Altitude sickness is real, and it’s a monster.
La Paz sits at 3,460m (approx 12,000 feet) above sea level, whereas Chicago is only 181m (approx 594 feet) above sea level. I had some serious adjustment to look forward to. As recommended by my host organization, I am taking Acetazolamide to assist with the adjustment. But even with this medicine, I’ve been experiencing headaches and “GI discomfort”. (“GI discomfort” is code for puking on the street in front of my local coordinator, on the day that I met him. File this under things that will cause me embarrassment until the day I die.)
Any time I walk uphill/upstairs, no matter how slight the incline, my heart races faster than a horse at the Kentucky Derby, I get shortness of breath, and my lungs feel like they’re on fire. I might not be in the best shape of my life, but under normal circumstances I can easily walk up a few flights of stairs with no issue. I walked up one flight of stairs today and immediately looked/felt like this:
No, really. If my Fitbit could speak, it would have shouted “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”
Luckily, I’m staying with a Señora who knows a thing or two about altitude sickness. First, we re-arranged my diet so that I’m eating a good breakfast, a heavy lunch, and a very light dinner. Going to bed on a full stomach at such a high altitude is a gateway to that “GI discomfort” I mentioned earlier. Second, she’s been pumping me full of a concoction made from coca leaves steeped in hot water.
I had no idea that coca leaves have medicinal properties. Tony Montana never talked about that in Scarface! Seriously, though, this “tea” has been really helpful, especially with the headaches and nausea. I wouldn’t recommend relying on it alone, but in combination with the Acetazolamide, it’s been very effective for me.
I should fully adjust within the next 2-3 days, but if you read about an American tourist exploding in La Paz…