Baltimore City Paper

Field Tripping: Cryotheraping

My dad was really proud of how little he gave my siblings and I when we headed off to college. "All I got was a carton of cigarettes and 50 bucks," he'd chuckle, "and I made it!" I rolled my eyes at that talk, but it was what it was, and I got by pretty fine on my own with the help of a work study job, cash from my mom, and a yearly scholarship from my grandpa's American Legion branch. A member had donated a car to the group when he died, and my Uncle Joe got the horns that had been affixed to the grill, and the cash in the trunk went to descendants of members. I got a check made out directly to me every year, $1,000 that wasn't earmarked for anything in particular and could actually be used to pay for what I needed to pay for: subway tokens, grilled cheese sandwiches at the diner, tampons, and the occasional night out dancing. That cash was a lifesaver, all thanks to my dad's dad, who allegedly gave him nothing.

And then my dad's dad died, a heart attack while driving on the freeway in Los Angeles. He'd had the presence of mind to pull over so he wouldn't hurt anyone else; we wear that as a family badge of pride.


After he died, my dad became a little softer, a little lighter on that whole I'm-so-proud-I'm-giving-you-nothing tip. Turns out every year my grandpa gave each of his seven children as much money as he could afford to give them for their birthdays, with the stipulation that the money be spent on something frivolous that the recipient would not otherwise have purchased. My dad, pretty flush at this point in his life, decided to start doing the same thing, in honor of his dad. And that June I got a check for $500, what my dad could afford to give me, and it was life changing.

When I was a grad student the frivolous things I spent that cash on were usually things like food and utility bills. The cash was a total lifesaver, just like that American Legion cash had been. Now that I've ascended into the middle class, though, I can spend my birthday cash as my dad and my grandpa would have wanted. When this year's check came in the mail from my stepmom, who is carrying on the tradition for my dad now that he's gone, I started scheming. What's something truly frivolous that I can spend this money on? Oh, I know, I thought. Cryotherapy.


The ladyfriend told me about the Groupon and, because she knows me so well, didn't buy it for me. The last thing I want is my still-ascending-to-middle-class ladyfriend dropping $100 on some bullshit "health" fad for my birthday. I, on the other hand, was happy to drop the Drabinski family cash on it, especially when it was marked down by $15 for a few hours. I snagged it and quickly made my first appointment for the next day.

After getting set up for the appointment I did a little reading about it. I thought cryotherapy was for when you died and then they freeze your head until Science figures out how to thaw it out and reattach it to some younger, fitter body. I'm not actually ready to die yet, so I'm not in the business of freezing my noggin. This cryotherapy puts you in a chamber—think upright tanning bed (I've never seen a tanning bed in person, but this is what I imagine they look like)—for three minutes as it chills to 145 to 210 degrees below zero.

This of course sounds terrible, so who would ever want to do such a thing? Well, Jennifer Aniston, Ronaldo, Lindsay Lohan, Alicia Keyes, Daniel Craig, and Derek Hough from that dancing show have all been spotted in chambers, just to name a few cryotherapy adherents. Because I am also an ageless and athletic starlet I couldn't help but think this was for me. If that weren't enough, cryotherapy promised to help my body heal quickly (never mind that it's not broken) and burn more calories—500 to 800—by boosting metabolism. The body has to work hard to heat back up, so that work burns calories all by itself, apparently. I was also promised a better mood and something called "whole body rejuvenation." What could go wrong?

The clinic for all this is in Canton, so I hopped on my bike and headed the four and a half miles down the hill and east for my first appointment. I was greeted, showed the bathroom, had my nerves about being so cold soothed, and then headed into the changing room to strip down to my underwear. I was advised to keep my bra on for this first time, and I happily did. The AC in my summer classroom is so cold that by the end of class it sometimes feels like my nipples are going to fall off, so keeping them out of sub-150 degrees seemed like a fine plan. I put on the tube socks I was given, threw on a bathrobe, and headed to the chamber.

I stepped in and traded my bathrobe for wool mittens and proceeded to shiver for three minutes as the woman who was hosting me distracted me from the dropping temperatures. "What's happening right now?" I asked. "It's draining your fat." Well, that's not how fat works, or bodies, I thought, as I shivered away, raising my metabolism to unheard of levels, probably. And then it was over. I stepped out of the chamber and all of my skin was all prickles as I warmed up almost immediately. I felt a little dazed, likely from the shortness of breath in that last minute. These were all bodily sensations I hadn't felt before, and that's all I wanted. I made my second appointment on my way out the door. A frivolous sensory experience, just what my dad would have wanted.

And then I went and rode up and down the new protected bike lane on Potomac, another magical sensory experience—riding on the street without fear of being hit by a car. My dad would have loved that, too, more than anything.