Alive at 55

You may think this piece is about life after turning 55.  I have a great story of turning 50, but that story is for another time.

This story begins in Cuzco, Peru.  A few years ago, I had a magical 'pull' to conduct an event in the sacred mountains of Machu Picchu.  I conducted a dry run of the event because of the exotic location.  So, my team and I took off for Machu Picchu, flying through Lima and staging in Cuzco Peru.

When I landed in Cuzco, I felt a little 'off.'  It was like having a mild case of sunstroke.  A little confusion.  Head a little blurry.  Altitude.  Cuzco is at about 11,000 feet.  I slept well that first night, but woke in the morning still dizzy.  I was downing coco tea, a local remedy for altitude sickness.  Due to my Cardiac Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), I carry a small oximeter which measures my oxygen levels.  Oximeter read 64%.  For people without lung problems, typical readings are 96-100%.  I usually register somewhere around 92-94%.

I am alarmed.

I search the internet to see if oximeters malfunction at altitude.  Nope.

I look up Hypoxia, a condition where your body reacts to extreme lack of oxygen.  Medical sites indicate when oxygen levels go below 75%, tissue begins to breakdown.  Typically that means heart tissue.  To avoid panicking I rationalize that the oximeter was malfunctioning.

Day 2, I read the oximeter, 66%.  My lips are a little blue.  I pull back my lower lip and it looks like I got punched in the mouth – deep purple. 

Now I'm genuinely scared.

I start my diaphragmatic breathing exercises.  Walk slowly.  And pray constantly.

We leave Cuzco and I brace myself for Machu Picchu.  What they don't tell you in the travel guides is that Machu Picchu is at a LOWER altitude than Cuzco.  8500 feet.  My oxygen levels shoot up to 85%.  Whew!  Still a bit foggy, but I don't feel like I'm at death's door.

Returning home, I call my pulmonologist's office, just making sure I haven't done permanent damage.  I tell the nurse practitioner I've been to Machu Picchu and I really felt the altitude.  I had my oximeter and it read 66%.  The nurse practitioner informs me, "That's impossible."   "Why?" I ask.   "Because you'd be dead."  


Okay.  In a few months at the actual event we speed past Cuzco, proceeding directly to Machu Picchu.  All good.  Event goes well.  Participants receive amazing insights.  My oxygen levels stay in the high 80% range.  FABULOUS.

As we head back to the Cuzco to get to the airport, participants want to stop at the market in Chincheros.  Chincheros is a little town, high in the Peruvian mountains.  12,343 feet.  We stop and everyone gets out of the van.

My head is reeling!  I stay in the van.  Breathing deep into my diaphragm, I pull out my oximeter.  55%.

First thought?  This could be it.  Seriously, I could die right here and now.  What would that feel like?  I suppose I would slowly black out.  Second thought:  what a great way to go!  In the midst of doing my life's work!  My fear subsides.

Time to pray. 

Gratitude fills my heart and soul because I've lived an abundant life!  Thank you.  The Lakota phrase for thank you is Pilamaya.  I repeat it over and over.  Breathing slowly, deliberately and deeply.  Each breath a gift.  Each breath a prayer of thanksgiving!

People pile back into the van, happy with their purchases.  We head down to Cuzco.  Instead of a gray face due to lack of oxygen and blood flow, my face glows.

You may have lots of thoughts from this story. 

  • Oximeters aren't reliable
  • Patrick is kinda crazy
  • Why in the world did he go back?

My huge takeaway?  Gratitude and prayer are POWERFUL healers.

Many gifts go unrecognized.  A breath of fresh air.  A nice long drink of cold water on a hot day.  When things get tough, all I do is remember a day deep in the mystical mountains of Peru where I was at 55….and ALIVE! 

Think of a moment in your life when you've experienced extreme gratitude.  Close your eyes and invoke a memory which vividly splashes in your brain.  Your heart fills.  A little smile probably grows at the corners of your mouth.  You never know what you're healing in your body in that moment! 

That moment is a gift of a lifetime.  In the toughest of times, you can change your mindset with just a small dose of gratitude. 

Do you have that little smile on your face right now?



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