The group was looking at Incan ruins at the Peruvian Altiplano, between Cuzco and Puno. We were listening to the guide when suddenly an older man had a seizure. He fell to the ground right in front of me.
Someone shouted out “Oxygen!” The bus hostess, a meter and a half tall started running to the bus, parked outside the complex. My instincts led me to start running after her, thinking that my meter and seventy-four would run faster.
I then remembered that I was above 3500 meters. This was the cause of the man’s seizure in the first place, but I continued after her at a slightly slower pace. I was just about to ask for oxygen at a closer bus. While I hesitated, our bus driver appeared with a big oxygen bottle. By the time we got back, the man was already sitting down and feeling better.
We made another stop, this time to visit a museum. I decided to take pictures of the surroundings that seemed more interesting, especially the views to the altiplano.
The man that had the seizure did not follow the guide’s recommendation of staying on the bus. When everyone returned to the bus, he had another seizure, this time more serious to the point that it looked like they had to do CPR.
I was sitting further back and couldn’t believe what was happening. It was a terrible moment and all the passengers looked concerned. I thought the man was going to die, which fortunately did not happen.
Back on the road, there was a general apprehension in the bus because we were still many kilometers away from proper medical care.
At the back of the bus, there was another older man that didn’t seem to feel well for the whole ten-hour trip. Honestly, I was worried for him too.
The famous “soroche” or altitude sickness can hit you no matter your age or physical condition. Headaches, nausea, lack of energy, lack of appetite and insomnia are some of the symptoms. Altitude makes it harder to breathe for everyone, so a little bit of constraint is good advice.
These incidents made me think about the trouble we can get ourselves into when we don’t follow advice. Especially in situations that we’re not used to, like altitude or extreme temperatures.
On the other hand, both men were in their seventies and who knows, maybe it was their last opportunity to visit these places. Maybe they were living a dream they had their whole life. It’s easy for us to criticize, but we don’t know the stories that motivate people to do what they do. Everyone has their own story.
So I guess if you really want to do it, if it’s your dream, if you think it’s worth the risk, do it while you still can!
When we reached the final bus stop in Puno, the guide took the man to the hospital. I never heard from him again. That night at the hotel I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened, wishing he was well.