Sometimes the world around me reminds me of the amazing work our bodies do. For instance: theme parks. Something as random as a theme park reminds me of the way our lungs work. Let me elaborate. Did you know that your lungs have two main jobs? One is to oxygenate your blood which we talked about last week, and the other is to ventilate, or remove carbon dioxide from your body. I know you are probably wondering why theme parks remind me of this process, but I promise I will get to the point.
When you take a breath in, you are taking in the oxygen from the air that your body needs. Go ahead and take a breath in and out. Now visualize this: The air moves along the bronchial tubes, finding its way through those airways as they get smaller and narrower. Those very smallest airways lead to the alveoli. Running through the thin edges of the alveoli are millions of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. This is referred to as the alveolar capillary membrane. That’s where the magic happens.
As the oxygen moves deeper into the small airways, the oxygen molecules are forced to line up and are pushed into this membrane – think of them marching in a single file line. They move into this membrane where the blood is being pumped through. The blood is loaded with Red Blood Cells (RBC) which have a special protein that has a special place for oxygen to be carried. Do you remember what that protein is called? It is called hemoglobin and each little hemoglobin molecule can carry 4 oxygen molecules. (For more on that, see Teaching with a Twist – Oxygenate). The blood is constantly moving through, providing more RBCs with more hemoglobin to pick up more oxygen and carry it off to the tissues in the body.
These oxygen molecules travel along in the bloodstream, some getting off at different points through the circulatory system. As the blood deposits the oxygen it has been carrying in the body’s tissues, it will pick up waste to be disposed of on its way back to the heart and lungs. This waste that it picks up is carbon dioxide or CO2.
The oxygenation cycle I described earlier works in reverse here. The carbon dioxide from the blood lines up in the alveolar capillary membrane and is pushed back into the alveoli, up through the airways until it leaves your body through your nose or mouth. That process of the carbon dioxide being exhaled out is called ‘ventilation’.
Every time I am at Disney World, and I am about to get on one of those rides that doesn’t ever come to a stop to load and unload patrons, I think of this process. The one that comes to mind right away is the “Haunted Mansion” ride. The people climbing into the seats heading into the ride are like the oxygen molecules. They ride through in their little car and as they come back out of the ride, they have to climb out of their seats and let someone else on. The constant motion of that is exactly what the oxygenation/ventilation process is like. (I will post a picture in a different thread to show this process for anyone who would like to see the process I described here).
This process of ventilation is just as important as the process of oxygenation. When the body isn’t able to remove CO2, it builds up in the blood. This is a real problem because when carbon dioxide comes in contact with the blood it becomes carbonic acid. This acid is a poison to the body. The build up of CO2 can cause people to act like they have been drugged – they become very sleepy, or can hallucinate, say strange things. This buildup of CO2 can lead to organ failure or worse. Someone retaining CO2 needs medical help right away.
Here is something you can do to take good care of yourself: Familiarize yourself with the My COPD Action Plan. Do a self-inspection every day. If you or your loved one notice signs and symptoms that indicate a buildup of CO2 as listed in the section called “My Bad Days”, then it is time to call 9-1-1.
Now the twist:
Come up with a question that could be answered by this statement:
“Once, but only in a weak moment.”
Feel free to be silly, but let’s keep it PG, please 😊
Bring it on! I am ready to laugh!!