Die Another Day

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This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, October 19, 2004 was originally posted on October 25, 2004.

DAY 367:  “You seem really calm about all this,” Dr. Mike told me the morning after my near-fatal incident on the Everest trail.

“I’m pretty calm about a lot of things,” I said.  I was casually eating a bowl of rara noodle soup.

“You know you could have died yesterday from the pulmonary edema.”

Hmmm, there’s that “D” word again.  I guess when you’re dying slowly, the situation doesn’t seem so grim until someone puts it bluntly to you like that.

I had escaped the “D” word (and all its derivatives), all thanks to the efforts of the Sherpas, Eddie, Kenny and Julie, Beth and Stewart, the yak, the horse, volunteer Doctors Mike and Linda, and that tank of oxygen.  And some drugs.  I was already showing great progress; my blood oxygen level was back up to a healthy 87.  Tilak on the other hand wasn’t as improving as much as I was.  With his cough, his average blood oxygen level was in the low to mid 70s — with every cough he lost about 15% of his oxygen — and he wasn’t really stabilizing. 


STEWART THE AUSSIE CAME BY that morning for a visit in the clinic to see how I was doing.  “Thanks for saving my life,” I told him.  While he was all humble about doing so, he also came for another reason:  to square off the money that he spot me to get me down with the hired help — I owed him a few thousand rupees.  Dr. Linda paid him off and transferred the cost to the hospital bill so that I could claim it on my insurance. 

Figuring out the “cost of living” was a big mess that morning, trying to figure who paid off who, etc.  The night before Tilak shelled out some extra cash to pay off one of the horse porters, who might have been paid twice — I think a couple of the Sherpas took advantage of the confusion and cashed in.  No matter, the important thing was that I was alive.  In the end, everything worked out, and ultimately it was just money.

“Here’s the bad news,” Canadian Dr. Linda said to me as I was still under the mask.  It was the bill, with the itemization of the consultation, the oxygen, the drugs and the miscellaneous horse/yak/porter fees.  So far getting my life back only cost me $785.00 USD, about the price of a big TV.  My life is worth as much as a nice TV, I thought as I charged it (my life that is) on my MasterCard.  (How’s that for “mastering the moment?”  However, if they took Visa exclusively like in some places I’d been, I would have been dead for sure.)


TILAK WAS JUST ACROSS THE WAY on the other bed, still looking a bit pathetic with his mask on.  “I’m so sad,” he said.  “I never got sick in my six years experience.”  It seemed to me that he was less concerned about his health and more about his job security.  He was concerned that no one would want to hire him as a guide with this new history on him.  With a wife and two kids, it wasn’t a good situation since guiding was his only source of income. 

The day was getting warm, and if not for the circumstances, a nice day to go out and be in the sun.  I had enough energy to walk around a bit and take a photo of the staff, but doing so didn’t really help my condition.  In fact, when Dr. Linda conducted a test, my blood oxygen level sunk down to the low 70s after a simple walk to the wall and back.  I was ordered to stay under the mask until we could figure a way for Tilak and me to descend.

Descending altitude was the only proven method to really help our conditions, but going down to the next town required hiking up onto another annoying undulating ridge — something neither of us had the blood oxygen level for.  We contemplated getting two horses, but why bother when you could send in a chopper?  It eventually boiled down to pushing the proverbial panic button and calling out the emergency rescue helicopter. 

“This will be one of the most beautiful flights in the world,” Dr. Linda told me.  She told me that it despite it being a rescue mission, it’d probably be a great opportunity to take some photos.  Kick ass.  She gave me my patient report to give to the doctor at the clinic in Kathmandu once I landed.

The words “rescue service” on my included costs list from the agency didn’t exactly cover steep helicopter fees, but I hoped my travel insurance would.  My insurance card said that the company must be notified before any emergency evacuation and so I had to wait for hours to clear the red tape via satellite phone to the agency in Kathmandu, who called overseas to the phones in the USA.  I spent most of this waiting time taking a nap under the oxygen mask.

“The heli is one thousand dollars per hour,” Tilak informed me.  “It will be over three thousand dollars.”

“Hopefully my insurance will cover it.  They’re trying to find out.”

“Can I come with you [on the helicopter]?” he shyly asked.  In his mind he was probably wondering if I was just going to leave him there. 

“Yeah, of course!  You’re my guide,” I said.  I figured that was the loophole, him being “my guide” to escort me back to Kathmandu.  The insurance company didn’t have to know he was sicker than I was.  I suppose that really didn’t matter though because the cost for the helicopter was per hour, regardless of the amount of passengers.

“I have to ask you anyway.”

“Yes.”

“Three thousand dollars is too much for a Nepali,” he said.  “I would just die here.”

Okay, enough of the “D” word, I thought.  No one here is going to die today; enough of the morbidity.  Soon, Tilak soon got a visitor of his own; a Polish woman who was his guardian angel on his descent to Pheriche.  Without enough money to afford a horse or a yak to carry him down, he was simply taken down by two porters and whatever energy he had left in him for the entire five mile undulating hike.  Luckily the Polish woman showed up, who was a doctor that just so happened to have some medication on her during her trek and had given him a shot so that he might survive the rest of the trek to Pheriche. 


“SOMEONE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU ON THE PHONE,” nurse Khagendra said to me.  I went outside and put the satellite phone to my ear.  It was a manager at Himalayan Glacier named Naba, explaining to me the red tape with the insurance company. 

“They won’t pay for the helicopter now,” he told me.  “They say you have to wait until you go back to the States and then complain.”

“But the insurance company will pay for it, right?”

We went back and forth like this, and there was no direct answer, but I figured it was just a matter of a claim and paperwork later on.  The important thing at hand was to simply get the chopper over for the well-being of Tilak and me.

“Okay, send it over.”

It wasn’t that instantaneous though; the helicopter was delayed a couple of hours while waiting I took another nap and stared at the wall.  Around 2:30 the doctors finally heard the whirring sounds of our salvation and it was time to go.  Tilak and I got our bags together and took off the life-saving oxygen masks and head out the door.

“Hey!” said a familiar face.

“Excuse me, [we’re busy at the moment],” Dr. Mike said to the trekkers coming in. 

“This is Kenny,” I told him.  “The English guy that helped me before.”

“Looks like we made it just in time,” Kenny said.  He and Julie had come to see how I was doing, but it turned out they came for a final goodbye.  I had him write his e-mail address for me as we walked towards the chopper, the winds of the blades blowing our hair back.

“Bet you never thought you’d hear that nagging voice again, asking you all those questions!” he said, smiling.

“It’s okay.”

Tilak and I got on the helicopter and strapped in.  The pilot pushed a few buttons and grabbed onto the joystick and soon we were floating in mid-air.  I waved back to Dr. Mike, Dr. Linda, Khagendra, Kenny, Julie and the small crowd of villagers excited to see the helicopter land in their town.  Soon, we were up in the air traveling southbound to safety — and at Dr. Linda’s suggestion, I even got in a couple of snapshots of the breathtaking views (other picture above).


I REQUESTED A BRIEF STOP back in Namche Bazar to get the bag (and laptop) I had left in storage.  The helicopter landed on the local helipad and Tilak went running down the hill into town to get it for me, as if he was still trying to prove he was still strong enough to be a guide.  I wished he didn’t do so because I knew he was worse off than I was, but I think he was still worried about job security.  However, when I caught up with him on the main street he was totally winded, gasping for a breath.  A porter from the lodge had to carry the bag back up for him.

Soon we were back in the air and stopped in Lukla airport to refuel.  Then it was back up in the air for the hour or so flight back to Kathmandu.  None of us really said anything on the way; there was a lot of just staring out the window, looking at the mountains, valleys, river and villages that we had encountered on the way up.  Man, it seemed like such a long time ago.


NABA AND A DRIVER FROM HIMALAYAN GLACIER were at the Kathmandu airport to meet us and everything was handled with care and professionalism from there.  Naba, a guy with a suit and a cell phone that seemed to ring as soon as he hung up the last call, coordinated the continuation of the rescue from the helicopter to the Nepal International Clinic (HQ of the Himalayan Rescue Association) in town.  I was checked into the clinic just before closing (thanks to Naba’s advance phone call) and was led into one of the rooms by a nurse.

“So, are you Nepali by origin?” she asked.

Even in extreme circumstances, some things never change.


DR. DAVID, FROM MICHIGAN, U.S.A. came in the little room.  I explained the whole ordeal to him, including the part about my guide casually just waiting with Naba in the waiting room outside and how he was in a condition worse than me.  The doctor checked me out and everything seemed to be getting better — no fever, no wheezing and blood oxygen level at a healthy 96.  The only issue was perhaps my elevated blood pressure, but he blamed that on the change in altitude and told me to come in the following day to make sure.  In the meantime, he’d write a second letter (Dr. Linda wrote the first) to my insurance company explaining that the helicopter ride (as beautiful as the views were) was all part of a necessary, life-saving medical emergency rescue operation. 

Naba and Tilak took me to the Hotel Florid, a nice hotel in the lively Thamel district where he got they in a big room with a desk and two comfortable beds — a very welcome change from the big shared bunk beds I had in the mountain lodges.

“Excuse me, [I need some air,]” Tilak said.  He walked out the door while I was whisked away upstairs.  Going up the three flights was hard, but that would change with time.

Naba and I sat at the table in my hotel room under the dim lights and chat over hot lemon teas.  He assured me that a guy from the agency would stay in the hotel nearby in case I needed anything, and that he himself was just a mobile phone call away.  I could even order room service if I wanted.  The bottom line of the conversation though could be summed up in three words:  “You need rest.”

“Yes, I know.”  In the back of my mind, I knew how big the arduous task of writing about all this was going to be.

He left me to go attend to his phone calls and business, leaving me alone in the room to finally recuperate after the crazy week I’d had.  I sat there in the silence of the dim room and finally took that big breather I wanted so badly the previous day.


THEN, THERE WAS A KNOCK ON THE DOOR.  It was Tilak.  Apparently when he “stepped out for some air,” he stepped into a clinic to finally get himself checked out by a local (and much less expensive) doctor.  He showed me the results of some test they ran on him.

“I don’t know what this means,” I told him.  “But you got medicine right?”

“Yes,” he answered.  There was an awkward pause.  “So, how was my behavior?” he asked.  I think he was worried that I’d slam him in a guide evaluation form that would sure keep him unemployed.

“It was fine, don’t worry.”

The two of us just stood there in the spacious room with not much else to say; we had already been through enough.  There was another long, awkward pause.

“With your permission,” he finally said, “May I go home?”

“Of course!  Go home!  Feel better!  Take your medicine.”

“Okay.” 

He closed the door behind him and I was alone again, safe and sound away from the beautiful, but potentially fatal Himalayan mountains.  I slept like a baby that night in a comfortable bed under a comfortable blanket.


BOTH TILAK AND I HAD SURVIVED The Incident on The Everest Trail and would be back to normal in the next coming days after that whole brush with death thing.  While death is the only inevitability in life (after taxes), for us it wouldn’t come until another day — hopefully not for a long, long time.






Next entry: What Exit?

Previous entry: The Long Way Down




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Comments for “Die Another Day”

  • Some people may think that the whole ordeal was a publicity stunt I brought upon myself for the sake of writing material (including Dr. Mike I suspect), but let me assure you, it wasn’t.  If there was any publicity stunt I wanted to do on the Everest trek, it was to go streaking at Base Camp—but I guess someone else will have to do that for me now.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:13 PM


  • Erik,

    Now that I have read more than just the Special Report, I can see more of the appeal (and danger, thanks to all the foreshadowing…isn’t it cool when something we learned becomes useful/).

    I guess my biggest question is, though, will this remove the “I’ve been so many places and seen so many things it’s all a blur now” and refresh your journey for the last leg of the trip?

    Anyway, I’ve been reading more of your entries on China, trying to figure out what I want to see there, and probably next year now.

    Hope you are on the mend,

    Meg

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:32 PM


  • breathtaking views (pun intended?)...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  09:45 PM


  • All I can say is, at least we were spared the inevitable ass pictures (or worse) from streaking at base camp. grin

    Glad you’re alright.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  10:47 PM


  • man, what a trip! i think i laughed, i cried, just glad to hear you’re alive. so what’s the lesson learned here???? for everyone????
    so i guess you’ll totally be ready for a back country snowboard trip when you come and visit. we’re only at 13-14,000 ft! n smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/24  at  11:49 PM


  • poor tilak, i hope he is doing ok. he seems so scared and worried about his job more than if he croaks. i am glad you made it back fine though. too bad we don’t get a chance to see your streaking video, but there is plenty of other countries you can still do that in. you should make a video called “streaking around the world in 80 days” (well, give a couple of months.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  12:38 AM


  • Thank goodness your OK.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  01:58 AM


  • Wow! You sure made memories to tell your kids someday! So glad to hear your are on the mend.  So, what’s next?  Do we get to vote again? LOL

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  08:21 AM


  • Dude, thank God for credit cards, eh?

    Word Life!

    Moman!!

    Posted by Moman  on  10/25  at  09:06 AM


  • Hey Erik, saw your blog recently and noticed I’m probably a week or so behind you, and celebrated my 30th bday a few days ago on a camel in Jaisalmer, India, at about 2 meters above sea level. My blog is How Conor is Spending All His Money under RTW. Glad to hear you’re ok, maybe see you in Nepal- I’m there in a few days.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  11:45 AM


  • After almost dieing on the mountain and having to be rescued by a helicopter there is only one thing that you can do ...

    Go to the pub

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  04:14 PM


  • Glad to hear you’re doing better.  Take care of yourself.  Hopefully Tilak is doing better too.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  05:42 PM


  • on the way to dehli, you will go to pankot palace!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  06:36 PM


  • What great pictures!  Maybe you have the COVER of the global trip coffee table book in here.  I hope Tilak is OK, I’m kinda worried about him!  Thanks for taking us along on this crazy ride.  (I am counting the days until Asia when I can have some adventures of my own!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  06:37 PM


  • CONOR:  Hey there, welcome…  No more Nepal for me, I’ve just landed in Delhi, India…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:26 PM


  • Sherpa porter—$2
    Another Sherpa porter—$2
    Yak rental—$5
    Horse rental—$6
    Medical treatment - $785
    Emergency Helicopter - $3000

    Celebrating the Big Three-Oh at Everest Base Camp
    and living to tell about it. ? PRICELESS!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:34 PM


  • Or…

    Finding an Emergency Rescue Clinic that accepts cards other than Visa—PRICELESS

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:36 PM


  • TDOT - you can’t use the Mastercard “priceless” campaign when Visa is only accepted man!...

    Visa, it’s everywhere you want to be.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:38 PM


  • MEG:  The recuperation days DID help me “reset” the palate for upcoming adventures… Next up, India.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:42 PM


  • Markyt: I thought he paid with Master Card.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:46 PM


  • TDOT - my bad…my head has been in visa stuff all morning with work (our company just announced a strategic partnership with them)....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:51 PM


  • YEAY for ending that chapter!! So glad, yet again, that you’re okay…

    I hope Tilak is all recuperated and better too!!

    I agree - cover of the Global Trip coffee table book of pics… and on my desktop. But like you care abt that one.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:54 PM


  • And, the scenery is SO different from up higher to the green of the path to Kathmandu… never ceases to amaze me how the world can be so different at similar elevations, and also at latitudes… fascinating. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:56 PM


  • Markyt: Partnership with Visa eh? Any chance of getting to “mess up” at the end of one the the TV spots and say:

    “Erik, he’s been everywhere you want to be.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  07:57 PM


  • “Erik, he’s been everywhere you want to be.”

    That RULES!

    BTW, the horsemen charged a whopping $120 USD for their services!  And then, in the darkness of the night, they just went right back up to Gorak Shep, six hours up after dropping me off in Pheriche.  Stewart tried to pay for them to stay in a lodge but “they had to work in the morning.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  08:28 PM


  • I would WATCH commercials for that ad!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  08:37 PM


  • Yay for happy endings!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/27  at  12:04 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
What Exit?

Previous entry:
The Long Way Down




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

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Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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