Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yoga and the ICU

The machines in the ICU are NOT programmed for yoga students. As part of my yoga exercises, I've learned to slow my breathing to 6 breaths per minute when I'm at rest. On occasion, I've slowed it to 2-breaths-per-minute after about an hour of practice. Genuine slow breathing confuses doctors who ask me to take a "long slow breath" and then "another one" before I'm done with the first. But machines don't know how to be confused. They just beep and summon humans who wake me up. The machines were set to call for help when my breathing dropped below 10 breaths per minute. I don't need 10 breaths per minute, especially when I'm asleep. It's very hard to sleep when people keep waking me up to get me to breathe faster.

Then there's the heart rate. I'm an exercise junkie. I remember studying the heart rate in physiology class. It's simple. Hearts that are used to working hard don't pump as often at rest. The ICU machine was programmed to call for help every time my heart rate dropped below 60 beats per minute. That happened every time I fell asleep. It's in the low 70's when I'm awake, if I'm just sitting around. Lying down, sleeping, is way less work than sitting up. It's very hard to sleep when people keep waking me up to get my heart to beat more often.

If you are a yoga student, I guess the moral of this story is -- wait until you get home to get well, the ICU won't let you get any sleep.

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