Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Part 173 - Of All things - Acid Reflux

Just beyond the group campsite was a major stream crossing that could be very hazardous if the water were any higher.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to wade through the water as there were enough big boulders to hop across, but a misstep would be hard to recover from, as the fast-flowing water dropped steeply down the mountainside.

At noon, I came upon Lava Springs, an incredible spring that bubbled out from underneath a bed of lava boulders.  The trail builders built a retaining wall to impound the water and it was a most pleasant place to stop and relax.  I dare say that the crystal-clear water gushing forth from this spring is the coldest and best-tasting water on the whole Pacific Crest Trail.

As I approached a road crossing, I encountered three men heading down the trail, who, at first glance were scary looking; they were men with full bushy black beards who carried no backpacks, no water bottles, no tools, no fishing rods; my first impression of these three was they were like unto the hill people in the movie Deliverance ; where they were going, or what they were up to, I couldn’t venture to say.

I crossed the road and saw three vehicles in a trailhead parking lot; I assumed that one or more of the vehicles belonged to the three men.  Off to one side of the parking lot was a van with its side door open, and in a camp chair beside the open door was a woman who introduced herself as trail angel Sage Girl.

I asked her if she’d seen the three men who had just passed me and she said she hadn’t; nevertheless, I felt impressed to caution her about the presence of these men.  A lone woman in a remote location in the wilderness with three unsavory characters in the vicinity might not have a pleasant outcome.  Sage Girl offered me a cold drink, which I gladly accepted, and moved on up the trail.

There was a lot of up and down hiking today, which was extremely difficult for me.  I could barely shuffle along, and even going downhill was difficult without resting.  I’m concerned that I’m having heart and/or breathing difficulty and am quite worried about the situation.  At one point along the trail, Brownie finally caught up with me and found me standing in the middle of the trail, bent over with my head resting on my trekking poles, which was common for me to do whenever I needed to rest.  

He asked me if I was okay.  Being a little emotional because of my weakened physical condition, I let slip a couple of tears as I told him I thought I might be having heart problems.
I could tell that’s not what Brownie wanted to hear, even though he asked me if there was anything he could do for me.  I told him I had heart medication to take which seemed to relieve his concerns for me.  I could tell he didn’t want to be stuck with someone who might be having a heart attack, and after he passed on by, I felt bad that I had said anything to him.  But the bottom line is, I need to be out of the wilderness; there’s something going on with my internal apparatus besides my heart.

As a side note, when I returned home from my five-month journey, I immediately went to see my cardiologist and discussed with him the great difficulty I had had in walking the trail.  I mentioned to him what I had read online about the side effects of heart ablations – where the valves in the heart could be damaged, causing a shortness of breath.  He was aware of my concerns and suggested I have an MRI of my chest – specifically, my heart and lungs, to see if there was anything he had missed.

Following the MRI, my cardiologist reviewed the scans with me and said he saw no abnormalities with the heart and lungs, but he did discover a slight hiatal hernia, which he said should be checked out by a gastroenterologist – a specialist in the body’s digestive system.

The gastroenterologist, upon reviewing the scans, confirmed the presence of the hernia and said this condition could well be the source of my breathing difficulties; he likened it to acid reflux.  He continued his explanation by saying that acid from the stomach, because of the hernia, could now move upward into the esophagus – the food tube, and down into the lungs via the trachea or the windpipe causing inflammation of the bronchial tubes, resulting in an asthmatic-like condition or shortness of breath.   His recommendation for treatment was medication that would reduce the acidity of the stomach.  He gave me a prescription for Omeprazole and said to come back in two months.

Towards the end of the two months, I began walking in the steep foothills behind my home, to see if the medication was having the desired effect.  It did; I can now walk up the steepest hills without the slightest hindrance in breathing.  If only I had known this before I started the hike, one pill a day would have made such a difference.

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