Saturday, December 10, 2016

OT: Oxygen!

This is more a record-keeping post than anything else.

I took Ms Ché up to Santa Fe yesterday morning. She'd been up all night completing an assignment for one of her creative writing classes, an illustrated children's book that dealt with important issues or struggles a child might face. Her story dealt with facing and coping with loss. I thought it was sweet and naive (in a good way, it's for children after all) and compelling. But it took her all night to complete it, and I didn't want her to drive up to Santa Fe on her own. So, I got myself ready, and we headed out.

It's a lovely and peaceful drive from our place on a rarely used two-lane blacktop north through the Estancia Valley and the Galisteo Basin. 50 miles or so to the IAIA campus. Takes about an hour.

There's no snow to speak of yet, though morning temperatures have been in the teens lately. So yes, it's cold but still very nice out and the roads are safe enough. The problem Ms Ché and I recognized right off was that she's driven the road so many times that it's all but automatic for her. The road is straight and true for the first 20 miles or so, and then it swoops and dives and twists every which of a way. If one is alert, it is easy enough to negotiate but since she'd had no sleep, she said she could easily have fallen asleep while driving the road she knew so well, and that could have deadly consequences. We passed by the wreck that killed a Longmire crewman a couple of years ago on a swoopy curvy part of that same road. He'd been up all night crewing and was headed home around 4 am. It isn't certain, but it is believed that he fell asleep, ran off the road, rolled his pickup and was killed. A pair of horseshoe cross descansos on the fence of the Bar-S Ranch marks the spot where he died.

This was my first trip to Santa Fe since I got oxygen. I thought I would be fine and didn't take any with me, since the last time I'd been in Santa Fe, maybe three weeks ago, I didn't experience severe breathing difficulties. But as we started heading uphill yesterday, bam... I thought I wasn't going to make it.

Santa Fe, at 7000 ft, is about 1000 feet higher in elevation than our home. When I was a smoker, I loathed going to Santa Fe because I felt I was suffocating. After I stopped smoking 20 years ago, I no longer had that problem in Santa Fe, and I could even go up to Taos from time to time and enjoy myself.

But yesterday.... oh man. I started feeling distress as we passed Jeffrey Epstein's Zorro Ranch (yes, that Jeffrey Epstein). The Zorro Ranch marks the boundary between the Estancia Valley and the Galisteo Basin, and one goes over a ridge to get from one to the other. The ridge is probably a couple of hundred feet higher than the Valley floor.

I started feeling modest and then more and more severe  chest pain, the same kind of pain that got me in to see a cardiologist. My breathing became more and more difficult, and by the time we got to the village of Galisteo, I thought for a moment I was going to pass out.


The rest of the way to Santa Fe, about 20 miles or so, I was in considerable distress and chest pain, and I was having a harder and harder time concentrating on the road. I was worried I would run off the road and crash. But we made it to the campus without incident. I credit that in part to the fact that I've driven the road so many times it's almost automatic, and I wasn't falling asleep. I was in distress, but the automatic pilot was still operating.

After dropping Ms Ché off, I turned around and drove back home, still on automatic pilot, and I was paying attention to whatever was going on with my breathing difficulty. The pain and distress started easing by the time I reached Galisteo, and it was almost entirely gone by the time I passed Zorro Ranch headed south.

By the time I got back home and hooked myself up to an oxygen tank, I almost felt fine.

Later, when I went back to Santa Fe to pick up Ms Ché, I took the tank with me and breathed in oxygen the whole route. No distress at all.

It was an unintended experiment. I learned that the chest pain that had triggered a cardiac alert was due to my breathing difficulty caused primarily by rheumatoid arthritis lung disease. (There  are minor COPD and emphysema components). Altitude is an exacerbating factor and I am very sensitive to even minor increases in altitude, say from 6,200 to 6,500 feet.

Without supplemental oxygen, higher altitudes are now close to impossible for me. And this is a much worse situation than I've faced before. This tells me that the lung disease is not controlled and more and more of my lungs are scarred by fibrosis.

I see the pulmonologist Tuesday. We'll see what he says.

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