Since climbing to C2 I had been experiencing a pain in my left lung/ribs when coughing (I’ve been coughing since we made the summit of Lobuche, probably over 2 weeks now). By Sunday AM my overall health seemed to have gotten worse – with a combination of shortness of breath the night before, an increasingly nauseous and gassy stomach and when I got up Sunday AM to tell our guide Jon, something finally tweaked in my left rib region and all of a sudden I could barely cough or clear my throat without experiencing searing pain. Not a good start to the day!
Jon patiently listened to my varied symptoms and observed my movement and we decided it best to pay another visit back up to the doctors of the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) at the Everest ER.
Upon arrival, there already was quite a crowd milling around the HRA, but none appeared to be waiting to be seen by the doctors – rather, they were all concentrating on radio chatter from higher up the mountain where it seems there had been an accident and they were waiting for an update.
What we didn’t realize at the time but found out a little later – was that world-renowned Swiss climber Ueli Steck had fallen and died while climbing alone on Nuptse (peak above and to the right of C1) – where he was climbing as part of his acclimatization for a particularly aggressive and typically ambitious traverse he had planned of first Everest and then Lhotse. For those not aware, Ueli Steck was a master mountaineer. What the rest of us amateurs do in the hills cannot even be mentioned in the same sentence – simply no comparison.
We actually passed him twice this past week on our rotations – him going up the icefall both times as we came down. I only know what I read about him and what one can infer (if anything) from two “hellos” in passing – but he undoubtedly was a man at the pinnacle of his craft and needless to say news of his passing came as a great shock to everyone and really is all a bit surreal right now. It also offered a stark reminder that no matter who you are or what your skill level, there is always so much beyond your control in the mountains.
For probably the best article I have seen on his untimely death, click here for NY Times.
My health issues not quite so serious when viewed through this lens – but of course at altitude, everyone’s problems are big to themselves. General diagnosis was that I had a bacterial gut infection and while no sign of infection in the lungs, a distinct possibility that I had either pulled or torn a muscle around the ribs and/or fractured or otherwise damaged a rib from coughing so much over the last two weeks. The HRA doctor administered relevant drugs and I went on my way. Oddly nice to hear that the rib injury is more mechanical as my mind already going to potentially far worse places and imagining a clot on my lung; As I mentioned in a previous post – reality rarely proves worse than my imagined worst case scenario!
I am happy to report the drugs for my stomach seem to have worked and finishing the course of antibiotics tomorrow, the nausea has gone and my appetite is almost back. The ribs are another thing altogether and the painkillers not doing a whole lot (yet). One thing in my favor is the weather report I mentioned in my last entry – in that we are in no rush back up the hill, so I have some time to figure out pain management options that I hopewill let me continue to climb.
More to come – watch this space… but just to say thanks to everyone for the well wishes on this day – from varied and unexpected quarters –made a huge difference and helped more than you know. Of course, there are going to be days like this on an expedition of this length – but even knowing that, they can still hit you hard and test your resiliency. This was my first real such day – and it did test me, for sure. Being able to check in with the world – admittedly to whine a little – helped greatly! A problem shared isn’t always a problem solved, but most definitely it is a problem eased – so thank you for that.