Where: London, United Kingdom
January 10, 2009 : An interesting story by BBC News tells how a team of London doctors, including five anesthetists, two general practitioners and a vascular surgeon climbed Mt. Everest. They then treated themselves as guinea pigs to measure oxygen levels present in their blood at the summit.
The readings confirmed that high-altitude climbers have extremely low levels of oxygen in their blood. At sea-level these would only be seen in patients who were close to death. The team leader Dr Mike Grocott said the experiment would help to establish how much oxygen deprivation people can tolerate before they are treated with ‘aggressive interventions’. That would include treatments like ventilation, which carry a risk of damage to organs like the lungs.
The doctors climbed to the summit with oxygen tanks. They removed their masks 20 minutes before drawing blood samples for testing, so that their lungs get used to the low-oxygen atmosphere. The samples were taken by Sherpa climbers down to a height of 6,400 metres, where they were tested at a team camp laboratory. On the summit, temperatures were at -25C and the wind speed above 20 knots. Yet, said the team spokesman, they were walking and talking without oxygen.
Anasthetists in the U.K. are agreed that more research is needed in this area, before they can with any certainty change the ‘safe’ levels of blood oxygen in patients in hospital care.