Episode 152: HAPE and Red Tape

The Potala And Priorities. Our first day in Lhasa started out just as I had imagined it. We spent some quality time in and around the Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple in Tibetan Buddhism.

As a tourist, the Jokhang does not disappoint. There are throngs of religious pilgrims praying, chanting and prostrating around the temple and it’s grounds. There are a multitude of small chapels full of statues and icons to view and yak butter lamps burning everywhere. There is nothing like this place back home and it’s a feast for the senses which adds to the mysticism of Lhasa.

But Lhasa can be overpowering. Well, let me rephrase that: Lhasa’s altitude can be overpowering.

This ancient city stands at nearly 3500 meters or nearly 12,000 feet. It’s one of the highest cities in the world. That’s an awfully high elevation to fly into after visiting Kathmandu which stands thousands of meters lower. Sudden, dramatic positive elevation change can be dangerous. Our bodies just were never designed to cope with it.

Now, most people visiting Lhasa feel pretty lousy for a bit at first. I certainly did my first time coming here. I know that the mental breakdown episode from my 2007 trip was an unforgettable moment in the podcast and it was fueled by the altitude and  how crappy it made me feel. Luckily for me I just had mild altitude sickness which is (ironically) like having seasickness.

Unfortunately for Damion, the luck of the draw dealt him the most serious form of altitude sickness. The dreaded HAPE, or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. His symptoms began turning up at dinner after visiting the Jokhang and exploded overnight. His condition deteriorated so much that hospitalization became an absolute necessity. We called for an ambulance and he was picked up and taken to a military hospital a few miles away from the hotel.

What day is it now? Only the second day in Lhasa? Really?

Wow. The adventure has only just begun…

Jon Miller

Total Running Time: 36:12