I had a little (real little) medical incident the other day. All is well, and, more importantly, I did prove a medical theory of mine. This all stems from a drinking problem: Apparently, I don’t drink enough.
I recently opined to friends and family that it is my semi-informed belief that before you reach the point of dehydration you’ll get thirsty. Kind of like you’ll get hungry before you starve. The body is a wonderful thing, equipped with all kinds of warning devices we’re free to ignore.
So it was fortuitous that I recently had the opportunity to test whether one indeed will get thirsty prior to getting dehydrated. Obviously, one has to reach the point of dehydration (which I maintain is beyond thirst) to run this test. So, in the name of research, I reached the point of dehydration. You’re welcome. And the short answer is yes, I did get thirsty before I was pushed on a gurney — dehydrated — into the ambulance.
This excitement went down when I couldn’t get up last Saturday during a morning bike ride that started at 8 a.m. in Northwest Hills and ended in early afternoon in North Austin Medical Center’s efficient (and well air-conditioned) emergency room.
Just over 28 miles into what would have been a 28.2 mile ride — a routine distance for me and, lest you judge my mph, this ride included a leisurely breakfast stop at Sweetish Hill (and lest you judge my breakfast, it was eggish, not sweetish) — fellow American-Statesman staffer and cyclist Ralph K.M. Haurwitz and I turned into Anderson High School to take a look at the new robotics building. After rolling by that, we dismounted to watch an inning of the adult baseball league game underway at the high school.
I felt a bit fatigued, hot and thirsty after a westbound, mildly uphill stretch of Steck Avenue, but nothing serious. Things got more serious when I tried to stand up and felt my field of vision narrowing like a curtain closing as nausea brewed within. I told Haurwitz to give me a few moments and I’d be fine. I wasn’t. I actually got less fine pretty quickly as seated on the bleachers advanced to prone on the ground. I still thought I’d be OK, though I was pretty sure Haurwitz would not offer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if needed.
So there was that.
Haurwitz quickly realized this was not going to end with me getting back on the bike and pedaling the few blocks back to my house. And I quickly realized I was on the verge of a Saturday nap. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pro-Saturday naps, but the scheduled, voluntary kind watching televised baseball in a comfy chair, not the unscheduled, involuntary kind watching live baseball prone on the ground.
One thing led to another, though I don’t remember all of them. Haurwitz later told me the real action began when he yelled “Emergency!” and called 911. Folks on hand for the baseball game gathered to help as I sat in a chair, apparently un- or semiconscious for a few seconds. (And here is where it’s OK for you to say, “Oh, kind of like when you write columns?”)
I recall some conversation, not including me, about the approaching ambulance. And I recall the two friendly and helpful EMS guys (I wish I got their names; thanks, guys) moving quickly to assess my situation by asking three questions, including one intended to shock my heart back to pumping if it had stopped:
“Who is the president of the United States?” he asked.
I answered correctly, somehow opting not to offer editorial comment. (Imagine the battery of psychological exams that would have ensued if, a mere three years ago, you’d have answered that question with “Donald J. Trump.”) He also asked me what city we were in and, attempting to trip me up, added a math question: “How many dimes in a dollar?” Not bragging here, but I aced the exam.
They hooked me up to some fluids as I shared with them the coincidence of this happening a few days after my official pronouncement of my theory about thirst and dehydration. By the way, they agreed that you’ll get thirsty en route to dehydration.
I felt much better by the time we got to the hospital, where, shortly after being wheeled into a chilly ER treatment room, I quickly realized my next challenge might be frostbite. I got to meet lots of helpful ER folks, all of whom were affable and relaxed. Must be nice to go to work in your pajamas. They ran some tests and pronounced a diagnosis of dehydration and syncope. I’d never heard of syncope until I saw it in the discharge paperwork.
“You have been diagnosed with syncope (pronounced SINK-uh-pee). This is the medical term for a rapid loss of consciousness or a fainting episode. There are many causes of syncope. Some of these are life-threatening and others are not serious,” it said, adding, “Patients without life-threatening conditions may be sent home.”
I was pleased to qualify for that. And I didn’t need the hospital definition of dehydration. I know what that is. And I was correct. It’s that thing beyond thirsty.
Now, having proven my point that you’ll get thirsty before you get dehydrated, I’m working on my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Friends, it’s hot out there. You’ve probably not heard this from anyone, but, having road-tested this theory, let me recommend the introduction of orally administered liquids when you’re thirsty. And sometimes water isn’t enough. Electrolytes, yes. Alcohol, no (ever).
And, despite how you feel about it, endeavor to give the right answer, sans editorial comment, when a health care professional asks you who’s the president of the United States. This is about your state of consciousness, not your state of confusion about how this particular president got to be this particular president.