Daily Data, Your New Best Friend: Apply

by AHB on May 2

in basics

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I went to a lot of dances as a teenager. My particular group of friends “the drama kids” were a rowdy bunch that congregated around a bass speaker. I started passing out at these dances anywhere from 30-90 minutes into what was supposed to be a 4-6 hour night. This frustration was made all the more annoying because I was “doing all the right things”. Which means I was going out only one night a week, I was drinking 3-6 liters of water a day, taking all of my cardiologist-prescribed medications, getting up about the same time each day, eating salt tablets, drinking potassium infused orange juice. Everything. Still, I fainted at dances all the same. Since I wanted to continue hanging out with my friends at these dances I started looking for patterns. I knew it was hot and stuffy in the dance halls, so, every 30 minutes or so, I went outside for 5-10 minutes. This did manage to delay, but not prevent, my fainting. My parents were threatening to not allow me to go out at all so I desperately looked for the source of the fainting. I paid attention to my body, looking for whatever the symptoms were before I passed out. What I noticed became an amusing party trick: my heart beat in time with the bass. Remember, as a group, we usually congregated around a bass speaker and the force of that bass beat was enough to actually influence my sinoatrial (SA) node. What’s more I was passing out most after a song with a syncopated or very fast bass beat ended. Particularly if the transition to the next song either took a while or was to a song with a much slower beat. Since it takes as little as 8-10 seconds of a decrease in blood flow to cause a faint, the transition from the fast or syncopated song to the slower song was long enough to trigger a faint.

Gathering data is useless if you can’t apply the knowledge gained. This is why we have to keep forming hypotheses to test against our data. Or to determine what kind of data we need to gather. As relates to the above story I went through multiple rounds of data gathering and hypothesis.

  • Is it because it’s hot and stuffy in the dance hall? I thought of this hypothesis because I’d had difficulty staying conscious in a math class which was very hot and stuffy.
  • Is it an exertion problem? This was a general belief among adults. However, it didn’t correlate to other data I had about exerting myself. Exertion seemed to only be a problem if I was doing something of high aerobic impact and didn’t do a cool down. I wasn’t necessarily fainting after a sudden stop of dancing.
  • Is it because I’m staying out late? This again didn’t match my other data. While staying out late did frequently affect my health, it was always a day or two later, not the night of.
  • Am I not drinking enough water or taking my medications? Sometimes you just gotta look at the basics. As it turned out I was doing really well on my water and medication intake.
  • What are the symptoms before I pass out? This was a new type of data I decided to gather when I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Eventually I realized my heart was beating in time with the bass. Which led me to this question:
  • Is a change in the bass beat causing me to pass out? Yes! Finally a positive correlation.

Months after the initial question, “Why do I keep fainting at dances?”, I finally had enough data to form a hypothesis and prove it: I fainted because I was too close to the bass speaker. I had successfully gathered and interpreted my data. Then came time to apply the knowledge. My application was a simple matter of the physics of force: I just had to be far enough away from the speaker that the bass beat couldn’t affect my SA node. Of course, the simplest solution would’ve been to stop going to dances at all. I didn’t like that option, nor were my friends, as a group, willing to stop congregating around a bass speaker. In the end my experience at dances followed a pattern of near and far. I would join my group of friends near a bass speaker. About 20 minutes later I went outside. I joined my group of friends for another 3-4 songs. Then I convinced a couple of my friends to join me in a corner much farther away from the bass speaker. We danced another hour or so. I went back outside for 5-10 minutes. Then rejoined my friends by the speaker. Usually at this point in the night someone would ask why I kept disappearing and I demonstrated my “party trick” for them: I would let them put their fingers on my neck and feel how my heart was beating in time with the bass. The dance being about half over by now, a larger group was willing to join me farther away from the speaker and we continued to dance the night away.

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