1 April 2009: Namaste from Lobuche (~ 5000 meters/16,500 ft)...

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Namaste from Lobuche (~ 5000 meters/16,500 ft).
Our trekking group is mostly well, but the sad April fools reality is that few folks have elected to spend an extra rest day in Pheriche with gastrointestinal issues. We're sorry for our friends who are slowed down, but their illnesses are relatively minor (they just want their strength to be optimal for the uphill climb) and not unexpected; unfortunately, the statistics say that 50% of us will succumb to a bacterial gut bomb during the first 2 weeks in Nepal. Luckily no major altitude issues, for which we're grateful.

BUT the clinic in Pheriche (~ 4280 meters/14,000ft) is rocking with less fortunate trekkers suffering from serious illness. During the 3 days we spent there, we saw Dr. Martindale and Dr. Cushing treat a serious case of high altitude cerebral edema and several cases of high altitude pulmonary edema. Both are deadly if untreated and if sufferers are unable to descend, but these trekkers were lucky to be carried down in time for lifesaving treatment. On our first day in Pheriche, 3 rescue helicopters took recovering patients further down from Pheriche to Kathmandu and further care. Today on arrival to Lobuche we watched another tourist flown out with a serious altitude condition.

So what's all this altitude illness about? In summary, most human bodies are not well set up to deal with low oxygen and low pressure environments. But the good news is that most of us are capable, with time and slow ascent, to acclimatize to high altitude. Those who either have the wrong genetic makeup or, more commonly, ascend too quickly or ignore symptoms and continue ascent may develop serious illness that involves swelling of the brain or lungs or both. The Himalayan Rescue Association, which is the NGO behind the Pheriche clinic and Everest ER, has for the past 30 years dedicated itself to preventing needless illness and death due to altitude by educating trekkers along the trail. Consider our group WELL educated (and probably sick of our lecturing!) and vigilantly watching for signs and symptoms that might require care or descent.

So far, all is well! Tashi delek!

This post submmitted by Dr. Luanne Freer