult to manage a condition like diabetes without a reliable place to store medication. That healthy eating can be a challenge when the produce aisle at the grocery store seems daunting and expensive. And that “getting in shape” can seem impossible when you barely have time to run errands after work.

Exciting partnerships are taking root in our community right now that will help each one of us improve our health, no matter where we’re starting. The UVM Medical Center is proud to work with partners in housing, the local food industry, and fitness, to name a few. I’m excited to introduce this column, which will discuss those partnerships and health questions that many of us have at one time or another. I hope that this space will remind you that small steps can make a big difference on the lifelong journey of caring for ourselves.

Some weeks, we will talk about seasonal health issues we’re all experiencing together. You’ll see that this week we’ve included some tips for staying safe in cold weather, and a recipe for a healthy twist on comfort food. In the coming weeks and months, I also hope to introduce you to some of the community organizations whose partnership is central to our work combating the opioid epidemic, helping people get the care they need at home, and many other initiatives that will improve life for all of us.

In my time at the UVM Medical Center, I have been impressed every day with the ideas and energy that Vermonters bring to the table – whether we’re discussing our gardens, our hobbies, or our health care. I hope that you will join us in the discussion, and that this space offers a way for us to connect and get to know one another. Do you have questions about health, or is there something you’d like to see us discuss in this space? Please get in touch at karrie.rich@uvmhealth.org

In partnership with UVM Medical Center

Winter is well underway. This season, patients come through our doors with painful reminders of the downside of living and playing in our beautiful, if chilly, state. Want to get through the cold without incident? Here are three things you can do.

1. Avoid frostbite . . . and know the early symptoms

Frostbite – it’s when your skin (usually on your hands or feet) actually freezes. Prevent it by covering your extremities, especially in very cold temperatures or if you will be outdoors for a long time. If you find yourself unprotected in the cold unexpectedly, tuck your hands under your armpits to protect them. It’s time to go indoors if your skin feels numb and develops white patches – the pre-cursors to frostbite. Skin with frostbite becomes dark gray, hardens or develops blisters. If you think you have frostbite on your feet, try not to walk, as you may cause further harm. Get to a warm place as soon as possible. Dry the frostbitten area completely and very slowly warm the frostbitten areas. Don’t use direct heat or you may burn your skin. Wrap the affected area in a blanket and seek medical treatment. If you are in pain or if your skin remains numb or doesn’t return to its regular color, seek emergency care.

2. Be vigilant when the power’s out

Vermont already saw some big storms this year. Most of us are no strangers to power outages. While nobody considers them fun (except for candles, which can be nice), they can be truly dangerous. You can take steps recommended by Vermont Emergency Management to avoid hazards associated with losing power: Stay away from downed power lines and make sure your power company knows about them. Never drive over them. If clearing trees or limbs, make sure they are not in contact with power lines. Trees and branches can conduct electricity and electrocute you. If you run a generator, make sure it is well out- side your living area (not in an attached garage) and far enough away from windows or other places where exhaust could enter your home.

Carbon monoxide is deadly and odorless, so be sure that you have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home especially if you run a generator at any time.

3. Shoveling? Baby your back and your HEART!

Shoveling snow is the cause of many winter injuries – some you wouldn’t expect. Many arise when normally sedentary people exert themselves to clear the driveway and get on with their lives. If you haven’t exercised in a while, take particular care when shoveling—you might even warm up with a few stretches indoors before tackling the task. All shovelers should baby their backs by bending at the knees, rather than the waist and pushing snow whenever possible, rather than throwing it. Absolutely avoid twisting your back, which can cause herniated disks. To avoid falls, which cause many serious shoveling injuries, wear good boots while shoveling and make sure your vision is not obscured by hats or other clothing.

Perhaps the worst shoveling injuries – though not the most common – are heart attacks. Not only do many otherwise-inactive people over-exert them- selves while shoveling snow; winter itself increases your risk of heart attack. Being in cold temperatures causes your blood vessels to constrict, making your body work harder to move blood around and help the heart to function at its best, increasing your cardiac risk. Overheating can become an issue too, if the many layers you might don before tackling the driveway become too much after you exert your- self. Overheating causes blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure dramatically. If you are overdressed or feeling too warm while exerting your- self, it is best to slow down, take a break, or take off a layer of clothing