Essay: Part 3: No Serious Medical Problems Lee Meyers - Basecamp Wed, April 18, 2001 7:50AM
In our core Team of climbers, we have had no serious medical problems. There are 12 or more expeditions now encamp at base camp and I am one of only two doctors here on the North side of Mt. Everest. Hence I have been called on to treat members of other expeditions and some hapless trekkers who come to base camp too quickly. There have been at least three cases of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) that we have helped with in other expeditions.
Our most common and vexing problems have been with respiratory disorders. Once you begin to cross the Tibetan Plateau (14,000-15.000 ft.), your nasal passages, sinuses, throat and trachea are assaulted with the cold, constant dry wind, and dust of Tibet. Nightly temperatures approach zero, and lower higher on the mountain. The air is dry. I once put a strip of beef jerky out and it got drier in the air. The whole area is a dust bowl. This leads to a constant day and night irritation of the upper respiratory tract. The nose and sinuses constantly run with mucus, the throat is sore and everyone has some coughing, especially at night with mucus build-up. Everyone has these symptoms to varying degrees. There is little relief!! Drinking lots of fluids, throat lozenges and breathing through a mask, especially at night helps. The problem as the doc is to decide when irritation has led to an infection needing antibiotic treatment. Most sore throats and coughing spells will not respond to antibiotics and one of rules of the expedition is that if you are sick enough to need antibiotics you should return to or remain at base camp until better. To start a member on antibiotics such as Biaxin or Zithromax for a respiratory problem is an important decision for the expedition.
In future dispatches I will discuss life-threatening high altitude problems, we have encountered with members of other expeditions.