Monday, December 14, 2009

Adventures in Hydrotherapy

It is my first morning at Ojo Caliente, where Ma'ikwe and I will be for three days of combined birthday present to each other. Already we've had an adventure.

Setting the Stage
Ojo is a mineral hot springs in the high desert of New Mexico, about an hour north, northwest of Santa Fe, nestled between the Chama and Rio Grande Rivers. First identified as a healing place by Native Americans centuries ago, the site was developed as a recuperative spa (a Latin acronym, by the way, from Salus Per Aquas, or health through water
) by Antonio Joseph in 1868, and has been continuously operated as a privately owned business ever since.

Ojo Caliente (which translates to warm eye in Spanish—don't you just love that image for a geothermal spring?) is unique in that there are four separate hot springs that emerge at this one location, featuring iron, arsenic, lithium, and soda—affording guests a semi-bewildering array of options for how to treat what ails you. The pools come in different temperatures as well as flavors, and options are augmented by a sauna, a regular swimming pool, and a rich menu of therapeutic wraps, mud treatments, and massages.

The Afternoon Surprise
Ma'ikwe and I checked in yesterday afternoon. After settling into our room, we strolled down to the wine bar and enjoyed an excellent glass of '06 merlot. Then we donned our swimming attire and robes and headed for the waters. Our first choice was the arsenic pool, which is the hottest at 105 degrees. In the 40-degree outdoor ambient temperature, we could soak (at various degrees of immersion) for about 10 minutes at a time before becoming sufficiently parboiled that a break was in order.

After a few rounds of that I was interested in a dip in the iron pool, followed by a sauna (having been here once before, two years ago, I had a definite idea about how best to build up a state of euphoria as well as an appetite for dinner in the excellent Artesian Restaurant on the premises). As Ma'ikwe wanted to linger in the luxuriation of the hottest waters, we separated.

Imagine my surprise about 10 minutes later when the attendant in the sauna area asked if my wife were at the arsenic pool. Casually admitting that that was so, she went on to inform me that my wife had just passed out. Oops. Now we were off script.

By the time I got there, Ma'ikwe was lying on the concrete next to the pool, swaddled in towels and surrounded by concerned staff. She was a little weak, yet fully conscious and I figured whatever happened couldn't be too bad because she was serving up her typical witty comebacks whenever anyone asked how she was doing.

According to Ma'ikwe, and corroborated by a couple of other women who were near her at the same time, she stood up to leave the pool and felt dizzy. She immediately sat down on the side of the pool. When the dizziness persisted she started to lower her heads between her knees, and passed out before she got there. The next thing she remembered was lying on the concrete next to the pool, looking up. The two women, who attended to her right away and got staff assistance, reported that she was out for about five seconds. On the way down she scraped her face, hand, and knee, but all of that was superficial and there was no concussion.

The protocol in this situation (which makes perfect sense to me if I put myself in the shoes of spa operators) is to call the local EMT, to make sure that the fainting didn't presage anything more serious. The husband and wife team (Craig & Catherine) showed up minutes later and efficiently and respectfully went through the routine checking of blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen and blood sugar levels in the blood. This was followed by a basic scan of body parts and reflexes, and asking the obligatory questions about what day it was and who was president.

As Ma'ikwe had good responses for all these tests, everyone relaxed. Though the emergency response protocol requires EMTs to recommend that someone be checked out at a hospital whenever fainting occurs (for a deeper look at potential underlying problems), we politely declined and signed a release, which Craig & Catherine took in stride. As it happens, Ma'ikwe travels with arnica (in pills and cream no less) and everyone agreed that taking that right away was a good idea (even though Craig & Catherine could only advise that "off the record," lest they run afoul of their allopathic accreditation).

While the excitement of the afternoon led to a more subdued evening (entirely appropriate for Ma'ikwe's health, yet not exactly what we had lined up for our couples retreat), it left us pondering why exactly she'd fainted. Understandably, Ma'ikwe was frustrated that her body wasn't performing up to snuff.

Ma'ikwe has been struggling with overall symptoms of weakness and achiness for several weeks, and has been suspecting that she may have some form of fibromyalgia. This possibility had been confirmed by a trusted health practitioner (Carla) that Ma'ikwe saw on Friday—who has the triple threat credentials of DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine), ND (Naturopathic Doctor), and RN (Registered Nurse). While the diagnosis was based solely on symptoms and is not conclusive, Ma'ikwe is trying it on, and extra rest is strongly advised.

In addition, Ma'ikwe is trying to treat herself in a variety of ways including the ingestion of vitamin supplements, one of which is a B-complex. Because she's shown a sensitivity to taking B-vitamins in the past (they were recommended during her pregnancies—13 and five years ago—yet she invariably felt nauseous and threw up whenever she attempted them in pill form), Carla recommended trying B's in liquid form, where it's easier to fine tune the dosage. While Carla would ordinarily recommend 10 drops daily for someone in Ma'ikwe's situation, she suggested starting cautiously and gradually increasing the dosage if everything went well.

Friday and Saturday, Ma'ikwe put her toe into the B-complex waters with two-three drops of the liquid supplement. As she had no adverse reaction, yesterday she took six.

Taken all together, three days at a spa sounded just right, and we thoroughly enjoyed the two-hour drive north from Albuquerque on a sunny Sunday afternoon. So what went wrong? Here's what we've puzzled out:

—Ma'ikwe is suffering from a general sense of weakness and achiness (possibly fibromyalgia).
—We increased our altitude by a 1000 feet (to 6200).
While it doesn't happen often, she has a health history of occasionally fainting.
—She'd just doubled the dosage of a supplement known to make her nauseous.
—She'd had a glass of wine (and no water) right before entering the pool.
—Hot tubs (which the arsenic pool essentially is) dehydrate users.

Pieced together this way, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that jumping into hot water was, well, like jumping into hot water. No wonder she fainted.

• • •
Today, thankfully, Ma'ikwe feels much better. Though she still has some raw souvenirs of her header onto the concrete, those will heal quickly. Today she's going to get back on the horse by attempting the less thermally challenging iron pool and has vowed to drink more water, while eschewing wine and B-vitamins.

I can hardly wait to see how relaxing today will be.

1 comment:

Lotus Allen said...

Laird, reminds me of the time Geoph fainted and fell at a hot springs we were camping at in Oregon with Emma. You may remember he smashed his face on the rock outcropping and broke his tooth... very scary indeed, esp. since we were so deep in the wilderness high on a mountain with a long trek through the woods to get back to camp. We had to hike back, quickly pack up and drive two cars to a hospital a couple of hours away. That guy managed to help me pack the camp and drive to the hospital with a smashed face; I was so worried he would pass out while driving.

Glad to hear Ma'ikwe quickly recovered. Sounds like a fun place to visit. Happy Trails, Lotus