I read a few mountain-climbing books recently.  Theresa recommended “Into Thin Air”, by Jon Krakauer.  Then I read another two of his books, and two more by other authors.

All of the books focused on the challenges of the climb.  Some of the challenges seemed obvious to me-  the cold, the snow, the physicality of the climb.  But one of the challenges was not obvious to me, and that was the lack of oxygen at the summit.

The books describe a place called “The Death Zone”- a place above 8000 meters (26,247 feet), where oxygen is so scarce that life cannot exist for long without supplemental oxygen.  There are 14 mountains in the world that are known as the “Eight Thousanders”.   Expert mountain-climbers have an almost religious need to climb those 14 peaks.

What happens above 8000 meters is hard to describe for the authors of each of the books.  How do you explain oxygen deprivation to someone who has never experienced it? What each book has in common is that the people on those summits exhibit a lack of human self-care.  They act in a way that is contrary to “the will to live”.

In one case, Jon Krakauer describes a top-notch mountaineering guide, who is responsible for the lives of all of those around him.  This guide had experience going to Everest (and other 8000 meter peaks) several times.  So oxygen was a known issue for him.  And yet, one time at the summit of Everest, this fellow became oxygen deprived.  And he walked right off of the side of the mountain.

Mountain climbers have access to oxygen cannisters.  They can purchase it, and if they have enough money, they can pay mountain guides to carry their oxygen up the mountain for them.  For whatever reason, some of them are opposed to using oxygen in mountain climbing.  Scuba divers aren’t opposed to using oxygen, but some mountain climbers are.


I watched the movie “Gravity” a few months ago.  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney starred in a movie about walking in space.  At one point, all hell breaks loose (of course it does!), and oxygen becomes very important.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say that oxygen plays a very important part in the movie.  I found myself gasping for air while watching it.


As you recall from Biochemistry class (you were paying attention, weren’t you?), the respiration reaction is C6H12O6 + 6O2–>6H2O + 6 CO2 plus energy.  In other words, one molecule of glucose and 6 molecules of oxygen are exchanged for 6 molecules of water, 6 molecules of carbon dioxide, and energy.  We take sugar and inhaled oxygen, and convert it into energy.  We exhale carbon dioxide and pee off the water.

I hope you were paying attention, because there is going to be a quiz on that at the end of this blog.


When someone has a problem with breathing (asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), physicians measure oxygen levels in the blood.  The quickest/easiest way to do that is to attach a device called a pulse oximeter to the finger of the patient.  It is a diagnostic test for oxygen levels.


I want to connect some dots.  This is about more than oxygen.   What this is about are those things in our lives that are absolutely vital to us.  Each one of us has things in our lives that are as important to us as oxygen is to a mountain climber.

Your list is different from mine.  Your list may include family, friends, religion, spirituality, health, exercise, nutrition, prayer, meditation, hobbies, arts and leisure.

The point is that there are things-good and positive things-that keep me connected to all that is good in the world.  My guess is that you have those things too.

How do you STAY connected to those things?  Do you ever get disconnected from them?  Why do people sometimes disconnect from them on purpose, and “walk off the mountain?”

Without getting into too many specifics- I know a few people who have walked off their personal mountains recently.  People who were connected to other people, and things, that were good for them.  And then they disconnected themselves.  Or they got disconnected somehow.

Moviegoers were really shocked when one of the characters in Gravity disconnected his own oxygen supply.  In my reading, I was shocked when one of the mountain guides walked off the mountain and effectively ended his life.

Why isn’t it more shocking when people do that right in front of us, in our personal lives?


The thing about this state of “connectedness”, is that there isn’t a diagnostic test for it.  There is no pulse oximeter for those things that keep me connected to all that is good in the world.  There is no readout that says “oh, I need to administer 5.5 liters of family time into my life today”. There is no printout that I can look at and say “oh- my spirituality levels are low today.”

For some reason, I only see it in the rear view mirror.  Sometimes I think “I need a date with my sweetie”, or “I need to spend some extra time with my girls” or “I need to take my dog for a walk.”.

What is your oxygen?  What keeps you connected?  How do you measure it?  What is your pulse oximeter?



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