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Oxygen masks

Posted Nov 11 2009 10:00pm
For carers of those with eating disorders, the line is often-repeated that you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help your child with theirs. And in that context, I read about An Encounter With Hypoxia. However, as I read it, I didn't think about caregiving, I thought about relapse and recovery.

Think of the hypoxia symptoms as a relapse or a slip. Sometimes these symptoms are straight out of the textbook; sometimes they're more unusual. Sometimes they come on slowly; sometimes they just give you a proverbial kick in the gut--you go from fine to f*cked in less than 10 seconds. In treatment, I was told what these symptoms were, and I could probably do a decent job at recognizing them in others. But when it came to me, I was clueless. Reading about relapse and then actually experiencing it are two different things.

This past spring, I was aware for a while that I might be getting into dangerous territory, but I felt fine, so I just kept living my life and flying the metaphorical plane. By the time I realized I was relapsing and needed my oxygen mask, I was too far gone to put it on myself. Looking back, I can see the signs and identify several places when I really should have stopped flying the plane and started making sure that I had enough oxygen.

Which is why slips and struggles can be beneficial: they help you begin to recognize when you might need to put on your oxygen mask. I'm not saying people should be thrown to the wolves or left to starve and then polled about their experiences. Nor should you necessarily try to relapse in order to pick up some of these valuable lessons. But there's also something to be said for experiencing recovery hypoxia while you are still in a position to have others quickly put your oxygen mask on. It's how they trained the Air Force pilots, so that when they were out solo, they could recognize the signs before the signs that told them they needed more oxygen.

Part of the hardest thing for me to grasp is just how quickly my symptoms arise and how I'm almost incapacitated even more quickly. How, like Student Number 5 at the beginning of the article, I can be in desperate need of oxygen and not even know it. I don't know what the solution is. Take regular puffs of recovery oxygen and monitor if I feel different? Don't get in an airplane? I don't know what the exact answer is, but I suppose there's no better time to start figuring that out.
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