In preparing for this trip to Tibet, I’ve been learning about altitude sickness. It is basically what happens when you slowly drown in air. Everyone new to altitudes above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) will have some symptoms, but genetics are the dividing line between feeling sleep and cerebral edema. Lhasa is more than 12,000 feet (3,600 m) above sea level.
My genes are of the low-land variety and I tend to act mildly drunk for the first few days above 9,000 feet. I kept a journal when I was studying butterflies in the Rocky Mountains in college. Here is a quote: “Gathered butterfly data today and sampled nectar with micro-pipettes. Why aren’t they called, ‘tiny vacuums’?'”
I got a prescription for Diamox, which is the standard, Western medicine for this sort of thing. Diamox helps by making you breathe like a hamster (hyperventilate without feeling like you are hyperventilating). This helps lessen the drowning effect but if it gets too bad, the only solution is to head down the mountain. My parents are going the Eastern medicine route of chewing on medicinal herbs, so we’ll see which works better.