It’s been a busy week of testing, especially the first few days when the acute acclimatization studies had to be completed. We have 4 labs and all were going at once. The top lab was Nia and I looking at vascular function. The main floor has 2 rooms and they were filled with various ventilatory tests during the day and sleep studies during the night. In addition, we started the brain a-v studies (more details to come) in these rooms yesterday. On the bottom floor we’ve been doing the exercise tests (maximal efforts, reaching about 50% of our sea-level capacities) and the echocardiography studies. So, a mass of people running around trying to get things done. Sam and Nia have done a bang up job of scheduling and we’ve had few issues if any.
I was lucky to get to do my first of three sleep studies last night. One of the key things being looked at on this trip is how high altitude (and low oxygen availability) impact central sleep apnea (periodic breathing or stopping breathing during sleep). Previous expeditions to the Pyramid have evaluated some of the potential physiological mediators of central sleep apnea and this trip is trying to tease out more of these mechanisms. At sea-level people tend to undergo bouts of obstructive sleep apnea (tongue gets in the way, obesity contributes to closing the airway); however, conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease are often associated with people losing the drive to breathe (central sleep apnea). So, this trip is looking at the impact of reductions and increases in brain blood flow and acid-base balance on central sleep apnea. So, we take different combinations of drugs that alter acid-base balance and brain blood flow, get hooked up to a bunch of wires (some of us get arterial lines to measure blood gases, and/or transcranial Doppler (TCD) to measure brain blood flow, and/or cerebral oximetry to measure oxygen saturation in the brain) and then go to sleep. I also have to add that the Pyramid doesn’t have any insulation or heat and we’re in the Himalaya! So, I snuggled into my sleeping bag and dozed off right away (surprisingly- I had, however, been helping with the brain a-v studies all day). I slept for a good hour and then woke myself up with some periodic breathing (I couldn’t escape the apnea!). Then it went downhill… the TCD started to hurt my head and I couldn’t get comfortable, I was freezing, I had to pee, I felt sick, Nia was snoring next to me (no, she was sleeping peacefully), what else can I complain about! I convinced Phil to take the TCD off and I was then able to lie on my side and get some sleep. I think I managed 4 or 5 45-minute bouts. I was woken up at 6:00 to remove everything and then sent back to my room to get a few more peaceful hours of sleep. Lucky me, I get to do this 2 more times!
Since I was involved in the sleep study last night I get to enjoy the morning off. I was going to take care of some little things: wash clothes, wash me (haven’t showered for a while), talk to the girls back home, etc. I got beat to the clothesline, so washing will have to take place tomorrow. The sun hasn’t heated up the water enough for a warm shower yet, managed to talk to the girls (everyone is doing fine and today is the last counting up day, meaning they are starting to count down now until Daddy comes home- 21/42 days complete) and checked out the huge boulder near the Pyramid. There are a number of bolted routes and a couple of hardish boulder problems (thanks Phil for letting us know about the boulder, so we could bring our climbing gear! Organization is the key, meaning he didn’t tell us). So, I’ll sit around for a little while longer and probably run up to the Pyramid to help with some testing this afternoon.
Seeing as it’s halfway day I should probably reflect a little on the trip thus far:
Great people- the only person missing from this trip besides my wife and kids is Neil Eves, but we had to forward all email requests about teaching, research and administration to someone.
Great science- I’ve spent the last few years teaching my butt off and have had less time to be involved with research. I’ve said before I think it’s important that Professors of higher education do both, so it’s been really good getting back into it.
Great culture- We’ve been able to chat with our Sherpa guides and hosts and have been learning a lot about what they do and why they do it.
I know the next half of the trip will bring more of the same… continuing with the science. It also holds opportunities to visit Everest Basecamp and/or Kala Patar. Some of the group will be leaving in a few days (Gord has to get back to Kelowna to run the show and Jim has to get back to Dunedin to start teaching again), and some others will be joining us (a few more undergrad students). Some teaching opportunities for students in Kelowna (some science classes are heading up to UBC to Skype with some of the group). But I think the thing that will get the most attention is starting to dream about our homes and families. Some are already talking about what they are going to eat when we get back (steaks, burgers, and perhaps the best one- spinach salad with toasted pecans, blue cheese and cranberries), but it’s still too early for that!
I’m going to enjoy the rest of my day as I’m up for the brain a-v study tomorrow!