Paralyzed on the Annapurna Circuit

January 21, 2010 19 Comments »

Illness Strikes by Surprise

Tiger Balm Tales vol. 9


What started as a slight headache the night before had manifested into my complete paralysis the next morning. My head was throbbing, but worse than that, my body felt like it had gone through a medieval bone crusher in the middle of the night. Every movement I made ached and my body felt as if it were a punching bag. My sleep was restless so I was already lucid when our alarm went off to signify a new day of trekking towards the pass. I rolled over to look at my dad, and ironically I felt as if I were the one that was 73 years old.

A tidal wave of illness had hit me. Immediately I knew what this meant. I tried to put it out of my mind…but the headache kept reminding me…this had to be altitude sickness. Having battled altitude sickness before, I knew the signs. A wave of anger swept over me – why me…again? I did everything right this time, we went very slowly, and I hydrated; why did this have to happen? My mind continued spiraling into the abyss of trekking failure. Yet my emotions were magnified as I had brought my father along this far; if anyone was supposed to struggle I expected it to be him. But he lay there slowly waking up and he seemed just fine. I was going to be the one to ruin it for us. I was going to be the reason we had to turn back.

My arrival in Manang 2 Days Prior

During our ‘rest day’ yesterday we went to the free Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) talk provided at the little medical outpost which was manned by American volunteer doctors. We learned about all of the symptoms, and what can be done to ease them. However I was well aware of the symptoms based on my past experience and I also knew the only real cure – to descend. In the talk we also learned that I had another thing stacked against me; if you’ve had AMS before, you are more susceptible to getting it again. However, on a brighter note, we also learned that the older you are the less likely you are to get AMS. If you are over 50 years old, your brain actually starts to shrink and therefore has more room to expand in your skull as you go up in altitude; good news for Dad.

As I lay in my bed with my head swimming in a sea of disappointment, I listened to everyone departing past my door with a sinking feeling. All of the new friends that I had made the days before stopped at our room door and said farewell to me as they took off trekking again. Everything was moving around me and I was standing still. Whereas the day before I loved standing still; today I didn’t. This was unplanned. This would get us off our schedule. This could be the demise of our goal.

River with a View

Some of our trekking friends loaned us a thermometer and Dad came back to take my temperature. Of course, the temperature was in Celsius therefore my dad, the retired engineer, had to try to figure out the conversion to Fahrenheit so that it made sense to us Americans! He jotted away with his pencil on his little notebook, multiply this, add that, carry the 2, and presto – my temperature was 101…shit.

Luckily, I happened to be sick in the only town that had a medical clinic. Somehow I mustered up enough energy to shuffle over to the clinic with my dad’s help. We had decided I’d better see a doctor. I felt as if I could barely walk, my head spinning, feeling as heavy as a bowling ball. I was imagining my brain swelling due to the hitting the sides of my skull causing me this immense altitude headache. I handed over my $35 USD to see a young doctor. I sat on the cot and told him my symptoms.

He took notes about the length and itinerary of our ascent, he took my temperature, looked in my ears, and listened to my lungs. He put down his clipboard and said, “I don’t believe you have AMS. I think you’ve caught some virus and have a sinus infection.”

What’s that…did I hear him correctly…no AMS…hurray!

He proceeded to give me antibiotics, nasal spray, and Panadol and told me to consider resting for a couple of days before going any further to see if the antibiotics would take hold. My dad and I shuffled back to my little guest room, I took all of the drugs and promptly fell back asleep.

I dozed in and out of consciousness for the next 18 hours. My dad was left to play nurse, waking me up to give me medication, watching over me, and putting tiger balm on my aching back. He continued to watch my temperature climb peaking at 103 F. I lay in my little sleeping bag cocoon barely poking out my head or opening my eyes.

My dad & I at the Glacier the day prior

When I did come to every so often, I would poke my head out and see my dad watching me. The tables had turned – I was the one that needed him. I thought back to my childhood, and could never remember a time when my dad had to take care of me. It was always my mom who brought me 7Up and soda crackers; watching over me. In my feverish haze, I marveled at my Dad’s ability to care for me. Once again I was reminded how happy I was that he had decided to come on this trip with me.

In addition to my dad watching over me, our guide and porter (Bishnu and Deihl) also took caregiving roles. They would bring me bowls of noodles trying to get me to eat food and they would refill my thermos of tea. Eating the noodles pretty much used up my energy reserves and I would fall back into my sleepy haze. I complained about how my body ached and Bishnu came back with another pad to put on top of my current sleeping pad trying to make it a bit more comfortable for me. After all, our guest room was pretty bare bones – a little wooden bed with a 3-inch thick mattress and my sleeping bag; not the most comfortable conditions to be sick in!

I could only hope that with the three of them caring for me, my bag of drugs, and more rest I’d be able to be back on the Annapurna trail again soon. Only time will tell.

No real surprise, but there were no pictures from this day!

Manang Villager at Work

Want to read the Tiger Balm Tales from the beginning?
Vol. 1 – The Begining of a Nepal Trekking Plan
Vol. 2 – Preparing the Parents
Vol. 3 – Annapurna Itinerary
Vol. 4 – Travel Back in Time
Vol. 5 – Breathe Through Your Mouth
Vol. 6 – Road Work Ahead
Vol. 7 – Changing Rhythms on the Annapurna Circuit
Vol. 8 – And on the 7th Day We Rested

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