High Altitude Pulmonary Edema


September 13, 2013 • Africa, Camps and Hikes, Madness • Views: 1470

Depending on the person and depending on the brain and depending on where you’ve been the last few weeks and months and how much water you drink, the average person might start to get a headache at around eight thousand feet above sea level. I’ve gotten the pinch at around 10 thousand feet, but I’ve been higher up and felt nothing. This week I went backpacking and felt it at 11 thousand–headache, tired, trouble sleeping–but felt like a million bucks 24 hours later and slept harder than I ever have. You might get sick. You might get nauseous. You might throw up or spit up blood. If a doctor looked at you she might say you were still drunk or badly hung over.

If you keep going you might get fluid in your lungs and get high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema and maybe you’ll drop into cardiac arrest and not make it another night. This could happen. This does happen. Watch any mountain climbing movie to see it dramatized.

But there’s a thing about our bodies that most of us don’t know. They’re pretty tough. We underestimate them at all turns. Do you feel sick? Do you have a headache? Can you not sleep? Possibly all at once? Drop down a few thousand feet. Or stick it out, climb higher up and sleep low. Your body will  adjust. It’ll produce more red blood cells. You’ll get more oxygen into your brain. You’ll (hopefully) feel a little better.

We can avoid anything and everything that makes us uncomfortable. Maybe you’re allergic to cats. Maybe you’re afraid of heights. Maybe you think the city is filled with toxins, every food a possible carrier of (anything). Does your food have fat, carbohydrates, glucose, or (gasp!) gluten? Stand on a ledge. Sit in a crowded room. Use that wheat bread with your peanut butter and jelly (unless you have a peanut allergy of course). Then fucking wait it out. If you want to grow it’s going to hurt a little. It’s why being a teenager is so tough. Acclimatize a bit and check out the higher views. It’s worth it.

© 2013 Christopher Dart

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