Tag Archives: hospital

Traveling Adventures With Needles

Post my little hospital visit in Nepal, I developed a secondary infection. One that would see my time in India being very uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks. I thought that the medication that I was on for it would do the trick. Unfortunately for me the infection didn’t go and what was left made me sicker and sicker and eventually I left Pushkar in a taxi bound for a doctor in Jaipur.

When I arrived I had high fever again and they made me go through different tests to identify the type of bacteria causing my infection and what antibiotics it was resistant to. While I waited for these tests to come back for two days they put me on a series of medications to manage my symptoms and I spent two days in bed watching Bollywood sitcoms and drama shows in Hindi that I didn’t understand.

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Hospital gowns… my most prominent Asian attire.

The day I went back to the doctor I sat in wait for the results. As he hands me the sheet of paper with the results, I nearly cried. Of the fifteen different antibiotics that they had run this bacteria against, only three of them worked. My infection was resistant to twelve different classes of antibiotics. As someone who has studied science, microbiology and chemistry, I understood the severity of this.

Of the three different types of antibiotics that they gave me, the one that showed the most efficacy was amikacin…. an injection to be taken every 12 hours for five days. The doctor says to me “so how long are you going to be around for? You will need to be injected by a nurse”. Me being me and stubborn as hell, I said to him “I leave tomorrow. I will give them to myself. Teach me.”

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The giant pile of drugs and injections they sent me home with.

Both the doctor and the nurse stood there dumbfounded because they weren’t sure whether I could do it or not. They demonstrated where I had to inject myself into the buttocks and I dug the needle in and pressed down on the plunger. Too easy. “OK, they said, you seem to know what you are doing, here is your bunch of needles and all of the other pills you will need to take for the next week or so. Good luck!”

I left the doctors office, got into a cab and went back to the hotel where I was met by my tour leader in the lobby. I started to cry for all of the thirty seconds that I allowed myself before telling myself I need to pull my shit together and get about it. There is nothing else I can do about it other than just suck it up and deal with it.

That night I didn’t sleep well. Nor did I sleep well any other night for the whole five nights that this went on. I dreamt of needles. I had anxiety about not doing it properly and my ever growing bruises on my arse. The first time I gave myself an injection unsupervised by medical practitioners I was freaking out. But I did it. I got up and I got on the bus and I went to Bharatpur.

On the third day of having needles I still wasn’ feeling too bad. My symptoms had started to disappear and I was feeling better. It was my day to go to the Taj Mahal. So slowly but surely, I went. I got dressed up in a sari, I did my hair and make up and I went to the Taj Mahal. It was a great experience and I am so happy and lucky that I got to go. Everybody keeps telling me I look so happy and healthy in the pictures. Pictures for the most part lie. I felt happy, but also very weak and very sore. My time at the Taj was cut short by my needle schedule and I had to depart to go back to the hotel to take my fifth needle.

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Looking apparently healthy at the Taj Mahal.

The following day after needle six, I was suffering big time. I could barely walk without pain. I had giant bruising on either side of my butt and it became almost impossible to manage. From here we had to leave however and go to Varanasi on the train. This was one of the worst times that I had with needles.

Because of my soreness, they put me in a side berth on the bottom bunk overnight. Many of the Indian locals however found it quite OK to use my hips as bag holders at 2 am when they were getting off the train or to lean over me and put their hands on my hips or knock me as the night went on. The amount of times I cried out in pain and started yelling at people I couldn’t count. And of course they had no idea what was going on and I couldn’t explain as I didn’t speak Hindi.

The morning bought with it a new challenge. Trying to give myself a needle on the train. As the train slowed to a stop, my friend climbed down off the top berth and helped me alcohol wipe down my skin and hands and take the medication into the barrel of the syringe. Whilst she grabbed a chunk of my flesh, I plunged the needle in and started to inject as the train started moving and we had to finish the injection while taking off. We were half concealed by a makeshift curtain sheet that I tied up that didn’t really cover very much and the men on the train sat staring as my butt hung half way out of my pants, but when it is your life and your health on the line, you kind of stop caring. We survived the train needle, needle number eight and we were on our way to the finish line.

My next needle was on the floor of a silk shop in Varanasi. We were visiting there to learn about how to identify real silk from fake ones. Three girls held up a cashmere blanket curtain and I injected myself again with help in style from behind the blanket. The whole thing had become oddly funny. Instead of scheduling my activities around my needles, my needles had just become a part of my activities.

My last needle was the following morning. Never before had I been so happy to not have to deal with anything anymore in my life. I was happy that I could finally rest without having to inject on to bruise after bruise after bruise.

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My left buttocks by day 3.

Upon arrival back in Delhi three days later I went to the hospital to get a check up. After x-rays, ultrasounds, blood work, urine samples and the entire works, I left the hospital and went to the hotel to await the results. Two days later they arrived. For the first time in over a month and I half I was infection free. My body had been put through absolute hell and I was tired. I didn’t care too much about being in India even. I wanted somewhere to sleep and rest. I wanted to eat a giant steak to get some protein back into my body to heal my bruised and weary muscles. I wanted so much to not be on the road. But despite all of this, I was incredibly thankful for the amazing doctors in India for figuring it out and dealing with it so thoroughly. And I was incredibly happy to be alive. There is nothing like a near death experience in Nepal followed by severe antibiotic resistant secondary infections to scare the shit out of you. From here on in, I look after myself every day the best I can and am thankful for my health being so good ordinarily.

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Ascending Everest Basecamp


“The mountain always wins. You never win. Occasionally it just decides to let you through.”

With all that has been going on in Nepal in the last month, it has been an emotional time for many, including me. I have worried and feared for friends that were in Kathmandu, I have seen other friends of mine lose loved ones. It has taken a huge toll on many. While for myself, for those who didn’t know, I was evacuated out of Dingbouche on the way to Everest Basecamp with pneumonia and acute pulmonary edema. I was incredibly lucky to be in a place where I could be evacuated or otherwise I could have died. After my stint in the hospital I met someone also evacuated and he said to me ‘the mountain always wins. You never win. Occasionally it just decides to let you through’. This has resonated with me for a while considering the incredible misfortune people have been suffering in Nepal during the earthquakes. It has given me time to reflect on my own trek while I was there before everything went sour for me. The following is the first 8 days of my trek to Everest Basecamp.

Pre-Trip

We didn’t start on the best of notes. The day before we were due to leave I came back to find my friend on the bathroom floor dying of a chest infection. I went to the pharmacy, bought her the best antibiotics I could get my hands on and then fed her paracetamol to lower her fever while I sat in the bathroom with her with hot water steaming out the bathroom while I rubbed tigerbalm on her back and tried to pound some of the crap out of her chest.

The following day, despite still being a total mess we got up and went to the airport as a group to get our flight to Lukla. But there was a thick fog over Kathmandu that day and our flight was delayed until the fog lifted. We sat in the airport for four hours before they said the fog had lifted enough for us to leave. We got onto the bus that took us out to the tarmac to wait for our plane only to be turned around and told that we had had our flight cancelled due to bad weather in Lukla. It was somewhat a blessing in disguise. We got to go home and rest for another day.

Day 1- Kathmandu to Lukla, Lukla to Phakding

Better luck than the day before and the skies were crystal clear and we managed to take our flight to Lukla. We were told that the best kinds of views are seen from the window on the left side of the plane so we rushed our way in to get prime seats. I had never seen anything more spectacular in my life than the view of the mountains as I excitedly flew next to the Himalayas on my way to Lukla.

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The scenic flight from Kathmandu to Lukla with amazing views of the Himilayas.

Before I knew it we were approaching the runway which is pretty much a strip that runs on an incline uphill from a sheer drop at the beginning of a cliff, to a cliff wall at the other end. I could see how it had gained the reputation as being one of the most dangerous airports in the world.

 

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The airport runway in Lukla. Cliff drop on one end, cliff face on the other.

After eating lunch, it was time to start on our way towards Phakding, our first destination for the evening. It was a relatively flat and easy walk and along the way I met the most adorable boy who was drawing with permanent markers. He drew a watch on my wrist with red permanent marker to match his watch that he was wearing and for the rest of the trip I wore that red watch until it eventually rubbed off. Every time I looked at it, it made me smile.

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My new friend drawing me a wrist watch in red permanent marker so I can always tell mountain time.

We arrived in Phakding and checked into our tea house. After dinner it was time for a rest. It had been a long day.

Day 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar

It was the first day of solid hiking and as my friend was still not feeling a hundred percent it was a slow day. The views as we progressed along the trail became more and more spectacular as the day progressed. For lunch we stopped in a village where there was a small boy who was believed to have been reincarnated from one of the elderly men in the village down the way. He apparently can tell you who his mother was and other family members from his previous life. Incredible story.

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The young boy was reincarnated from the older man on the left.

As we continued on, we arrived at the foot of the town of Namche Bazaar, the town that was later to be the epicentre of the second massive earthquake within the region. We were staying near the top and it was starting to get dark. It was a long slog up giant staircases but we eventually made it. The night was spent hanging by the fire and playing Monopoly (in which I behaved like a five year old competitive child and won everybody else’s money and properties).

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Giant bridge crossing in massive winds across a canyon.

Day 3 – Day hike to the Everest View Lodge

Acclimatization day number one. We started in the morning in decent enough weather on the climb up to the Everest View lodge. About half way up it started snowing and the weather turned and became freezing. Eventually we made it to the top and sat in the lodge drinking tea and soup, somewhat disappointed that our first ever view of Everest was not going to happen due to the haze covering all of the views. It did have a very eerie and cool feeling to it though.

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The town of Namche Bazaar.

On the way back down we got lost as there was so much snow we couldn’t see the path. At one point we went the wrong way and then had to back track. I fell over in a super muddy patch and got my pants incredibly dirty and yet still laughed the whole way. It was a great day and I was settling well into the routine.

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A wild yak on the mountain on its way down in the snow.

Day 4 – Namche Bazaar to Debouche

I woke up not feeling the best. I was starting to cough a little and my lungs were starting to hurt. We walked the first part on the flat and for the first time I laid my eyes on Everest. She popped her top out from behind a bunch of other mountains. As far away as she was, she was daunting and beautiful. We sent our porter ahead to buy some boiled eggs from a local place and we ate those as a snack before the hard work began… the massive uphill climb to Tengbouche.

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Stunning views from the trail after my first view of Everest.

I struggled. But I kept on going at my own pace with my earphones in and I actually made decent time. At the top I was fairly spent and we tried to go to the Tengbouche monastery but it was not open. I had a rest on the stairs out the front and then made my way down the hill another twenty minutes to Debouche where we sat around by the fire, drank lots of tea and went to bed early.

 

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The monastery at Tengbouche.

Day 5 – Debouche to Dingbouche

I woke up feeling great. The rest had done me good from the day before as had the cold and flu tablets I took to try and kick my symptoms overnight. The hike for the most part of the day was fairly flat along the edge of the mountain ridge towards the holy grail of mountains. Towards the end it was getting very windy and two of my group members started to feel unwell. One of them started vomiting. The altitude was kicking in

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One of the most incredible views I have ever seen in my life.

Eventually we arrived in camp at Dingbouche and got settled in. I bossed the others into drinking heaps of water and got the nurse from the volunteer medical centre to check them over. They both were diagnosed with moderate altitude sickness. I had a test myself and my oxygen levels were normal. My heart rate was getting pretty high though and was 124. I assumed this was somewhat normal for me as I have high resting heart rate anyway. I took a couple of photos on extended shutter of the mountains in the dark and went to bed.

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Stunning moonlight views from Dingbouche.

Day 6 – Dingbouche Day hike

Up early and time to do the acclimatization hike. I was feeling good until I started and as soon as I started uphill I started feeling the effects of the altitude. Breathing was harder. I felt so ridiculously fatigued I didn’t know if I was going to make the top of the hill at 4700m. I kept plugging away at it slowly, determined. I knew that if I couldn’t make this I couldn’t make basecamp and I was determined to do it. I watched everyone else sail up the hill past me and felt rubbish about it. I eventually got there. I sat for half an hour resting and looked out over the most spectacular views. Then I started my descent.

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Completely spent and enjoying the views from 4700m, the highest point I would reach during the hike.

Once I got back to the teahouse I sat with two minus twenty sleeping bags on trying to get warm drinking a 2 litre thermos of hot lemon. I tried to read my book and couldn’t concentrate. I still felt incredibly fatigued and was trying to stay awake for the afternoon and do what I needed to to ward off altitude sickness. Eventually I caved, ate dinner and went to bed.

Day 7 – Getting evacuated from Dingbouche to Kathmandu hospital

At one in the morning I awoke to severe coughing with the realization that I was coughing up handfuls of water. High altitude pulmonary odema had set in and I knew I was in a very serious situation. After a night of trying to be calm and conserve oxygen we sent for the helicopter and they evacuated me back to the hospital in Kathmandu. The dream of getting to Everest basecamp this trip had died. But I knew I would be back to finish what I started at some point later, because I hate not finishing what I started.

If you haven’t read already, check out my blog post “This Week I Almost Died” for a more detailed account of what happened when I got evacuated off of Everest Basecamp trek.

 

 

The Everest Aftermath

It has been 6 days since they let me out of the hospital and 10 days since I was on the brink of death with lungs full of water being helicoptered off of Everest Basecamp.  My body in that time has pretty much healed itself. I am off all of my antibiotics, my cough is gone, my appetite is coming back and short of the tiredness that reminds me of my lack of stamina and the odd pain I get in my muscles from their weakness, I feel good. My mind I fear will take a little longer to heal than the rest of my body.

In the first two days as I sat in hospital on Facebook to the rest of my family and friends on the other side of the world, the entire situation was a huge joke to me. “Hahaha I almost died and had to get evacuated off Everest with porters practically dragging me over the ground and what not! Isn’t that funny?”.

The third day was a day of frustration at not getting the help that I needed from the nurses in hospital. I was telling them that my wrist was swelling further, I needed more antibiotics, they forgot to give me my last antibiotic, they hadn’t checked my vitals and I had a fever again, I was still waiting 24 hours later on feminine hygiene products and I had asked for and was waiting to see a doctor I had asked for 24 hours previously. After being somewhat patient and asking multiple times without result, the arguing, the yelling, the demanding, the threatening of contacting insurance companies and the crying began. Every built up piece of frustration outed itself at that point and it was the point where I realized “Shit,  I actually nearly died”. The realization of what happened and the gravity of it set in.

The night nurses were good to me and calmed me right down and were attentive.  I got all of the things I had asked for including demanding the other cannula out of my hand and taking oral medications. But once you get the ball rolling with emotions, it accumulates more feelings to surround it like a snowball tumbling down an avalanche until you crash and burn and don’t know what to do with yourself.

The day they told me I could leave the hospital I didn’t want to go. The thought of having to look after myself and do things for myself scared the shit out of me. I had no choice. I was alone. And I had to venture into the hell raising and erratic traffic of Kathmandu. The tour guide operator kept making demands on me to go where he wanted me to go as if getting out of hospital was such a fun and exciting thing that we needed to drink tea and celebrate. Like I was a full bill of health. He drove me crazy with his demands that I wasn’t willing to comply with and then his sneakiness of then calling the hospital behind my back to get them to take me where he wanted. He wouldn’t listen to me and I was losing my mind and patience fighting with him. I just wanted to go back to my hostel. I had one functional hand and another that looked like it had swallowed a tennis ball. I had two bags of trekking gear with me and another bag to pick up from around the corner and bring back. I didn’t realize how weak I was until I had to pick up that 20kg backpack and walk it 200m down the road back to the hostel. It near killed me and I pulled a muscle in my once super strong thigh muscle. The amazing crew at the hostel carried my things for me up the four flights of stairs to my room and after ten minutes of climbing the stairs myself, I settled in to sleep. The only time I headed out that day was to the bakery down the road to buy an assortment of things I could pick at to eat before I took my medications.

My friends arrived back the following day in the early morning. I sat quietly in my room as the door was knocked on fearing it was somebody I didn’t want to talk to. The excitement of finding out what happened for the rest of the trip lasted for maybe half of the day before the haze settled back over my brain. I don’t know what it is or how long it will last but I feel an exhaustion that I can’t explain. Two weeks ago I loved meeting people and had all kinds of time for them. Now I want to hide in my room and not have to speak to them at all. The hustle and bustle and excitement of the streets of Thamel seem too crazy for me to contend with any more. The idea of going out and doing things makes me want to hide.  And yet there were things I needed to do on a check list and I set about them. I got my Indian visa. I bought my gifts for my family and posted them home. Today I even took a local bus with some girls I met to Bhaktipur and spent the afternoon walking around the old town. But after a couple of hours out and about my tiredness and hunger started making me anxious and angry. I wanted to crawl back into the hole of my room and stay there. And I did.

There is a timidness and an agitation that now lies in me where once I had huge courage. My mantra was always “feel the fear and do it anyway”. I never saw the fear as something that would have ever done me great harm but as a mental challenge to constantly overcome. But looking at myself now I have taken a huge fall. I am by no means invincible. I am by no means immortal. Like everyone on this planet, at some point I have to face my own mortality. I have to acknowledge that I nearly died and try to find a peace about it that still allows me to live large instead of meekly like a mouse. The last time I had to deal with such feelings was ten years ago when I was attacked in the street. It took me many months and a boxing coach to find within me that girl that just goes and does it. The girl that fights back. I didn’t want to be that victim girl that is afraid to walk down the street and do things. I don’t know where the courageous girl is right now. She has taken a break to rest somewhere and I don’t know how to find her any more. Right now I feel lost. And at the same time I know running away from the issue and hiding from it will only make it worse. The hardest thing about living through this is that you change and others around you don’t.  You feel that they don’t understand and that they don’t know what to do to help you. And if I am honest there is nothing that they really can do other than check in with me every now and then. It’s my internal war and battle that I now face. And hopefully I will find that strength and courage back soon enough to continue with living large. Until then, be patient with me, be supportive of me and with time and a bit of soul searching. I will be back. That I can promise. I just don’t know when.

 

This Week I Almost Died….

So I embarked on Everest Basecamp super optimistically. I had the whole thing planned out in my head of how it would go. I had my diamox to manage altitude sickness, cotton wool to stuff between my toes for blisters, an array of different medications for pain, swelling in my knees, general antibiotics for skin/chest/sinus infections, even pseudoephedrine in case I got a head cold. I was more prepared than most. And yet what I was moving towards was nothing that I could have prepared for…..

Two days out from leaving for our trip, if you had have asked me who was going to make it to the camp of me and my friend, I would have put money on me. She had gotten a chest infection from the dusty pollution of Kathmandu and I worked tirelessly for two days doing everything I could in my power to get her better because this wasn’t just my trip. It was our trip for so many reasons that are too long to explain here. I steamed her in the bathroom, rubbed tiger balm into her back, got her the strongest antibiotics in town and cough syrup and we were set. She was on the mend, not quite 100% but we knew by the time we got her to the top she would be pretty much right. It was an up and down first couple of days but things were starting to look up. She joked that this kind of shit always happens to her and that she would probably wind up helicoptered out like she did at Machu Picchu. I told her “not on my watch!”

And so the days progressed.  By day 5 we were reaching 4400m altitude. I was feeling fine. I was still hungry, drinking lots of fluids, had a little bit of the head cold symptoms I get at altitude and a bit of a cough. But I was feeling good. My friend and one other on the trip however both had splitting headaches from the altitude and were vomiting along the path to reach the destination of Dingbouche. We eventually got there. I went back into nurse mode and started “bossing people” as I called it, forcing a litre of hot water and food into my friend before bed. The village medical researchers came around and we had her checked out. Out of curiosity I put the gadget on my finger to measure my oxygen levels and heart rate. Oxygen good…. Resting heart rate 124… hmmm…. my resting heart rate is pretty high normally so I figured it was my body responding to lack of oxygen in the air and resolved to keep an eye on it. And so we went to bed.

The following day was the day for an acclimatization hike. I was literally dying going up the hill the air felt so thin. It took me 2 hours to get up to the flagpole at 4700m. With iron will there was no way I wasn’t going. If I couldn’t make it here, I couldn’t make basecamp at a higher altitude so my sheer grit and determination said I was going. And I made it. I felt fine sitting at the top for a while and then I started my way back down again, happy I had made it.

That afternoon however I started to feel very weak and like I had no energy. I figured that the altitude had knocked me around a little so I sat upstairs in the dining room and drank 2 litres of how water and ate a soup trying to get my body to acclimatize.  Heart rate still 124. I figured still having appetite was good but I was starting to show some of the symptoms of altitude sickness that the others didn’t have. The head cold was kicking in a bit more and the cough was getting a little worse. But I knew that this was the way my body responded from the first time I ever had altitude sickness so I wasn’t worried. I stopped taking all pain killers and drugs that day to evaluate what my body was actually doing and to try and heal it. It was the best and the worst choice that I had made….

By dinner I had gotten so exhausted I took a nap upstairs in the room with the fire. Despite it, I was still freezing cold. I sat to eat my garlic soup for dinner, took a handful of pills and some cough syrup to knock me out to sleep properly hoping it would be good by morning and went to sleep.

Two hour later I awoke coughing violently. The pills had failed to knock me out. No matter which way I moved I couldn’t lay without it triggering more violent coughing. I could not manage to get in any more than 30 minutes of sleep at a time. By one in the morning I was acutely aware that I was in very big trouble. I was starting to cough up large amounts of water and that I had a lot of fluid on my lungs. Another symptom of altitude sickness that is very serious.  I needed to go down and I needed to go down immediately but it was the middle of the night and no evacuations were happening at one in the morning. 

I got out of bed to go to the toilet. The toilet was maybe ten to fifteen meters down the hall. It took me two minutes to shuffle one foot in front of the other to get there. After getting up I was so out of breath I was leant over the sink coughing and trying to suck air very aware of the fact that my body at that point was trying to drown itself. It was at this very point that I knew I was in very big trouble.  I tried to calm myself and walk back to the room and get back to bed. I laid there propped against the headboard for another 5 hours drifting in and out of fifteen minute intervals of sleep before the sun came up and I woke my friend. “Get the guide. Get the helicopter. I need down now.”

They called for the helicopter. It was coming for me but not for 3 hours. My friend packed my bag for me and I sat in the window frame of the room as the sun streamed through as it was the warmest place I knew of. I sat still. I tried to be calm. I tried not to move for fear of having more breathing and coughing attacks. I went to the toilet again and ran into some dumb bitch who is saying to me “oh you are getting helivacced out! I thought you looked sick last night but like you know what? You’re in the Himalayas and that is like amazing so like whatever”. If I had have had the energy I would have smacked her in the chops for being so dumb and ignorant, I was that ill, frustrated and annoyed. Who says that? It felt like forever waiting and waiting and then next thing I knew, it was time.

People rushed into my room to collect my bags and took off running. The helicopter was here and impatient and does not wait. People are trying to push me faster along and I could not suck the air in to manage it. I had no strength to walk that fast. Before I knew it, one of the sherpas has a hold of my arms and is pulling me over his back and dragging me along like luggage, my feet semi dragging along behind me on the ground. After dragging me over one rock wall, the next sherpa grabs my arms and throws me on his back and starts running with me across the paddock to the next rock wall which he climbs over and then puts me down. Next it was my porter, the amazing Lalit’s turn to carry me. The man, like all of the others, is shorter than I am and hauling my 70kg  arse on their backs while running. Dressed like a smurf in his blue jacket and hat with his yellow scarf, he threw me on his back and ran me the rest of the way to the helicopter.

As I sat in the helicopter I looked out of the window to see my whole crew standing there waving me on in support. My friend was videoing for her adventure video as she promised me she would and several thoughts passed through my mind. The first was “I hope she filmed the sherpas carrying me through the paddocks and across the rock walls cause my god that would have looked funny” and then this massive feeling of being overwhelmed hit me as I sat there in the helicopter and started to cry. I put my hand on the helicopter window kind of like Rose in Titanic and the helicopter took off, taking my dream of Everest Basecamp and my friends away from me.

I tried to stay calm. I tried to concentrate on the amazing mountains where I was. It was the cheapest scenic helicopter ride I was ever going to get so I may as well focus. The helicopter landed back in Lukla. They were originally sending me right then. But then they changed their mind and moved me to another helicopter. Then they changed their mind again and took me out of the helicopter and told me I had to wait for the next one to Kathmandu. At this point they put me in the kitchen with a cup of hot water.  Despite increase in temperature and oxygen levels, breathing wasn’t becoming easier. I knew I needed medical attention and I needed it now. But sitting there in the kitchen unaware of my condition and not really giving a shit, the helicopter guys lit up their cigarettes beside me and I forced my way up and out of the kitchen back outside to the fresh air. They didn’t want me out there. I didn’t care. I had no energy in me to fight them. One of them fed me a noodle soup for lunch. I asked about the helicopter. Over another hour they tell me. I am furious inside but I have no breath or energy to get mad and fight with them. I wanted to yell at them “I am in serious fucking trouble here and you’re more stressed about your fucking cargo. Get me out of here” but alas, no air and no words. 

The time eventually came and I got on the helicopter and made my way back to Kathmandu in the front seat of the helicopter, taking stock of the view and somewhat meditating on it to calm me throughout the ride. The helicopter eventually touched down at the Kathmandu airport and was met with an ambulance to take me to the hospital. They kept trying to make me lay down on the trolley in the back of the ambulance but I refused and kept sitting.  They strapped me to the oxygen machine and then we flew into crazy Kathmandu traffic with the ambulance siren wailing. My first time in an ambulance. 

Upon arrival at the hospital they put me in the emergency section and took my vitals. Much to my surprise. I had a high fever. I guess getting the chills in minus degree weather isn’t a really strong indicator so I missed it. This is also what caused my tachycardia. I overlooked why I had high heart rate. After listening to my chest I was told I had an infection in my right lung. They x-rayed my chest, inserted a shunt into my hand and started me on antibiotics immediately.  As I was sitting upstairs in my hospital room with the nebulizer on my face and the drip hanging out of my arm the doctor comes in to tell me that I have pneumonia. The infection had also moved from my lungs into my blood as well. But they were treating it all and it should be fine.

I messaged my mum from the hospital then with a picture of my feet in bed saying “greetings from hospital” and making jokes about it. I make jokes and look for the positives in everything. But it wasn’t until later the next day after a sleep that the actual reality of the situation set in. If weather was bad that day, there would have been no helicopter. If I had have stayed at high altitude in minus five with no heater for another 24 to 48 hours, I probably would have drowned myself in my own lung fluid. While pneumonia seemed such a funny thing to me as I was healing and being pumped full of drugs and high on cough syrup and because I was safe in a hospital bed, the reality was I got very lucky. It set on so acutely that even in those moments at 3am sitting in a dark room waiting for the sun, I knew I was in very big trouble but I wasn’t admitting to myself how big of a trouble I was in. Like always I fought with all I had and I knew I had to ask for help. The whole thing now seems somewhat surreal. I still sit in a hospital bed, but I can walk around and do things for myself. Except for the cough I feel relatively healthy. 48 hours ago I was on deaths door. Never before have I been so sick that I needed a hospital or that it was something I couldn’t handle myself. I’ve never been that person before. In all honesty, it scared the crap out of me.

So this week we say hallelujah for modern medicine, hallelujah for helicopters and hallelujah to not dying this week. My lifelong aversion to the word no extends out to “no, I am not dying this week” and so I live to see another day and another adventure. And you can bet your arse I am coming back to Nepal to finish what I started. Nothing beats me. Not Everest Basecamp. And certainly not pneumonia. Until the next adventure 🙂

 

Being A Human Guinea Pig

As promised from the previous article “Five Different Ways To Challenge Yourself Daily”, my experiences with the medical testing world.

So when work keeps telling you consistently ‘sorry there are just no hours this week’ (which to be honest is a crock of shit, but we are trying to keep this light and the topic of workplace rights and legislation in Canada makes me very angry), we resort to the only thing we know for more work…. Craigslist.

There is a marvel of things you can find in the ‘ETC.’ section of the Toronto Craigslist and so this is how my run as a human guinea pig began. ‘Oh you will pay me a couple of hundred dollars to do a PET scan and and MRI? No problem! You want to pay me to stick electrodes to my head and play me pulses to see how my brain responds? No problem! And so it goes on.

To clarify, there are specific types of testing that I am not willing to do. For one, I am not happy about being a guinea pig for drug trials. I don’t particularly feel that my ovaries or the rest of my body would be appreciative of me pumping it full something in it that is going to render my parts dysfunctional for a measly couple of hundred bucks. But if you want to look at how my body functions normally by doing a series of tests, then be my guest. As a scientist, I am more than happy to do my part for science.

So, here we go….

The other day I went to the geriatrics hospital. They do a lot of research for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders and I have done multiple experiments for them. Of the most basic is the EEG, which is where you go in, they strap electrodes to your brain, put some earplugs in and they make you listen to semitone sounds on ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ and make you hit buttons to tell you if it is an ‘ooh’ or an ‘aah’. The best part about this is the second part where they make you listen to random sounds for an hour while you watch a kids movie on silent. For me it was a crazy movie about a raccoon that steals and destroys a bears stash of food for the winter and then sets about manipulating other animals into reacquiring what it is that he lost by stealing from the humans. Awesomely funny, even if it is on mute with subtitles. I did this twice before I started getting called in for different tests.

Other EEG tasks I have done have been musical tests where I listen to two sounds and decide if they are the same or different and then replicate the sounds singing later. I have also done tests where they give you 35 sets of 2 completely unrelated words and you have to try and develop a correlation between them in five seconds so that later when they flash you the first word, you have to remember the second word. Hugely frustrating as this is most difficult of the tasks I had ever been given. One time I also had to sit with an eye movement tracker on while I watched a series of video clips and pictures to see where I was looking at on the screen.

EEG
Smashing out some memory games with the electrode cap on

Two days ago they did a test on my memory and how the brain stores information. They sat me at a computer and they would flash a word at me like ‘giraffe’. I would then as quickly as possible determine whether it is living or non living using the buttons strapped to my fingers. From there I had to do this really quick mathematical addition in my head with numbers flashing up on the screen at me and then decide whether the number they showed me at the end was the correct answer to the addition. From there, you then have to recall the word. They do all of this while you are strapped into an MRI machine measuring the different activities of your brain in doing the sums and the recall. The hypothesis that they are testing is whether or not the long term memory is more effective when you focus more on the word that you have to remember or when you are busy with a distractor task, ie. the maths sums. Strangely enough, they have been finding that the words that you do the distractor task with are more likely to be remembered long term as the way that these words are processed in the brain is different. Really interesting study. Probably why I did so well at university studying with the TV on, the radio on, talking on the phone and trying to read at the same time! Me being as competitive as I am too, I had to try and beat my own scores and the scores of others with the decision making and the maths. I was killing it to a point. 85-90% 🙂 Not bad when the average is around 60-70% for the maths! Looks like all of the learning books and the brain training games are paying off!

1016 axial
MRI scan of my brain. I told people I have one, they didn’t believe me

Of the most lucrative and probably most uncomfortable of the medical tests that I have done was the PET scan. After doing a two hour screening of different IQ type tests with shapes and logic and a psychological evaluation, they sent me off to do the scan. They put me in a hospital gown, laid me onto the table and then started to put in the arterial line in my left wrist. Luckily they hit it the first time so it wasn’t too bad in the healing process. They put the radiotracer into my right arm and then I pretty much laid in the machine for 2 hours while they scanned my brain to see where the radiotracer was collecting and if it was more concentrated in specific areas of the brain or not for a specific enzyme that they are attributing to swelling in the brain that is related to depression.

They took different blood samples from my wrist throughout the experiment to look at the concentration of the radiotracer in my blood and I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. What I didn’t realize was that they actually put a plaster cast thing over your face to lock it into place for the scan so that your head doesn’t move. So here I am, head locked in in a plaster cast, needles sticking out of my arms, the most ADHD I have ever been and all I wanted to do was go for a dance or move around or do something! The two hours were finally up, I had my arterial line out, went for a 20 minute MRI and took my cash for the day. More money than I would have earned in the space of a week and a half working for minimum wage in Toronto on half a day of being a guinea pig for the advancement of science. I will most certainly take that.

I do find all of these things quite interesting so in the grand scheme of travelling, it is something new and different to add to the resume and it pays quite well. And hey, it is just another thing to tell the grandkids right? Provided that my memory holds out in the long run. Hopefully my participation in research will help them find ways to overcome memory degeneration with age so that I can continue to achieve my million and one goals. And so I won’t have to be a drunk nana in a nursing home rocking chair on the porch enjoying the blissful ignorance of my existence.