Cystic Fibrosis and Heat Cramps

by Paul
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I generally try to keep things pretty positive and upbeat, at least when I’m writing, but these last two days have been a pretty humbling and sobering experience for me. So bear with me while I get a little bit serious for a sec.

Right now I’m sitting in a little hotel in Paris, having caught the train on Saturday morning to see my parents and give myself a break. I feel a bit ridiculous having another break already, but it seems I never really got over my cramp and heat exhaustion from a few days ago and I needed to give myself a little more time. Let me explain in a bit more detail:

Basically, one of the issues with Cystic Fibrosis (in fact one of the symptoms that’s used to diagnose the disease in the first place) is that a person with the condition loses a lot more salt than a ‘normal’ person in their sweat. Salt, or electrolyte, loss leads to dehydration and in turn can cause cramping. Growing up in New Zealand it had never been an issue that I was even aware of, let-alone affected by, but that changed real quick when I was working in the West Australian desert a few years ago. On one occasion, after a long but not overly physical work day, my whole body completely seized up with cramp and I collapsed on the ground. With every movement I made to give myself relief from one cramp, I would trigger cramp on the opposite side of my body. It was the most painful and frightening experience i’ve ever had, made all the more so by the fact that I didn’t know what was happening, and that I was in the middle of the desert with nowhere to go. I literally lay in the spot where I fell down until the next morning when I was taken to a nurses station three hours away and pumped with saline. I subsequently lost my job and along with it any chance of continuing a career in the mines. It was “too much of a risk” to take me back out on any work site.

The reason I’m sharing this is because on Friday I found myself lying next to the only tap I could find – in an abandoned camp ground – in the 40 degree heat, and feeling the onset of the same symptoms. I was faced with the decision to stay put for the night, or move on and risk the chance of ending up somewhere else in a worse condition and with no access to water. It’s not that the cycling itself was too strenuous, it’s that no matter how much I drank, and how much salt I tried to replace, I obviously just couldn’t keep up with how much I was losing. I probably shouldn’t have been attempting to make up time in that kind of heat in the first place, but I do sometimes tend to overestimate my own abilities. In the end I stayed where I was for about four hours before (very slowly) moving on another 5km to a small village where I entered a hotel, light headed and profusely sweating, and got myself a bed for the night.

I hesitate to talk about these things openly, and I’m certainly not trying to evoke any sympathy, but I feel that if I’m going to try and raise awareness the best way to do so is through my own experience. The good thing is this is not the end of the journey, just a little hurdle along the road, and hopefully the next update will involve a little more progress.

In about an hour I’ll be boarding a train back to where my bike is to carry on with the journey. The weekend has been a great opportunity for me to recover and recharge before getting back in to it, and for the next two days I’ll have my parents tagging along – so you can rest assured that I wont be pushing myself too hard!

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