Into thin air without a tank
July 26, 2006
Last Sunday afternoon I was sitting reading at my kitchen table when I suddenly decided to check out the new gondola cars. The idea had been scampering around the edge of my mind ever since the lifts opened and it was time to just DO it!
So I brought the dachshund puppies inside, shut up the dog door, found a parking space right in front of the plaza, got a ticket (Zut! $21!), climbed the stairs and stepped right into an empty gondola car ” zip, zip, zip.
I’ve always loved the gondola, which feels like being carried up Aspen Mountain in a Christmas tree ball ” very gentle, with awe-inspiring but not terrifying heights and killer views in every direction.
Things I liked about the new cars were windows that opened, 360-degree vistas, nice clear windows and every fifth car (the red ones) allowing dogs aboard. I didn’t like the seats facing each other, or having to twist to see backward, but the ride was smooth and seemed to go faster than the old ones.
A short way up I wondered if I should turn up my oxygen tank for the higher altitude and at that moment two things happened: I realized that I was OUT of oxygen and the lift stopped.
This is the kind of situation oxygen patients want to avoid, and is most likely to occur when dashing out on a spur-of-the-moment whim. I don’t have to worry about running out of oxygen at work because I live so close by, so I tend to get lax. I had
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filled the tank that morning just to go out to the store, so I had probably underfilled it, then didn’t check it, and as soon as the cars started moving again there I was going farther and farther up into thin air.
It wasn’t an emergency. I wasn’t going to die or pass out in the length of time it would take to get down and home, but it did seem that the cars had slowed down considerably and I was glad that I was alone because people understandably feel helpless and upset in these circumstances, while I was better off focusing on the view and breathing in through my nose counting to three and out through pursed lips counting to six: “Smell the flowers, blow out the candles,” an exercise taught in the hospital to bring your oxygen level up.
I would have checked out the bluegrass band I could hear playing at the top ” lots of people up there, kids bungee jumping on trampolines, lots of dogs romping. “Going down,” I said as a friendly employee moved to help me out. “OK, goodbye,” she said cheerfully, and down we went. Down.
Several gondola pauses brought me close to road rage (“Go! Go!”), a wind came up and the cars swayed, then started that up and down movement which normally wouldn’t have fazed me but then predicted closure and evacuation.
The terminal was the sweetest sight and next thing I knew I was home being scolded by puppies while I cranked the oxygen to gale force, oximeter reading 78 (it should be in the 90’s), heart racing, then watching the numbers change, oxygen going up, heartbeat going down ” it’s really an amazing thing what a little blast of gas can do, and how it can do it in seconds.
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