Tuesday, September 30th, 1997
Illness and health (Henning Beck).
So far the expedition has been spared of accidents and other kinds of bad
luck - luckily! However we have had a few cases of illness during the walk-in,
which took place in almost constant rain: slimy cough and such, due to being
alternately sweaty and cold. Our own team has had two more severe cases: Our
sirdar Sonam have had a blood poisoning from a leech bite and had to have major
doses of penicillin for seven days, and Nima, our high-altitude sherpa developed
certain symptoms of appendicitis. Everywhere but here he would have been taken
to immediate surgery, but I decided to fill him with three different antibiotics
and monitor the progress, and it succeeded quite allright. He is now in good
shape and working on carrying loads up to Camp 1.
We are more than one expedition on the mountain, among these a Swiss and an Australian which we have helped with a little medical care. One of the Australians had inflammation of the middle ear and was treated with wide range penicillin and nose drops. One of the Swiss guys was a more seroius case: at 20.000 ft. he got a strong ache in his back and was unable to stand upon his legs. When I went to visit him he was racked with pain and showed signs of internal haemorrhage in the spinal canal. I administered drip, corticosteroids, a variety of painkillers and diuretic drugs, and he had pulse and blood pressure checked all the night through - almost like in a hospital. He has now been flown out by a helicopter. Apparantly the altitude has played a major role in his disease.
It is very strange with altitude and bodily functions, you know! One would lose the consciousness and die, if flown directly to the summit of Makalu. But when gradually climbing to higher altitudes, the body adapts to the low pressure, which on the summit of Makalu is only a third of the atmospheric pressure at sea level. The body acclimatizes by changing the way of breathing, blood pressure and pulse, increasing the level of erythrocytes and in many other ways! However it is very individual how long time one needs to acclimatize to climb a mountain the size of Makalu. If you are going up too fast you can get altitude sickness with headache, difficult breathing and probably vomiting. And if not respecting these signs they can extend to HAPE and HACE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and High Altitude Cerebral Edema). There is only one essential cure for this: descending to lower altitude, where the atmospheric pressure is higher. Luckily none of us in our team have any major problems with health, except for a little headache that can be cured with weak painkillers. Now, as the higher camps are being established, we are entering the altitudes where the strength of the body is constantly diminished, and the cold is a factor you have to calculate with as well. I shall return to this later!