We are on our way to Ecuador. Not the tropical, Galapagos, malaria-risk part of Ecuador, but the mountainous, volcanic part. Columbia, South Carolina sits about 300 ft above sea level. Quito, where we will fly into and spend a few days is about 9200 ft above, and the elevation of Ambato, where Kim lives, is about 8400. A period of altitude sickness & adjustment is typical when making this trip. You might suspect altitude sickness if you experience fatigue, shortness of breath on exertion, headaches, swelling, or bowel problems. It might be hard to climb a flight of stairs. Of course if you’re as out of shape as we are, you might already experience most of these symptoms AT sea level.
My previous bad experience with altitude occurred at Pike’s Peak several years ago. While visiting family in Colorado, we made this a day trip. We packed the kids and a picnic and made the drive from Boulder. Now this must be something people do all the time, because there were guidebooks, paved roads, and rangers, and once you got to the top, a souvenir t-shirt shop. Except I didn’t get to experience much of that because no sooner did I walk into the shop than the world went fuzzy, then black. The next thing I remember, I was in another room, on my back, with an oxygen tube in my nose and an earnest young man in an EMT uniform looking down at me. My family claims that not only did I pass out cold, but I took down a rack or two of t-shirts and narrowly missed falling on a small child on my way down. And being kind, caring type of family members they immediately ran away in embarrassment, claiming they had NO idea who that crazy, obviously drunk woman was. Then they afterward delightedly told all their friends back home about the incident, complete with dramatic recreations of the noises I made, my indelicately sprawled position on the floor, and about the poor EMT who had to drag me out of the way. I would like to point out, however, that this is obviously such a common experience that they actually HAVE an EMT, complete with his very own Oxygen tanks who does nothing but hang out in the souvenir shop all day waiting for people to pass out.
This time, however, I’m prepared. After researching the issue extensively on the Internet and telling our
rushed but up-for-almost-anything-as-long-as-it-gets-you-out-of-the-office-and-you-seem-somewhat-knowledgeable, kind , intelligent, caring Family Doctor about our concerns, he prescribed Diamox. And thus begins both the “new learning” and the “new experience” relevance. Diamox, or Acetazolamide, “is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that is used to treat glaucoma, epileptic seizures, benign intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri), altitude sickness, cystinuria, and dural ectasia. Acetazolamide is available as a generic drug and is also used as a diuretic.”
Yeah, that last word is diuretic. As in, “makes you pee”. Alot. So now I’m not only a woman of a “certain age” who is already known for having to stop at every rest stop and sometimes in between too, but now I’m one taking a medication which makes you go even more. Facing long, bumpity bus rides on mountain rodes, careening around corners on buses that I’m guessing won’t have any facilities beyond a hole or two in the floorboards. But that’s not even where it ends.
I’m not generally the type of person to pay much attention to side effects, mainly because on the few occasions I’ve taken medications, I’ve never had many that amount to much. I seem to tolerate almost anything. And I didn’t feel too worried when I felt a bit light-headed a few hours after my first dose – it wasn’t horrible, and as long as I remained sitting, which is usually what I do anyway, it was fine. But was weird were the “tingles”. I couldn’t even really explain them to Jim (who hadn’t taken a dose yet). It started with my lips tingling, and then my cheeks, and then that would go away and my hand would feel like it was falling asleep, then my feet. Just random, variable buzzes & humming & numbness & tingling sensations. Nothing that would even make me think of leaving work but enough to annoy me constantly. Then when I tried to drink a Diet Coke, it tasted bad. Kind of a tinny taste. So I googled, and sure enough, these are both common side effects of this wonderful drug.
So given how unpleasant this Diamox is in general, I’m really counting on it to work. As are the Ecuadorian EMT and t-shirt rack assemblers.