Episode 026: Trouble By The Foot

My Meat Foot. Ok, Ok, Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t have gone all the way to ABC at 21,000 feet. The funny thing is that the altitude wasn’t
a problem. Only in the morning. I’d wake up and would have my vision be somewhat spotty, strobing and tracing.

After I’d stumble down the path to the “bathroom” and nearly careen down the slope into the Romanian tents (ABC has no ground, it’s all a glacial moraine which means it’s all loose rock like a scree slope) my vision would clear up. Usually just as I was pulling down my pants to do my business in the open air toilet I’d look over and see a member of the British Royal Navy Team squatting on his open air toilet and we’d wave to each other.

Friendship in misery.

After a time at ABC, I realized it was beautiful but it sucked up there. You just can’t rest. The entire time you can feel your body deteriorating. So, it was time to climb down. I made the 22km in one very long day but it was very painful. In fact I totally messed up my left foot. I’ve never had a problem with my boots, but leave it to Everest to change that. The trail is only loose rock and every step I took pounded my toenail into the front of the boot.

By the time I made it back to BC, I knew it was a bad situation. I had a terrible pain in that Big Toe, but I was just too tired to deal with it that evening. I slept and the next morning inspected the damage. My toe didn’t look like a toe anymore. In fact, one of my French friends, Bertrand, described it as a sausage floating in water. It was really surreal to look at my toe and think it was an alien. Luckily, my Russian friends have a doctor here at Base Camp. I’m really good friends with him, Dmitri. I hobbled over to the camp and went into their Comm tent. He wasn’t there but some other friends were.

Vova said he thought I looked in pain. I took off my sock and they all yelped in Russian. Vova jumped up, slapped me on the shoulder and ran out to find Dr. Dima. Minutes later my foot was in this huge surgeon’s fleeced lap. He said it would take a small operation and that I would be fine.

He said something in Russian to Vova who immediately jumped up and disappeared from the tent. Seconds later he returned with a bottle of whiskey. Dima handed the bottle and suggested I drink up.”For pain.” I grabbed the bottle and thought of every Old West movie I’d ever seen, looking around for a wooden spoon or something to put between my teeth and bite down on. I raised the bottle to my lips and was about to drink when Dima grabbed the bottle. The joke was on me. The whiskey was actually rubbing alcohol and he was only kidding about me needing to drink up. Apparently Russian airlines do not allow the passengers to transport running alcohol in their luggage, yet they DO allow unbelievably high proof liquor. Dima simply fills an empty whiskey bottle with rubbing alcohol and can easily sneak it through security!

I washed my foot, then Dima shot my toe up with novocain and sterilized his tools with the alcohol and cut here and there releasing pressure, then cut away the nail. It was gross, but I was fascinated!

Afterwards, he put a ton of Russian antibiotic cream on it and wrapped it in sterile gauze his wife had carefully prepared in St Petersburg (she’s apparently an anesthesiologist). In 30 minutes it was all taken care of and only hurt a lot for a minute. That was 3 days ago and every morning Dima comes over and gently changes my dressing.

These people are so great. I offered to pay since I have some cash on me but Dima just raised his finger to his head and twirled his finger to say I was crazy. I almost cried. I would be totally in trouble of infection without him. But he really cares about my well being and I’m being taken care of with immaculate care.

He said I was his first American patient and I said he was my first Russian doctor. All in broken English, of course. I’ll never forget the
generosity I’ve experienced here. I’m sitting in their Comm tent right now using their generator since mine is busted again. Everyone is glad I’m here and it’s wonderful. Everest North Side would be a totally dead landscape if it weren’t for all of the great people. They’re what I’m going to remember, not the Mountain.

Jon Miller

Total Running Time: 23:28

Dispatch 26, April 30th, 2003 Base-Camp

Today was a long long way down. Ready to go but also having to do a little work on the descent I waked back with Jon. Normally this is a 4 hour walk, it is 90% downhill. When you have a bad day and boots like Jon’s, we were able to manufacture an 8 hour day with a storm just lapping at our backs.

I felt bad. Jon is a real fighter, he is pretty inspiring in his determination to get as close to the mountain as he can but even the hike to advanced base-camp, littered with hundreds of thousands of ankle biting stones is unforgiving to all but the most experienced trail veterans. By the time we got down that day, just in time for dinner one of the Frenchman replied that Jon’s toe looked like a sausage in water. The kid in me thought it was funny, but the professional in me knew this was a problem we would have to fix in the morning. That is when the lesson Jon will learn will be revealed. That is why not everyone climbs Mount Everest!

Ben Clark