Extremes: Life, Death and the Limits of the Human Body. Kevin Fong
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'If you want to know what the human body can take, and why we must continue to push ourselves beyond the limit in the name of exploration, then read this book.' Professor Brian Cox In anaesthetist Dr Kevin Fong's television programmes he has often demonstrated the impact of extremes on the human body by using his own body as a 'guinea pig'. So Dr Fong is well placed to share his experience of the sheer audacity of medical practice at extreme physiological limits, where human life is balanced on a knife edge. Through gripping accounts of extraordinary events and pioneering medicine, Dr Fong explores how our body responds when tested by the extremes of heat and cold, vacuum and altitude, age and disease. He shows how science, technology and medicine have taken what was once lethal in the world and made it survivable. This is not only a book about medicine, but also about exploration in its broadest sense - and about how, by probing the very limits of our biology, we may ultimately return with a better appreciation of how our bodies work, of what life is, and what it means to be human.
the whirling hands of the clock on the wall somehow didn’t give you a proper sense of the passage of time. For that you had to get out and glimpse something of the outside world, to catch sight of the fading light or breaking dawn. That was why we gathered in the quieter moments at the rear entrance to the hospital, with its less than spectacular view of the car park asphalt and the subtle aroma of ambulance diesel. It was a fine and unusually warm evening. By half past six all but the most
breath: that’s what your survival boils down to here. It is, on the face of it, a simple act of mind over matter, a discipline you should be able to find within yourself – especially if your life depends upon it. And yet the desire to breathe is among our most primitive urges. We’re designed to draw air into our lungs, to exchange fresh oxygen for the waste gas of carbon dioxide. Our lives depend upon this perpetual toing and froing of gases and it is worth taking a moment here to consider your
problems caused by altitude can begin to develop. Once you get to around 29,000 feet, just five and a half miles above the ground, you reach the highest point on the surface of the planet: the summit of Mount Everest. This appears to be very nearly the high-altitude limit for unsupported human life. A couple of hundred feet higher and the mountain would be unscaleable without supplemental oxygen. Mountaineers arriving at the summit of Everest do so only barely alive, having altered their
corrections can be made. So astronauts on their way to their destination are engaged in an activity that might more accurately be described as ‘space fall’. While the vehicle and its crew are busy falling across space, Mars is out there somewhere in the darkness, tearing around its elliptical orbit at a little over fifty thousand miles per hour. Mars’ journey around the Sun takes 687 days. Earth completes its orbit in 365.25 days, moving at around seventy thousand miles per hour, which leaves
bruised skin and bleeding gums. Without a shield, it would be impossible to survive such an exposure. To make matters worse, solar flares arise sporadically, and we’re about as good at predicting them as we are at forecasting the British weather. And there’s no straightforward way of combating their effects. Building a ship coated with lead wouldn’t help – even if you could find a way to lift that mass into orbit. Lead and other heavy metals are great at shielding against X-ray radiation and