Five days in and I'd been helicoptered off the Everest Base Camp trek, diagnosed with HACE. In all honesty, as life threatening conditions go it was a bit anticlimactic. Don't get me wrong, I still felt like complete and utter crap for four days straight and hanging around any longer would have likely resolved in death. I don't wish it on anyone. But as I got in the helicopter I was in good spirits. Overwhelmed with relief at having the chance to get the hell out of there. The lack of appetite and staring blankly at food (I really like food). Sleeping in freezing cold conditions. Staring at my feet all day and living off of paracetamol. I was glad it would all be over. So much so that when the nurse back in Kathmandu declared I had Covid as well, I just laughed. Sure! Why the hell not. At least I'm back at an altitude where I don't need to consider the oxygen content of the air!
And before I knew it, I was quarantined. My first time overnighter in a hospital. The rest of the day mostly consisted of falling asleep, and the nurses being surprised I was sleepy. They clearly hadn't tried trekking! Every couple of hours I would have my vitals checked. I was given a diary to track my poo. I felt pretty OK, with my headache lifting an hour or two into me being at a more sensible altitude. I still stared at food longingly. Finding it almost impossible to answer their menu questions because it wasn't like I would eat whatever I chose! I found slight solace in apple and yoghurt and then found a surprise BOUNTY in my coat pocket!! The only other minor problem was walking. I still felt like I was on a boat and putting one foot in front of the other required me to hold on to a wall else I'd fall on my ass.
My dreams were wild that night. Every time I shut my eyes I imagined another nurse or doctor visiting. Mixed with real nurses smashing on the strip lights in the middle of the night to take my vitals, it all blurred into one. One nurse tried tried to chuck my Fanta in the bin. One came out of a cupboard. One played hide and seek in the bathroom. Several were human sized crows!? At one point a row of them poured tar into all my hiking boots. Wait, why did I own four pairs of boots!? I'd open my eyes totally confused and have to double check reality. Fanta? Check. Shoes, tar free? Check. Trippy.
The next day I was rudely awoken by the sweet sweet tones of a pigeon sat outside my window. It wasn't even chuffing light yet! The lights smashed on and blinded me, followed by a short nurse in full PPE. It felt like I was being raided by a little blue Stormtrooper.
"Good morning sir, how are you?" "Tired". "Ahh you're still tired?" "Yes it's 5;45am!?!"
I had a menu shoved in my face and was told to choose two breakfasts to be delivered at different times. I know altitude sickness is supposed to make you confused but never in my life have I been offered two breakfasts, let alone before 6am. I still didn't have my appetite so it all seemed rather futile! I circled orange juice, yoghurt and apple. It was delivered immediately so I guess I wasn't going back to bed. Then I chose English breakfast out of sheer curiosity. I still couldn't walk in a straight line without falling over so I was booked in for another night of hospital adventure.
Safe to say I had a lot of time to think. And the sadness started creeping in. I began to feel the loss of the trek as my fellow trekkers posted images of incredible landscapes. When I was evacuated, I was only a day or two away from all the juicy glaciers. It felt like I'd had one hell of a rug pulled out from under me. With all the previous drama of being stuck in New Zealand for a couple of years, I reeeeally needed this trip to go well to restore my confidence in solo travel and adventuring. Yet here I was after eighteen months of waiting, stuck in hospital having not even made it half way to Base Camp. I try my best to go through life with some semblance of faith that the universe has my back, but in this case I was completely dumbfounded. Why me!? AGAIN!? I clearly should step out the house...
Social media exploded. Mostly genuine concern mixed with the familiar suggestions of writing a book. "There's another chapter!". "Have you considered writing a biography!?" Each with a sting in their tail as I'd much rather have a successful adventure then accidentally gather material for a book! (That's not to say it won't happen, I have a LOT of content at this point!) But overall I was humbled by the sheer number of people who wished me a safe recovery. People I hadn't heard from in years. People I didn't even realise I was still in contact with! For all it's evils, social media is pretty fantastic in this regard and I consider myself honoured to have such a strong support network. Love you guys!
As I drifted in and out of sleep and rounds of replying to messages, my appetite slowly returned. WOOHOO! Followed by a brilliant moment of mistranslation...
"You don't mind to eat these?"
"Would I mind eating the plates!?"
"No! Err... These plates. We are sad when we give customers these plates but they are OK?"
"I am happy to have an appetite at all! I don't mind what I'm eat from!"
- " You should go to sleep soon (21:30pm). We might wake you at 1am.. Don't be scared".
Don't be scared!?
The following morning, after the familiar ensemble of birds shouting in my window, I could finally put one foot in front of the other without falling over. I excitedly showed Doctor McCute (not her real name) my new found ability and I would be released in a couple of hours. On the way out I requested a Covid test and I was still positive. Bugger.
Luckily for me the tour operator Rajan had hooked me up with a 5* Radisson for isolation. It wasn't necessarily covered by my insurance but at this point I didn't care. After what had happened, I'd rather take the hit and stay in the fanciest hotel I've ever stayed in. And oh boy was it fancy. I haven't had a huge amount of experience in hotels and living off room service for a week took some getting used to. "Good evening Mr Napper, what would you like to order this evening?... But sir, didn't you try the apple tart last night?" "No, I think you'll find I had the chocolate brownie and I intend on making my way through all your deserts". FANCY!
In a somewhat ritualistic way, I found myself repacking all my bags. Separating all the trekking gear and putting it away felt like an act of closure. The shock caught up with me and I found myself balling my eyes out in front of a mirror. This was going to take a while to heal.
Time for more room service!
"Good evening Mr Napper".
Every evening HUNDREDS of crows flew across the city to crow socialise
Side note - I still have complicated thoughts and feelings around how this trip unfolded but I've decided that sharing them publicly won't really achieve anything. By the end of the trek, six of us were helicoptered off the mountain which seems totally bonkers to me. But then altitude sickness is so fickle (and in my case mixed with Covid) that it's almost impossible to decipher when good and bad decisions were made. Maybe we were just on an incredibly unlucky tour. I'm not going to dwell on it and at the time of writing it already feels like a distant memory. Perhaps I have brain fog! 🤪
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