Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The beat goes on

A 47-year-old man died of heart failure on the North Kaibab Trail a couple of weeks ago, just above the Supai Tunnel, which is the farthest I've ever gone down that trail. I've called it a killer trail and it really is. This started a conversation with my HH.

HH monitors his health very closely and I think is frustrated with my c'est la vie attitude toward mine. I grudgingly take prescription drugs but am in general pretty smug about my good health and fitness level, which I think is the best I've had, ever. However, that man's death made me listen to HH a little more, and to take his advice to carry (and use!) an oximeter - a little device that goes on your finger and gives you bad news - when I go out walking. Using it is an eye-opener, especially considering his doctor's comments regarding hypoxia, low oxygen levels in the blood.

To keep this from being altogether boring, I'm tossing in some photos I took on Sunday at a place called the Basin, here in the park. Last week it was glorious with wildflowers so we went again to see the effect of some rain we'd had. The flowers were past their peak but the rain was still evident, and its effects were magical.

Lupine leaves.

I don't know the name of this one. The flowers are clustered on a stalk which is only a foot or so high.

Look at the surface tension holding the water between two blades of grass.

I have one kidney and HH told me about some poor guy who also had only one. He was in an accident and his kidney was damaged to the point it was removed, without anyone realizing he had just the one. He didn't live to tell about it. So I now have on my phone's home screen a notice not to remove what I have left, no matter how badly it might be injured. This leads to what HH's doctor said about hypoxia: that a blood oxygen reading of 85 or below is a sign of hypoxia and the first organs to be affected are the kidneys. That's what opened my ears and softened my resistance to paying better attention to my exertions here on the North Rim, at 8,500 feet, and at places like Cedar Breaks, 11,500 feet. Walking faster than an embarrassingly slow pace or up any amount of incline at these altitudes easily lowers my O2 to below 90. I've seen it at 83 and if that won't make me start deep breathing, nothing will.

How does hypoxia happen? Like everyone, I'd heard it said that the higher the elevation, the thinner the air, but what does that mean? There's a neat website that will calculate how much oxygen is available at whatever altitude is entered. At 8,500 feet, just 74% of sea-level oxygen is there for you to use. At 11,500 feet, it's only 63%. At the elevation of Cedar Breaks, then, there's less than 2/3 the oxygen you're breathing in standing at the ocean's edge. The next question is, how does your body compensate for this? Another informative website says (and this begins at 8,000 feet), "When we breathe in air at sea level, the atmospheric pressure of about 14.7 pounds per square inch causes oxygen to easily pass through selectively permeable lung membranes into the blood.  At high altitudes, the lower air pressure makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter our vascular systems. There is an increase in breathing and heart rate to as much as double, even while resting. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up sharply as our hearts pump harder to get more oxygen to the cells." It goes on to say that over a period of time the body acclimatizes but never reaches its sea-level capacities for physical and mental fitness.


Now that I've been checking on heart rate and O2, one of my experiences on the North Kaibab Trail scares the dickens out of me: at one point my chest felt so tight I could barely breathe. I felt I was strangling. At that time I was still in the scoffing stage of resistance. Not any more.

This is a kind of grass. Even when it's dry it has beautiful lines. 
The same grass.

See the drop on lower right inverting the horizon? Cool!

The other issue is heart rate. You've heard of target heart rate, the range of beats per minute you should aim for if you're interested in a good cardiac workout. You arrive at that number by subtracting your age from 220, then multiplying that by 60% for the low end, and 80% for the high end. Some people say 85%. For me, in my decrepidity, that gives me a range of 96-128 beats a minute. Going over the 80% or 85% number is not recommended. What I've discovered here is that it doesn't take much to tip me over the 128.

Blue flax.

Of course, the younger you are, the more you can exert yourself. A 25-year-old's range is 117-156 beats a minute; a 40-year-old has a range of 108-144. I can hit 108 just walking around the house. I feel ridiculous, old, and feeble. I won't be going down the North Kaibab again, or the Widforss, now look for level routes to take on foot, and I will be taking the oximeter with me wherever I go. I hate this getting old.

Parry's bellflower

Common yarrow. There are also white versions here.

I don't know this one but want to extend my heartfelt thanks to HH, who remarked that it looks like a duck. Now that's all I see.

The next couple are the same flower which looks like a member of the pea family to me.

 No idea. The lavender is the extent of the flower and it's about 1/2" long.

Phlox, I think. I saw carpets of these when we first got here but it looks like they're in a second, lesser, bloom.

 Another one I don't know. Gorgeous color.

A view to the north in the Basin. There is still color in the fore- and middle - ground from the wildflowers.

Like every other getting-older malady that I've forbidden from approaching my body but losing those battles regardless, the effects of this high altitude at my age is a real thing, not some theory to argue over. C'est la vie, indeed.

Thought of the day: 
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art. - Eleanor Roosevelt