Friday, January 9, 2009

Ignorance is Death not Bliss

This is an old Tibetan earring. It is 2.5 inches in diameter and has a giant plug in the back that would require a hole big enough to put a pencil through it.
"Lovely,"said one of my companions before reading the passage in the Lonely Planet travel guide that none of us had bothered to look at. "'Most visitors to Tibet and Qinghai will suffer some symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness.) Temporary symptoms are headaches, sleeping difficulties, nausea and dizziness. If any of these symptoms persist or worsen, you should immediately descend to a lower altitude and seek medical help.' Well, I don't think there's much chance we'll be able to do that." He concluded.
We still didn't know very much. How high was too high? How high were we? What does one do if they can't go down?
My headache that started on the ascent from Golmud, became more intense and I began to feel like I was in a dream world...The bus stopped at 1:30 a.m. We had to get off of the bus. Someone was taking money at the door of another little hut. It seemed like a lot of money but no one was arguing. The ground no longer felt solid under my feet. I was walking but going nowhere. I wanted to lie down. One of my friends fainted and the two others were helping to support both of us into the building. Somebody asked how I was doing but given the circumstances, I just said, "I'm OK." 'I think I'm dying,' wouldn't have been very productive.
It was pitch black in the dormitory. We carried a little candle to the room because there was no electricity. There was also no heat. The girl who fainted said she was cold. The beds had blankets but all of the doors were wide open. I was cold too so I didn't bother to get in my own bed. I lay down on the single cot next to my friend and put my arm over her to keep us warm.
It was impossible to sleep. The headache was too intense. Awake, I listened to other passengers wretch onto the dirt floor in their rooms, while I prayed for sleep.
At 6:30 a.m. we were roused and herded back onto the bus. The skull splitting pain stayed with me through the morning and was accompanied by a fever. I couldn't eat or drink. For hours I struggled to keep my head up. Finally, I rested my head on the shoulder of the Monk seated next to me. He didn't even give a worried glance.
Though he carried no luggage, all sorts of items would magically appear from his robes. He produced water, a book, a can of peaches and a can opener, and once he even offered me a brown speckled piece of rock candy. Thinking that he knew some special trick for overcoming altitude sickness, I ate the dirty rock candy and gave him my tin of La Vie French fruit hard candies.
I kept my head on his shoulder for most of the rest of the journey only opening my eyes or lifting my head rarely. Once when I opened my eyes I saw a man leading a camel through the rugged terrain. Another time I saw a small cluster of houses and felt sorry for the inhabitants.
I didn't know how much danger we were in while we traveled across that plain. I didn't know that my pounding heart and rasping lungs, the dreamlike confusion, and lack of balance were real danger signs. Much later, I read that deaths from acute mountain sickness have occurred at around 3,050 m (10,000 ft) although they are more likely above 4,600 m (15,000 ft). Our journey was at an elevation of 4,500-5,000 m (14,765-16,405 ft), with the highest point reaching 5,072 m (16,641 ft). The place where we stopped to sleep was about 4,900 meters(16,000 ft).
I descended from the bus into Lhasa at 3,650 m (11,975 ft) at 11:30 p.m., still quite ill, in a pair of socks and shower thongs.
*Go back and read previous posts if you are having trouble understanding this.
5,280 ft (1,609 m) Denver, CO
6,288 ft (1,917 m) Mt. Washington, NH
8,000 ft (2,430 m) Machu Picchu, Peru
16,730 ft (5,100m) Wenzhuan, Tibet Highest city in the world (which is in Qinghai province, where we were.)
20,320 ft (6,194 m) Mt. McKinley
29,029 ft (8,848 m) Mt. Everest

1 comment:

  1. We live at 6,500 ft, and whenever we return after a lengthy time away I always have headaches for a few days. I can't imagine 16,000 ft!