Home Feature A Brief Guide to OXYGEN & BREATHING



We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Oxygen!” is the new, greatly desired, buzzword. But do many people know what Oxygen is? Here, in 700 words, is the answer and why it is a matter of life and death for all of us.

Oxygen is an element, one of the 118 known chemical “bricks”, of which all material things are made, including distant stars and planets. Of these 118 only 94 exist on earth. We and you, the food we eat and the paper you’re reading are made of these 94 elements or combinations of them. Oxygen, however, is the most loving element. It has formed unions with virtually every other element on earth. In the early earth it had tied up with the element Carbon to form Carbon Dioxide in the same way that Carbon had intimate ties with Hydrogen to create Methane. Together these chemical unions produced a foul atmosphere that smelt of rotten eggs!

Then a strange thing happened. A single-celled creature, drifting in our ancient oceans, acquired the power to use the energy of sunlight to change Carbon dioxide into Oxygen. Photosynthesis, or “Creation-by-Light”, had been born. That magical process is still being used by all the green plants of the earth. Photosynthesis in plants continues to produce most of the oxygen that covers our planet in a life-sustaining blanket.

With the arrival of Photosynthesis, there was an excess of Oxygen on the earth, and Nature had to find a way to use it. Oxygen-breathing creatures evolved! Powered by Oxygen they had the energy to move, to conquer new environments, crawl out of the ocean, dominate the land and, eventually, stand upright as Homo erectus who saw further, reacted faster and gave birth to us, Homo sapiens: Thinking Man.

But the power of thought, the power of Creativity which is the ability to put 2×2 together and create e= mc squared, took a big toll on the human body. The brain, which controls every organ of the body, needs to be serviced uninterruptedly. Every one of its myriad cells, especially those that spark with tiny flashes of electricity when new thoughts are born, must be attended to round the clock. Like a great city that never sleeps, it cannot afford to relax its control!

The work of unrelenting maintenance is done by blood-vessels that carry about 20% to 25% of the total blood of that person to the brain! The billions of brain cells in every human, use 20% of the energy and fuel that person’s bloodstream conveys!

This starts when a baby takes its first breath: it cries out, filling its infant lungs with oxygen for the first time. Tiny, grape-like bags in the lungs allow the oxygen from the inhaled air to filter through to blood-vessels and into the haemoglobin in the blood cells. This oxygen-carrying protein gives fresh blood its scarlet colour. Oxygen-laden blood pulsates through the arteries, giving up its load to feed every part of the body. With its twin beat, the heart also sucks back the oxygen-depleted blood through the venous system. It pushes this dark red venous blood into those tiny sacs in the lungs. There the Carbon dioxide and other impurities are removed, expelled at the next exhaled breath, and the blood becomes oxygenated, scarlet, and ready to charge the body with energy again.

Outside the body, when the breathed-out air, laden with Carbon dioxide, reaches green leaves, yet another round of Oxygen-creating photosynthesis, starts.

Clearly, the pump of the heart and the bellows of the lungs must work in close co-ordination. This synchronization is controlled by the brain. If this supreme decision-maker should collapse so will the body. We can live without food for approximately 3 weeks, without water for about 3 days, but without oxygen for only a shade more than 3 minutes! Minneapolis policeman Derek Michael Chauvin deprived George Floyd of Oxygen for a few seconds over 4 minutes. Floyd’s brain stopped working. Deprived of coordinated Command and Control, his body died. Chauvin was found guilty of murder in a case that outraged the world.

So, if trees create the oxygen we need to survive, what should we call netas who destroy forests of breath-giving trees for personal gain?

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime
Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writerwho is a member of the Travel
Agents Association of India.)