Thursday, July 10, 2008

Street activists get Denver survival tips

The Colorado Street Medics have some advice for those attending the "actions" planned for the Democratic National Convention Aug. 24-28 in Denver. Overall it’s good advice. We Rocky Mountain residents sometimes forget that the majority of Americans do not live at a mile (sometimes a mile-plus) above sea level. In fact, most live at or near sea level. When I travel from Cheyenne (elevation 6,200 feet) to visit my family in Florida, I marvel at the oxygen and moisture invading my dried-up Western body. I can jog down Daytona Beach for miles before I realize that the heat and humidity are killing me.

So, the Colorado Street Medics, part of a network of street medics that spring into action at political protests around the world, have some advice to DNC visitors. I found the post on the Recreate ‘68 blog.

If you are coming to Denver from sea level (or any other elevation significantly below 5,280 feet), the increased difficulty in passing oxygen from your lungs to your red blood cells posses several possible behavioral effects. These include:

Increased errors in performing simple mental tasks

Decreased ability for sustained concentration

Deterioration of memory

Decreased vigilance or lethargy

Increased irritability in some individuals

Impairment of night vision and some constriction in peripheral vision (up
to 30 percent at 6,000 feet)

Loss of appetite

Sleep disturbances

Irregular breathing

Slurred speech


Suggestions for avoiding these effects:

Oral pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin


Frequent consumption of liquids and light foods in small amounts

Realization of physical limitations and slow progression

Practice of deep-breathing exercises

Come to Denver a couple of days early. It will help your body acclimate, which will likely reduce the behavioral effects by the time the days of action occur. While you are in Denver drink a lot of water, eat meals regularly, and get good rest. These simple things can reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness and make you more functional when it comes time to participate in your choice of action.

If you're young and healthy, altitude sickness won't be a problem. You may experience some of the above symptoms, but just drink plenty of water and don't place yourself on the receiving end of a police truncheon, and you should be fine.

Our extended family is from Denver. I lived there until I was 9, and then my father began moving us all over the West as he built ICBM missile silos. We ended up in Florida, where my father joined the space program. I went to high school and college in Florida and, after a few years working dead-end jobs in Central Florida, my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved to Denver. I was 27. I was young and healthy, yet seemed to get a buzz after a few beers. At sea level, that took more than a few beers. To this day, I don't know if this is some kind of mile-high myth, or whether it actually may be true. I became winded after walking up a flight of stairs, so I avoided stairs during my first year in Denver.

Denver was so dry! A tube of Chapstick was my constant companion. I began using sunscreen religiously, something I hadn't been so good about in Florida. I missed the beach and my friends and all my brothers and sisters. But I discovered the mountains, in both summer and winter. And I made a home in the Rocky Mountains. Except for two years in the 1990s when I was on temporary assignment in Washington, D.C., I've lived in Colorado or Wyoming for 30 years.

The Colorado Street Medics are wise to alert activists to Denver's challenging climate. The medicos had one final warning for activists contemplating a mile-high DNC visit:

It boils down to this, would you rather have someone decontaminate you from chemical irritants with your normal skin, or with skin that has been badly sun burnt? We know which we would rather treat.



kainah said...

interesting -- I never knew that high altitude affects night vision. Maybe that explains why I know I have trouble seeing at night in WY and yet, a few weeks ago, when I had to rush my sister to the ER off the coast in Georgia at 1AM, I was surprised at how well I seemed to see.

Of course, going to Denver is, for me, a 2,000 foot drop in elevation. BTW, my sister's fine and the beach and Jekyll Island are lovely places.

Michael Shay said...

Some of this was news to me, too. But I guess these street docs need people to be prepared.

I spent some time on Georgia's Cumberland Island when I lived in Florida. Beautiful place. Sometimes, in Wyoming, I can smell the sea breeze...