The Accident At Tashi Lapsa Pass

Trekking places like Kathmandu, Nepal is a life’s dream for a lot of people.

For some, the dream is perhaps to climb Everest (Sagarmatha/Chomolungma) or maybe even conquer the climbers’ ‘white whale’ that is K2.

For others, the dream may merely be the delights of leaving the modern world behind and exploring exotic villages and meeting the people to be found on the many awe-inspiring treks throughout some of the most unforgiving terrain on this fragile blue ball we live on.

But what happens when things go wrong?

A little over 12 months ago, Almanacker Louise Currie found herself in a very perilous situation when trekking Kathmandu and here’s her story of when things go wrong: The Accident at Tashi Lapso Pass.

 

Bijay Louise and Shanaia trekking Lamajura Pass in the Everest region, nine days prior to the Tashi Lapsa Pass incident.

Bijay Louise and Shanaia trekking Lamajura Pass in the Everest region, nine days prior to the Tashi Lapsa Pass incident.

 

Saturday, 4th of January 2014 : The Accident at Tashi Lapso Pass

It was a very windy night. Strong gusts of wind ripped down from the Tashi Lapso Pass and from the nearby snow peaks, buffeting our tiny campsite below on the Ngole glacier. The wind continued to get stronger over the course of the night, lifting the sides of my tent which were secured with large stones. Then, one final strong gust of wind blew over both the kitchen and toilet tents. Although the kitchen tent was several metres away from mine, the strength of the wind was such that I heard a couple of its aluminium pegs land on the far side of my own tent.

Lakpa Sherpa, my guide, had said if it was very windy in the morning, we would not attempt the Pass. The Tashi Lapso Pass could be dangerous when it was windy, although the campsite up there was said to be sheltered. However, in the morning when we awoke, it was clear and sunny with only a very light breeze. Every peak was sharply illuminated, the views breathtaking. None of our small camping group – consisting of myself, Lakpa, our cook Nima and three porters – had slept well. However, Lakpa said to me, ‘it’s not windy so let’s go up to the Pass.’

We broke camp at around 9.15 am. It was clear and still when we left.  Our camp was set up on rocks directly on the glacier and as we left the site, we continued to hop from one large rock to another across the body of the glacier for ten minutes before reaching the moraine on the other side. We commenced what was going to be a three-hour ascent through glacial moraine. It was very steep and as there was no discernable path, we had to negotiate our way through the rocks – which varied in size from small pebbles to large, car-sized boulders.

 

Louise Currie, daughter Shanaia, Bijay (obscured) and Lakpa Sherpa, with the Everest range in the background. Christmas Eve, 2013. (pic: courtesy Louise Currie collection

Louise Currie, daughter Shanaia, Bijay (obscured) and Lakpa Sherpa, with the Everest range in the background. Christmas Eve, 2013. (pic: courtesy Louise Currie collection

 

Lakpa went ahead and I followed closely on his heels, trying to step where he stepped most of the time. Having reached the summit of Everest seven times and being used to making his way through difficult terrain, Lakpa was sure-footed and never slipped. I knew him well and trusted him completely.  We had trekked together on several occasions, and had climbed to the summit of three 6,000 metre-plus peaks together over the previous four years. Our three porters were coming along behind – our two women porters about ten metres behind us, and Uttam, our young male porter, behind them. Nima was coming last and was about ten minutes behind the others.

Lakpa was about three metres ahead of me. Trying to follow him, I stepped forward with my left foot onto a rock about one foot by two feet in diameter. As my weight shifted onto the rock it started to slip forward. As it did, it dislodged a much larger rock – four foot by approximately six foot -which then fell forward, crushing my left leg underneath. With my leg under the rock, I fell backwards against the steep slope and landed on my 12 kilogram backpack. The pain was sudden and intense and it took my breath away.

I knew that my leg was broken without even being able to look at it. Luckily, the rock had fallen over a natural hollow in the side of the slope, so my leg was not trapped beneath. Lakpa leapt forward immediately and reached under the rock to pull my leg out. I screamed at him not to pull too hard.

He pushed my leg down and to the right and freed it from under the rock. He pulled back my trouser leg and my worst fears were immediately confirmed – it was badly broken a couple of inches above the ankle. My foot was hanging at an unnatural angle and there was also blood seeping out of the right side of my leg. The sight and sensation of my broken leg made me feel sick but I reached forward to take hold of it, trying to keep it straight and the two broken ends together.

The shock of what had just happened was quickly settling in and I started to breathe in quick small gasps. I felt dizzy and for a little while, only vaguely aware of what was going on around me. Lakpa had his hand on my knee but then leaned forward and started to wipe my face with a cloth. It was only a couple of days later than I learned that a smaller rock had hit my face, and right then, I was bleeding quite heavily from my upper lip. Lakpa called down to our porters in Nepali that my leg was broken and they rushed up to where we were so they could help.

I was still lying on my backpack with my head angled downhill, trying to hold the two ends of my broken leg together. My good leg was resting on the boulder that had collapsed on my left leg a few moments before. Lakpa became anxious for all of us to move away from the immediate area near the boulder, which was obviously unstable.

Despite my broken leg, I was relatively comfortable in my half-upside-down position and reluctant to move at all. I kept telling Lakpa and the porters to leave me alone for a while. Finally Lakpa insisted and said, “it’s dangerous here; we have to move you away.” One of the women porters pulled out a camp mattress from one of our bags and placed it on another flat rock nearby. I allowed Lakpa and the three porters to pick me up and sit me upright on the camp mattress away from danger. The elder of our women porters was carefully holding my broken leg for me. Uttam was supporting one end of the mattress, Lakpa the other.

 

The accident area - Ngole glacier, Tashi Lapso Pass

The accident area – Ngole glacier, Tashi Lapso Pass

 

I sat there, letting the reality of the situation sink in, trying to slow my breathing and trying not to panic.

We were in a very difficult situation. At close to 5,300 meters in altitude, there would be no possibility of a helicopter evacuation from here as there was simply no safe place for one to land. There was no mobile phone network in the area and being the winter off-season, we would be unlikely to meet any other people coming over the Pass.

Ngole was remote.

Ngole was cold.

And we were completely alone.

 

*     *      *      *      *

 

I have been in these places many times before and the surrounding environment was generally familiar. What wasn’t familiar this time though, was the feeling of being so very vulnerable and in such a precarious situation.

We realised that we had made one serious error in our trip planning: we had not included a satellite phone. This would have made it possible for us to at least call someone immediately, even if air rescue here was not possible. But in planning for the trip, we had been told by so many people that there is mobile coverage everywhere in the Solu-Khumbu region these days and we had believed them.

Lakpa asked me, “what are we going to do?” I snapped at him. “As the guide, you are going to have to work that one out.” But we were all in shock right then. Even Lakpa, with his Everest climbing experience and knowledge about high altitude rescue, was unable to think of a solution to our problem in those first few minutes.

By now Nima had caught up with the group. Lakpa called him over and gave him the important set of instructions that would eventually lead to my evacuation.

The instructions were delivered in their native Sherpa language – which I’m not overly fluent in – but I did make out the words ‘Thame’, ‘phone’, ‘Bijay’ and ‘helicopter’. Nima dropped his load on one of the moraine rocks and immediately set off, back down towards the glacier.

Lakpa said, “I have told Nima to run down to Thame village and use the phone there to contact Bijay so he can request a helicopter to come to Thame to evacuate you.” Thame is a populated village at 3,800 metres that not only has landline phones but is also served by the mobile phone network.

Helicopters, which regularly provide rescue services to trekkers and climbers in the Everest region, could land in Thame but possibly also even in Thangbo, the next village up the valley, at 4,300 metres.

My husband Bijay was with our toddler daughter and our second guide, Sanghe, down in a village near Lukla. They were having their own low altitude trek and our original plan was that once we had completed our journey to the pass, then descended, we would rejoin them and together return to Kathmandu.

After Nima left, we still needed to get off the glacier and down the valley so that we could meet the helicopter, if and when it came.

 

Tashi Lapsa Pass via http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.himalayanmagictreks.com%2Fnepal%2Ftrekking-in-nepal%2Feverest-trek%2Frolwaling-tashi-lapsa-pass-trek.html&ei=S9SxVJvOGeGNmwXr-oLwCw&bvm=bv.83339334,d.dGY&psig=AFQjCNGe91Xku5-N-CJ_ozIti0XzPGzE7A&ust=1421026736177717

Tashi Lapsa Pass

 

Lakpa pointed to one of the dokos and said to me, ‘I will carry you down in that.’ A doko is a large, cone-shaped basket made from bamboo and is used by millions of village-based Nepalis across the country for a wide variety of purposes like transporting agricultural produce to market and collect animal fodder. Trekking and camping groups use them to transport tents, stoves and other camping gear. Dokos are also regularly used to transport sick or injured village people – sometimes even women in labour – down to health posts and hospitals.

A rope is tied around the base of the doko basket which connects to a strap that the Nepali villager will place over his or her forehead to carry the basket which rests against their back. The person being carried faces backwards.

I accepted the idea of the doko knowing it was probably our only option for me to get down the valley. I had seen people being carried in dokos previously in various parts of Nepal, but they invariably seemed to be small people – lightweight Nepalis or Asian tourists or even children. I am a five foot, eight inch Caucasian woman, who, including the thick jacket and walking boots I was wearing at the time, probably weighed in at around 70 kilos.

Lakpa himself was taller and heavier than many Sherpas and probably weighed the same as me. He was suggesting carrying a person of the same weight as himself in a traditional basket over some of the most treacherous landscape in the mountains. It was a three-to-four hour walk down to Thangbo village and another two-to-three hours after that to Thame. When I questioned him whether it was going to be possible, he said, “what other choice do we have?”

He got out a pocket knife and cut a rectangular piece from the top of the doko where my legs would hang. He and the three porters filled the doko with soft objects such as sleeping bags, camp mattresses and his own down jacket to make the seat. The rope was secured around the base and the namlo (head strap) fastened to the top. The rope looked thin and breakable to me. ‘What if it breaks while you’re carrying me?’, I asked. ‘It won’t’, he replied. When the doko seat was ready, Lakpa pulled it upright into position.

Sitting in the doko meant having both of my legs hanging over the side but this obviously wasn’t going to be possible for the broken left leg. Having calmed down and collected my own thoughts a little by now, I said to Lakpa and the group, ‘We need to make a splint for my leg’.   The porters shook their heads – how could we do this out in this remote area?   As far as I was concerned, with three baskets of camping equipment, we had plenty of scope to fashion a makeshift splint. However, nobody including Lakpa, seemed to know how to do this so I sat on the camp mattress giving out instructions.

First two tent poles were pulled out and these were aligned on each side of my leg from heel to knee. The poles were then carefully tied on with whatever we could lay our hands on which turned out to be a bath towel, a pashmina shawl and headscarf donated by one of the women porters. Finally a piece of thin rope was tied to the shawl and looped under my foot to keep it stable. The splint was makeshift but it was going to be vital for keeping my foot stable over the coming indeterminate number of hours until I could get to a hospital. It was also going to be important for stemming the bleeding where the bone had broken through the skin on my lower leg. At one point Lakpa suggested removing my boot in case my foot swelled but I was worried that the foot would get cold so it stayed on.

As gently as they could, the three porters then lifted me into the doko while Lakpa held it steady. Without further ado, he bent down, pulled the strap over his forehead and, gripping the ropes securing the namlo, stood up with me in the doko on his back.

 

*      *      *      *      *

 

Before we set off down the pass for medical help, Lapka spent some time instructing me about how to sit in the doko.

I had to lean my head as far back as possible so that the angles of my back and head were parallel with his. This meant I had to keep my head unsupported at a 30 to 40 degree angle for much of the ride. My healthy right leg was hanging over the side of the doko. My broken left leg was at right angles, resting against the side of the doko. I supported it there with my left arm, while I used my right hand to hold my boot to ensure that my splinted foot was as stable as possible. Lakpa also told me not to move or shift my weight while we were walking because any movement could unbalance him and cause him to fall, or worse – drop the basket.

Uttam was coming with Lakpa and I to carry both of our backpacks and to relieve Lakpa of carrying me when he got too tired. The two women porters were left to try to organize the camping gear.

With Uttam and Nima busy with other tasks and one basket now being used to transport me, they could only bring half of the camping gear down to Thame. They also had to find a safe place on the glacier to leave the rest until it could be collected in a day or two. Despite my own self-preoccupation I hated leaving the two women behind. With four of our group evacuating the glacier, it didn’t seem right to leave the two women, even knowing they would be following us shortly. I learned later that the women sat on the rocks and cried for an hour before they could start organizing the equipment, so distressed were they about what had just happened. I wouldn’t see them again that day. Two days later, Lakpa’s wife would call to tell me they were with her, and that they wanted to express their ‘emotion’ over what had happened. They also wanted to send their best wishes for my recovery.

Initially, I didn’t find sitting in the doko as difficult as I imagined it was going to be. The basket was large, my crew had made a comfortable seat and I was able to hold my leg relatively steady against the rim of the basket. I was, however, aware each time the ends of the broken leg rubbed together and the way each jolt of Lakpa’s step caused a small stab of pain.

 

A traditional Nepalese 'doko' - would it be able to help get Louise off the Ngole glacier to safety?

A traditional Nepalese ‘doko’ – would it be able to help get Louise off the Ngole glacier to safety?

 

I was very aware of the terrain we needed to cross to get down off the glacier and I knew we could slip or fall on the moraine with every step.

First, we had to come down the incredibly steep and slippery slope that we had just climbed up. We’d need to come back across the rock-littered glacier to our campsite, up another rock-littered slope and then down the other side of this – even steeper, and just as slippery as the first.

With my head leaning back in the doko, I had stunning views of the surrounding mountains as we descended, but I also felt very vulnerable because I couldn’t see where we were going. A couple of times I turned my head sideways to try to see where we were going but could only see the terrifyingly steep slope we were descending from the corner of my eye which only served to make me feel dizzy and nauseous.

As Lakpa carefully picked his way through the rocks, he made small whistling sounds through his teeth, almost as if he was trying to focus himself. I found myself periodically holding my breath… waiting, almost expecting him to slip or stumble, to give some indication that he was walking across incredibly slippery glacial moraine rather than on a flat suburban footpath. A slip or fall that resulted in Lakpa dropping the doko basket probably would have been fatal for me because I would have continued to roll down the steep hill.

Lakpa, though, never slipped. He covered the most treacherous terrain without faltering even slightly. Not only this, but he walked in a way that minimised the jolting impact on my broken leg.

Knowing how hard it must have been, every ten minutes I would ask him if he was okay and he would say yes. I have always had enormous respect for Lakpa’s strength, poise and technical ability as a mountain guide. I have climbed with him on ice and always felt totally secure with him on the other end of the rope. But after his efforts today – carrying this woman who weighed the same as him, in a basket, across the terrain which we had just walked – my admiration for him found new heights.

When we were off the dangerous slope and at a height of about 4,800 metres, Lakpa said to me, “Bauju (sister-in-law), I need a rest. Uttam will carry you for a while now”. I felt nervous about this change of basket-carrier but knew it needed to happen. Lakpa had completed the most challenging part of the walk and needed a break. He placed the doko carefully on a rock, then got out a thermos of warm tea and insisted that I drank some. Until this time, I’d had nothing to drink since breakfast, three hours before.  After some tea and with Lakpa’s help, Uttam hoisted the doko onto his own back and we set off again.

Immediately, I noticed a difference between Uttam’s and Lakpa’s walking styles. At 19, Uttam was more than 15 years younger than Lakpa and weighed at least 10 kilograms less. However, he wasn’t as fit as Lakpa and was only able to carry me in short bursts between rests. Most significantly though, he had a very bouncy walking style and I found I was less comfortable being carried by him. My leg hurt more, I felt more uncomfortable in the doko, and I felt more vulnerable while being carried. I didn’t say anything though, as I knew that every step down the valley was one step closer to evacuation.

For the next hour and a half, Uttam and Lakpa took it in turns to carry me. As I was being carried I remember looking up at the peaks on either side of the valley. Most of the time while trekking and climbing I am looking at where I’m puttting my feet rather than at the surrounding views. This time I was just sitting there with a broken leg and able to enjoy the views directly from the doko basket. I also felt strangely peaceful for a while;  comforted by a feeling of surety that we’d get out of there safely and that everything was going to be okay, one way or another.

But then another problem emerged. After a while I became desperate to relieve my bladder. Initially, I was able to ignore it, then it became more and more painful and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.   And then finally, it became more painful than my leg. I told Lakpa about it and he said, ‘and how are we going to fix that?’ At one point I made them stop and put the basket down on the ground. I don’t know how but I thought in my desperation that even with a broken leg, if I could just get out of that basket I could somehow relieve myself. But I couldn’t even shift my body weight in the basket and moving my leg even slightly gave me a sickening pain that I couldn’t bear. So that idea was abandoned, the basket was picked up again and we plodded on. I tried to give myself permission just to pee in the basket but personal hygiene standards and self-dignity were stronger than physical need. Our sleeping bags were in the basket, our camping mats and most of all, Lakpa’s down jacket. In the end, I just hung on and tried to ignore the pain in my bladder. Thinking back on it now, it would be another six hours until I would have a chance to relieve myself.

With its vast array of open fields making a helicopter landing possible, our goal was to reach Thangbo as soon as we could. Lakpa had told Nima that if the helicopter could come to Thangbo and land there it would be a better option than us having to walk more hours down to Thame. With our communications knocked out, we had no way of knowing whether Nima had been successful in arranging the desperately-needed airlift for us.  As we continued our descent, we had no way of knowing whether a helicopter would be waiting for us or not.

As we finally approached Thangbo, the sun dipped behind the mountains. Accordingly, the temperature plummeted. My hands, which had been holding my broken leg together, started to throb with the pain of the cold air. I also still had my dark glasses on from this morning. Nobody, including me, had thought to take these off and replace them with my normal glasses.

We arrived in Thangbo at about 1.30 pm, almost four hours after we left the glacier.

There was no helicopter.

There was no Nima.

There was just an empty, abandoned village.

 

Thangbo village. Plenty of room for a helicopter to land, just... no helicopter. (pic. Louise Currie)

Thangbo village. Plenty of room for a helicopter to land, just… no helicopter. (pic. Louise Currie)

 

 

As the tangible disappointment of neither Nima or a helicopter waiting for us when we made it to Thangbo began to dissipate, we took a well-earned break while deciding what to do.

From the time just after the accident until now, I had felt relatively calm and secure that things would fall into place: that after Nima had made contact with Bijay in Lukla, a helicopter rescue back to Kathmandu would be organised for today. But the emptiness of Thangbo, the freezing temperature and a growing weariness from sitting in a basket with a broken leg and a desperately full bladder brought me close to despair.

Lakpa said we had no choice but to walk to Thame, although it might take us another three hours to get there. Even if we arrived too late for the helicopter to come that day, there were a couple of lodges there that would be open and we could make phone calls. I started trying to adjust to the possibility that we might not get back to Kathmandu at all today.  Instead, I would be spending the night in a basic lodge with an untreated broken leg that was still bleeding badly.

If the day had already been bad, things didn’t improve upon leaving Thangbo. Whereas the landscape difficulties around Ngole were related to the gradient of the slopes and the slippery moraine rock, Thangbo was surrounded by a mosaic of small rivers, most of them flowing but covered over with thick ice. These were difficult and time-consuming to cross two days ago when we were coming up and everyone was healthy.

This time, Lakpa and Uttam were taking it in turns carrying me, trying to find a safe way through the iced rivers. They walked this way and that, then backtracked when they could find no safe way to cross. They helped each other across the smaller rivers, threw piles of stones on the bigger ones to try to create a safe footing across and kept fingers crossed when there was no choice but to pick a way across metres of ice. Again, I waited for us to slip or fall but just like earlier in the trek down, it never happened. It eventually took us over an hour just to cover the 150 metres below Thangbo, and though we’d made it through the treacherous river crossings, I began to despair that we could even get back to Thame before it got dark. It had become very, very cold, and as much I appreciated their efforts, I was becoming more uncomfortable in the doko.

After this we started picking up pace again, but I kind of retreated into myself and became less aware of my surroundings for a while. I didn’t lose consciousness but certainly slipped into a lower level of consciousness. Despite the splint and the layers of material covering this, my leg had been slowly bleeding since this morning and was aching because of the broken bones, the cold, the basket, the movement of being carried. My arms were exhausted from trying to hold the leg together for more than 4 hours, my back and neck ached from trying to keep my neck at the required 45 degree angle in the doko. I was very cold, I couldn’t talk anymore and my thoughts had slowed down too. Now Lakpa was asking me every ten minutes if I was okay and all I could do was grunt in reply. Every fifty metres, whomever was carrying me would put the basket down to rest and to check on me but all I could do was lean my head against whomever was propping up the basket.

We pressed on, but eventually I reached the stage where I could barely tolerate being carried by Uttam. His walking style was jolting the basket too much and the pain was becoming too much to bear.  Although I felt bad for Uttam who was trying as best he could, I pleaded with an exhausted Lakpa to once again take up the load.

No one  had eaten anything since 8:30 that morning. That wasn’t a problem for me, but it must have been incredibly difficult for the two of them – sharing the carrying of this 70 kilogram load for so many hours. In all of that time too, they never complained or commented on just how difficult the whole thing must have been for them.

They are remarkably tough.

By now, it is just after 3pm. Two things happen that finally gave us some hope: As we’re walking, Lakpa breaks the silence, saying; “I can see Thame ahead”. Secondly, Nima reappeared.

 

Looking towards Thame; the path leading into Thame village (right)

Looking towards Thame; the path leading into Thame village (right)

 

Nima explained in rapid Nepali that he had run all the way down from Ngole to Thame in just on two hours this morning (it had taken us 9 hours to walk up to Ngole) and had been able to contact Bijay and our second guide, Sanghe, who were in a village an hour out of Lukla. They had been in touch with our trek operator, Mingma, who had arranged for a helicopter to come from Kathmandu. Nima said he believed the helicopter was on standby in Lukla, ready to fly up to Thame as soon as we were able to make the call and ask for it to come.

Despite having run downhill close to 10 kilometres, descending 1,500 metres this morning in record time then walking back up another hour, Nima also offered to take over the basket-carrying, relieving an exhausted Lakpa. Like Lakpa, he had a nice walking style that I was comfortable with. As we continued to walk along the valley ridge towards Thame, Lakpa lagged behind, trying repeatedly to access the phone network that would allow him to contact either Bijay or Sanghe.

There is an ancient monastery on the slope about 150 metres above the village of Thame. Just as we were walking past this, the mobile network sprang to life and Lakpa could finally make the phonecall we had been desperately hoping to make for almost six hours. I heard him say, ‘Send the helicopter now.’ Lakpa then (fittingly I thought) took over the last minutes of basket-carrying until we reached the Thame helipad.

 

The monastery where Lakpa Sherpa's mobile phone sprang into life.

The monastery where Lakpa Sherpa’s mobile phone sprang into life.

 

We knew it would take the helicopter no more than 10 minutes to get there from Lukla and as it had to land on a very narrow, windy ridge, it was important that we were there at the same time as it arrived – if not before. A short time later, Lakpa called around to me, saying; “here we are at the helipad”. He set the basket down and said to me, “everything is going to be okay now”. After the ordeal of the day, the pain I was in with due to my leg (and bladder), all I could do was to nod in reply.

It was 3:45pm.

Almost immediately we hear the distant thudding of the helicopter rotors and moments later we could see the small black helicopter flying up the valley in our direction.

Never in my life have I been more relieved to see a helicopter.

 

*     *      *      *      *

 

We are preparing for the helicopter’s arrival.

As we watch it approach, it suddenly takes a left turn and heads up the adjacent valley towards Thangbo. Somehow the message had been given that it was to pick us up from Thangbo rather than Thame. We’re more than aware of the irony of how welcome that would have been two hours earlier.

Lakpa gets back on the phone and starts shouting at whomever answers that there had been a communication mistake and that we were now in Thame, not Thangbo. Five minutes later, the helicopter is back and turning left again.

It slows and starts its careful descent onto the ridge near where we’re waiting. “Hang on”, warns Lakpa, “it’s going to get very windy and cold”. Nima reaches forward to cover my face with my jacket hood. The wind and dust – not to mention the noise created by the landing chopper – were indeed tremendous and everyone has their faces averted and eyes covered.

Once landed, the pilot signals for us to board quickly with a wave of his arm. Because the helicopter was perched on such a narrow ridge he could not afford to turn off the engine.

 

A typical rescue helicopter used in the Himalayas - similar to the one which arrived for Louise in Thame

A typical rescue helicopter used in the Himalayas – similar to the one which arrived for Louise in Thame

 

Lakpa says to me; “I’m coming back with you to Lukla”. After all that he’s done for me today, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The two pilots remain in the helicopter while a third person: the Mountain Air Helicopter company liaison officer, jumps out of the back seat to assist Lakpa, Nima and Uttam to load me into the roaring little machine. I hardly had time to register the pain in my leg as the four men picked me up out of the doko and moved me effortlessly into the back seat of the helicopter. I sit in the middle of the back seat, still holding my leg. Our bags are thrown on the seat on my right side and the liaison officer jumps in next to me on my left. Lakpa, boards the helicopter, almost sitting on the liaison officer’s lap. The engines rise in pitch and then slowly,  precisely, we move off the ridge.

Below the rising helicopter, Uttam and Nima wave as we ascend, with Nima still clutching the doko. I feel a lump rising in my throat and my eyes blur over.

It has been six hours since beginning the journey off the glacier at Ngole with me sitting in a doko, holding my broken and bleeding leg together, while being carried on the backs of three extraordinary young men.

Uttam, Nima, and most especially, Lakpa; you are, and will always be my heroes.

From the moment we boarded the helicopter things seemed to move much quicker than they had for most of the day. As the helicopter was rising off the ridge the main pilot called out to Lakpa, but in English for my benefit; “Hey! Your timing was perfect: 10 minutes later and it may have been too late for us to come and pick you up!”

Helicopters have strict flying curfews. Those flying into Lukla from the higher valleys must land by 4:00pm. Those departing Lukla for Kathmandu must leave by 4:00pm to be on the ground in Kathmandu by 5:00pm. We had been picked up off the ridge in Thame at 3:45pm. It would take us less than 10 minutes to fly down to Lukla – just in time to depart from Lukla at 4:00pm and fly back to Kathmandu before 5:00pm.

 

Lukla's famous sloping runway

Lukla’s famous sloping runway

 

I sat in the helicopter feeling very little other than relief. My left hand was still clutching at Lakpa’s arm, not yet ready to let go of the person who had been my lifeline since my accident. My right hand held my leg steady so the broken ends of the bone didn’t rub together. The friendly young liaison officer was talking to me too, telling me everything was okay and that I was very lucky.  He also tried to distract me by pointing things out from the helicopter window – mountains, monasteries, Namche Bazaar. It was in fact a spectacular trip down the narrow valley to Lukla. I have walked up this valley several times and watched the helicopters flying overhead en-route to Everest Base Camp, Lobuche and Thame for sightseeing purposes – but often also for the purpose of medical evacuation.

Now it was my turn.

As we flew over the villages I had walked through with my husband and daughter less than one week before I thought about how quickly, and without warning, life can change.

At 3:55pm the helicopter flew up the Lukla runway and set down on the nearby helipad. Lakpa and the liaison officer jumped out. Lakpa’s wife, Mingma, and their two children were waiting at the helipad. She had been looking after Bijay and our daughter for more than three hours while they all waited anxiously to hear further word about us after Nima had given the initial message about my accident in Ngole.

Shortly afterward I could see Bijay quickly making his way down the footpath towards the helipad with Shanaia, our daughter, in the sling on his back. Sanghe, our second guide was coming behind with the remaining bags. Watching them coming towards the helicopter, after all that had happened today, I felt myself losing emotional control.

 

Aerial view of the town of Lukla, with the famous sloping runway - built by Sir Edmund Hilary in 1962.

Aerial view of the town of Lukla, with the famous sloping runway – built by Sir Edmund Hilary in 1962.

 

Bijay came up and squeezed my hand and asked a few brief questions about the extent of the break in my leg as this had not been fully communicated by Nima this morning. Two-year-old Shanaia regarded me with a mixture of fear and recognition and burst into tears. The rest of our belongings were placed in the very back of the helicopter. Bijay climbed into the helicopter on my right side with Shanaia on his lap. She was still very wary of me but with my bruised, dirty, and probably pale face, this was scarcely surprising.

Since the phone call from Nima was received by Bijay at 11:45am this morning, their lives had been thrown into chaos as well and Shanaia had missed her afternoon sleep. Just before the helicopter took off Lakpa came up to where I was sitting in the back seat and briefly took my hand. I couldn’t say anything; the intense gratitude I felt couldn’t be expressed. Lakpa and his family lived in Lukla so they were not coming with us, but Sanghe was. Lakpa stepped back and Sanghe jumped in slamming the door of the helicopter behind him. ‘Ready to go?, asked the pilot. As the helicopter rose for the second time we all waved to Lakpa and his family standing below.

Just over a week ago when we were staying in Lukla, I’d had a strange premonition that we would be returning to Kathmandu, not in a plane but in a helicopter. Now, here we were, rising above Lukla and starting our journey down the Khumbu valley in the little black helicopter. Lakpa, who has had quite a lot of experience flying in helicopters, told me that you feel turbulence less in a helicopter. I was certainly glad to hear that.

It was 4:00pm when we took off from Lukla which meant we had one hour left of daylight. It was cloudy too, and we flew over one ridge after another, at times with fairly limited visibility. Normally this would stress me: despite having clocked up more than 250 flights on small planes in Nepal since 2005, I remain a nervous flyer. Today though, I had other things on my mind. I couldn’t talk much to Bijay who was preoccupied with our daughter who was crying because she didn’t like the loud noise of the helicopter. Eventually, she fell asleep. Sanghe held my hand with both of his which was a great comfort to me, although in retrospect, I am not sure whether this was for me or for him! Whereas Lakpa was rational, focused and on the whole, very emotionally controlled, Sanghe was the opposite and appeared to be fighting tears for much of the ride back to Kathmandu.

Before we left Lukla, the helicopter pilot told us that he could probably fly directly to hospital as it had its own rooftop helipad. By the time we reached Kathmandu though, it was just before 5pm which was the helicopter curfew so we had to land at the airport. There was an ambulance waiting there belonging to the Basundhara Hospital. It was there to take us to Basundhara or any other hospital we wanted to go to.  Once landed, the helicopter pilot wished me the best for my recovery.

It took almost 10 minutes for me to get from the back of the helicopter into the rear of the ambulance, even though the two were only about five metres apart. First came the transfer down from the helicopter to the wheelchair three feet below, then about the same height from the wheelchair up into the ambulance. My tolerance for pain and stress was running out. While there seemed to be quite a few people milling about all ready to help, I didn’t want someone grabbing my leg without knowing the nature and extent of the injury. Eventually, I was moved out of the helicopter and into the wheelchair with the help of at least five people, the ambulance driver holding my leg. After lengthy deliberations about how to then get me into the ambulance, Sanghe solved the problem by just picking me up himself and putting me on the seat. Then he, Bijay and Shanaia got in, the ambulance driver started the engine and we set off.

The ride across Kathmandu on inadequately sealed, pot-holed roads proved to be more challenging than the helicopter, or even the doko basket. Sanghe tried to help by holding my leg for me but I was regularly crying out in pain as we drove over speed humps, swerved to avoid hitting motorcycles and negotiated rough patches on the road. It was office peak time too, and the roads were choked with traffic. It was a long slow trip across town and by the time we arrived at the hospital I had just about had enough of everything.

 

Traffic in downtown Kathmandu. Now try getting through this in an ambulance.

Traffic in downtown Kathmandu. Now try getting through this in an ambulance.

 

I have lived in Nepal for eight years and one of my worst fears has always been that I would get suddenly ill or have an accident serious enough to need to go to a Nepali hospital.

Hospitals in Nepal don’t have a particularly good reputation and there are only a few in Kathmandu that offer anything close to world class quality health care. Rumors are that many hospitals are understaffed, particularly with specialist doctors; diagnoses are sometimes completely incorrect; drugs are overprescribed and post-operative infection rates are high.

Most foreigners who get ill in Nepal, whether foreign expats or short term travelers, choose to visit the high quality CIWEC travel clinic if they have medical problems that are reasonably straight-forward to treat. CIWEC is well-staffed with both foreign and Nepali GP’s and visiting specialists. They have laboratory, ultrasound, and x-ray facilities. There is in-patient capacity for a small number of patients and the clinic has upgraded to include both a High Dependency Unit and an Intensive CU. It handles medical complaints ranging from traveler’s diarrhoea, to altitude sickness, to tropical diseases, to frost-bite. Currently, however, it does not have capacity for more complex surgical procedures. Travelers with more complex medical problems are either referred to other hospitals in Kathmandu, or are medically evacuated out of the country to Bangkok or Singapore.

Going to CIWEC for treatment was not an option because, being a compound fracture, the injury was almost certainly going to require surgery. We were given the choice of nominating any hospital we liked to go to that evening but since we had little knowledge of what were the best options outside of CIWEC, we had no real preference. Basundhara Hospital was a relatively new private hospital and we were told that the facilities and medical care there was good by Kathmandu standards, so we agreed to go there.

 

A typical Kathmandu ambulance.

A typical Kathmandu ambulance.

 

Arriving at the Basundhara Emergency Department, the ambulance was met by what seemed – to me – a large number of people who immediately started milling around when the ambulance door was opened. Some were dressed in hospital attire, but many were dressed in street clothes. Someone had a wheelchair for me. Willing hands stretched forward to help me out of the ambulance but I fought them off. Once again I was terrified that in the process of being moved out of the ambulance my leg would not be adequately supported and I would be caused unnecessary pain. One junior doctor suggested that I simply step out of the ambulance into the wheelchair!  I said, “if I could do that I wouldn’t even be in an ambulance!”

It was 5:45pm when we arrived: eight hours since the accident. Apart from the makeshift splint, I still had not received any medical treatment or painkillers. Up until then I had been more or less emotionally controlled, but in the back of that ambulance I lost it and flatly refused to let anyone touch me. I had been holding my leg together since the accident and didn’t trust anyone else with this responsibility, not even hospital staff. My husband told the group that only the relevant staff with experience in moving injured patients should be there to help.

I finally allowed myself to be assisted into the wheelchair but once again my injured leg was wrenched causing a cry of pain from me and my distressed little daughter to again burst into anguished tears.

 

The author - exhausted and in extreme pain - arrives at the hospital. Finally!

The author – exhausted and in extreme pain – arrives at the hospital. Finally!

 

The emergency room was small with only four little cubicles roughly separated by curtains, but it was clean and bright. I was quite agitated when we came inside and treated each person with suspicion until they explained who they were and what they wanted to do. A couple of doctors asked me how I sustained my injury and after I briefly explained the story, one said “oh, so you tripped over while trekking?”  This comment only served to annoy me further.

Then I met Lakpa Sherpa (different person to the one who carried me down in a doko today), a senior employee of the hospital who was responsible for promoting the facility and dealing directly with the insurance companies of foreign patients. He took a photo of me with my makeshift splint to support my travel insurance claim and then listened to my story in detail. He fully empathized with what I was telling him about how I was transported off the glacier as he had also trekked in those high places and understood the significance of my trip down in the doko.  It meant a lot to me that someone in that room really did understand what I had gone through and only then did I start to calm down. A doctor then gave me both a tetanus shot and finally, a pain-killer.

I then had the opportunity to finally empty my bladder which had been giving me pain since 11 am this morning. Emergency room staff seemed to think this was of a lower priority but I insisted I had to go and a commode on wheels was finally brought into the cubicle. At least three people were still standing there watching and the curtains were half open and it was again up to my husband to shoo people out to give me privacy. Being able to empty my bladder lifted my spirits tremendously as well as relieving the pain.

 

The emergency department at Louise's hospital (pic supplied by Hospital)

The emergency department at Louise’s hospital (pic supplied by Hospital)

 

Then I was ready to have x-rays. One of the junior emergency room doctors and the young man who turned out to be the radiologist said to me; “we need to find out if there is anything actually wrong with your leg.” My irritation came flooding back again. I said to them, “when my leg was pulled out from under the rock, the lower part was hanging limp at a right-angle to the rest of it – I think you will find something wrong.”

I was wheeled down into the basement to the x-ray department. In contrast with the crowds in the emergency room, there were only three people there – the radiologist, a technician and a nurse. The radiologist said that they would leave the makeshift splint on for the first x-ray until the basic nature of the injury was established. Only if there was ‘something wrong’ would they remove the splint.

They left the room but were back almost immediately and the radiologist said, “We need to remove the splint”. They were very gentle. They unwrapped the splint carefully (by this stage, the bleeding from the wound had gone through three inches of wrapped material) then bandaged my leg and placed it in a temporary immobilizing split before taking multiple x-rays. I got to see the x-rays myself later – both tibia and fibula were completely snapped about two inches above the ankle. The broken tibia bone had pierced through the skin creating a wound an inch across. My leg would require surgery to realign the broken bones.

When I returned to the emergency room I found that Bijay and Shanaia had disappeared.  I was told they were up in the hospital ward where I was about to be transferred. For reasons I didn’t understand, the surgery would not take place until the next day around lunchtime so in the meantime I would simply be admitted. Bijay re-appeared and then I was moved in my wheelchair into a very narrow lift and into the ward.

I actually had a suite of rooms that included my own room with its bed, lounge and TV, my bathroom and then an adjoining room with another lounge and kitchen facilities, plus guest bathroom. Lakpa said later on, ‘We only give this room to foreigners who come here with serious injuries and are well-covered by insurance.’  Shanaia was already there with Sarita, Bijay’s sister, who had come to offer support. They were all planning to stay the night in the hospital. One characteristic of many Nepali hospitals is that they don’t limit the number of relatives you can have staying with you, as long as they can all fit in and don’t hamper treatment.

That evening saw a continuous flow of medical staff into the room, each one of them introducing themselves so I at least knew why they were there. A more senior orthopaedic specialist came in and then spent almost half an hour dressing and re-splinting my leg. By the time he finished my leg was encapsulated in a splint from mid-thigh to toes. He did a good job – the leg was warm and comfortable and with little pain right up until the surgery the following day. He also told me that the way an injury was managed in the immediate aftermath of an accident was critical to a full recovery. I don’t know whether he got to see or hear about our makeshift splint. He also said that I needed to start antibiotics immediately because the wound on my leg had been caused by protrusion of the bone.

Later, I had a visit from the most senior orthopaedic surgeon who would do the next day’s operation. Bijay in fact knew him as he had treated his own mother for two separate injuries previously. He had a good reputation. He told me that he expected to put a pin through the tibia and a plate against the fibula and that the operation would take about an hour and a half. I suspected that the reason for the delay in surgery was partly due to reluctance of surgeons to work at night (I still hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since this morning so this wasn’t the reason) and partly because we were waiting for the insurance company to give approval for the surgery to go ahead. For reasons that I also didn’t understand, I also had an ECG that evening to look at my heart rate as well.

I was about as comfortable as could be expected overnight. I was finally given permission to eat and drink, although I wasn’t able to take in much, and I was told I had to fast again from 6:00am the following morning. Due to the incredibly stressful day, it took Bijay and Sarita close to two hours to calm Shanaia down enough for her to sleep. I then had nursing staff coming in regularly doing basic observations and checking the IV. After the events of the day my mind wouldn’t rest either and it was quite late before we were all able to get some sleep. Sanghe our guide, had gone back to his Kathmandu home hours before, but last thing before trying to get to bed, Bijay rang Lakpa in Lukla to see how he was. Lakpa said he had just gone to bed and that he was physically and emotionally ‘finished’ after the events of the day. He suggested Bijay ring again after my surgery.

Next morning, Sarita and Nani left for home. Bijay went back home to bring some supplies for us such as clothes, toiletries etc as he planned on staying in the hospital (sleeping on the couch) for as long as I was there. Given that I had already gone without a proper shower for three days when the accident happened, I was really keen for some kind of wash before proceeding with the surgery at mid-day. The nurse said that I could have a bed wash and wash my hair – but first, I would need to have all of my pubic hair shaved off! I actually had to stop myself from laughing and insisted on knowing why. I told them I was having surgery to correct broken bones in my lower leg, not gynaecology-related surgery. The nurse left for a while, came back and told me it wasn’t necessary after all. I had my bed bath and started to feel like a new woman.

 

**  Warning: The following paragraphs are not for the faint-hearted. Contains graphic representations of surgical procedures  **

 

After this I also had visits from the assistant orthopaedic surgeon who would be there during the operation and the anaesthetist who told me I would have a spinal tap this afternoon rather than a general anaesthetic. I had mixed feelings about this – you recover quicker from the former but I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to be awake throughout. I also had a repeat ECG and a heart ultrasound. I was told that the result from last night indicated some irregularities and they just wanted to check the results again. A senior cardiologist came in, asked me a series of questions about whether I had suffered any breathlessness during the trek (which you invariably do while walking uphill at altitude), and then said my heart was okay and I was ‘cleared’ for surgery.

I was told the surgery was going to start at least 30 minutes late, however, I was still taken down to the operating theatre about 12:30pm as per the original schedule. Bijay came down as far as the door.

I ended up waiting in the operating theatre for almost 20 minutes with nothing much happening. It’s so different from operating theatres in Australia, where you may only wait a couple of minutes for the surgeon to arrive then things get going very quickly.

The anaesthetist arrived then and I was given a spinal injection to eliminate all sensation in my legs. In Australia, when I had my C-section, I had two nurses holding me still while they inserted the spinal injection. Here they just told me to sit still but left me sitting unsupported. Eventually the spinal injection started to work, the surgeons arrived and things got underway.

 

The operating theatre. (pic supplied by hospital)

The operating theatre. (pic supplied by hospital)

 

There seemed to be a huge number of people in the operating theatre and for some reason, the scene reminded me more of a panel beaters rather than an operating theatre. People were wheeling around bits of equipment, doctors inserting rods and nails, and I also heard the sound of drilling. The surgeons were good, updating me regularly about what they were doing. The anaesthetist was my main support person, checking on how I was going every 10 minutes or so.

But it all took so much longer than planned as problems were encountered while inserting the plate in my fibula (small bone).

Apparently they tried out one for size but it wasn’t the right fit which meant sterilizing and then trying another. At around the three-hour mark, the assistant surgeon was trying to use a small hammer to insert some small nails into the main pin in my tibia bone and I actually felt some pain.

At this stage, I’d had about enough. I demanded to know what was going on; why was it taking so long? I found I couldn’t lie there passively anymore and I was actually starting to think they had stuffed things up. I had an uncomfortable pain in my back and I was finding the whole thing a distressing ordeal.

At this stage, the anaesthetist said, ‘I can give you a general anaesthetic if you like and then you can sleep through the rest of the surgery.’ I agreed. After the anaesthetic was given, I had a strange Alice in Wonderland experience for a few minutes, where I swear I met the Mad Hatter, and then drifted off.

I ended up drifting awake some hours later. Obviously I wasn’t in the operating theatre anymore but in what Australian hospitals refer to as the Recovery Unit. Here in this Nepali hospital they refer to the Recovery unit as the ‘Intensive Care Unit’. And unlike in Australia where you remain in Recovery for an hour or two, depending on the nature of your surgery, they ended up keeping me in this ‘ICU’ for 24 hours. And it was not as if the surgery had gone badly – apart from the fact that it had taken four hours in the end – nor that I was in any way critically ill. It was standard practice to keep post-operative patients there for a long time.

 

*    *     *     *     *

 

As opposed to the private room I had back in the ward, I was away in the corner of the ICU/recovery unit with other patients in two out of the remaining three beds. I had a pulse monitor on one finger and a blood pressure machine attached to the other arm. This automatically recorded pulse and BP readings at regular intervals, and must have been connected to a monitor at the main nurse’s station since I really didn’t see many nurses come in. I was not given a call button so I couldn’t call to the nurses when I needed assistance. I asked to see Bijay, who was staying up in my room in the ward, several times during the evening but kept being told over and over again by the nurses that they had tried to contact him and that he had ‘gone out’.

I was receiving fluids through an IV but the nurses must have set the drip rate very low. I had been told by the doctor I could have something to drink approximately four hours after the surgery, but this had either not been properly conveyed or it was being ignored by my carers. By now, I was dehydrated to the point of feeling ill. It was only after Bijay’s insistence, hours later, that the doctor was called to clarify the issue and I was finally able to have some water.

As the evening progressed, my pain threshold was to be tested once again. I was told that I had to stay lying down because I had had the spinal tap. But it also became apparent to me around that time that in addition to my broken leg, I had suffered an injury to either my rib or muscles near the rib. This was causing me so much pain after the surgery that I was finding it nearly impossible to stay lying flat. Requests for assistance for this problem were ignored by staff, who just continued to insist I had to lie flat.  When it became impossible for me lie down because of the pain, a number of the nursing staff – and one junior doctor in particular – became very rude and disrespectful towards me, both directly to my face, but also while talking about me to others.  

Two nurses actually stood over me, discussing me in Nepali and saying I was ‘difficult’. I overheard one nurse making the completely false claim that I was continuously demanding food while I was there (chicken and pasta according to her). The junior doctor in question approached my requests for pain relief and some water with the comment “what do you want now?” in a very rude tone of voice. A second junior doctor on-call that night suggested to Bijay late in the evening that the reason why I was not responding to the pain medicine I was being given was because I “was clearly an alcoholic”.

 

The ICU at Louise's Kathmandu hospital. File image supplied courtesy of the hospital.

The ICU at Louise’s Kathmandu hospital. File image supplied courtesy of the hospital.

 

At around midnight, I couldn’t stand the situation anymore: the pain, the dehydration and the isolation. I got really upset and started to cry, which resulted in both my blood pressure and my pulse rate soaring. This set off a ‘code red’ response on the monitor, which, in turn, sounded an alarm around the ward. Instantly, two nurses arrived at my bedside and miraculously, only three minutes later, Bijay was there as well. I told him what was going on and in a calm and controlled voice, he started addressing some of the things I so desperately needed.

The assistant surgeon was contacted and thanks to his intervention, I was finally allowed to drink some water.

Bijay denied the junior doctor’s claim about my being an alcoholic who did not respond to pain-killers and the dosage was soon increased slightly.

The bed was raised a few inches, which took the pressure off the injury in my chest.

Bijay assured me that he was staying in my room up in the ward, and that staff were obviously not trying hard enough to contact him when requested. Having also had enough of the situation, he confronted the staff on their lack of respect: despite the fact that they were talking about me in Nepali, he informed them I understood every word.

This last revelation shocked the nursing staff, who assumed I couldn’t understand a thing.

Eventually I was able to go to sleep that night, and somehow too, made it through the morning and into the early afternoon of the following day. The senior surgeon came to visit in the morning as well and reiterated what other staff were saying about the spinal tap and needing to stay lying down. I said that was fine but I also expected staff at least to try to assist with the pain I was experiencing in my chest area rather than dismissing it. At 4:00pm I was finally taken upstairs to the ward. Why I needed to stay such a long time down there I will never understand. It had been a nightmare – almost worse than the accident in some respects, since I found the people at the hospital were so unkind.

Once back in the ward, things improved. I was still somewhat shaken by my experiences in the ICU and it took a while before I started to develop a more balanced view of the hospital. Another challenge we encountered too, was that the hospital ‘banned’ children from visiting, whether they were patients’ children or visitors. This meant that every time I wanted to see Shanaia, we had to seek formal approval.  I am really not sure how they could justify that rule, given that I was staying in a private room. Responses to requests for quite small – but important – things were very slow.

Despite being moved from the ICU/Recovery unit back to my room on the ward, I continued to encounter constant battles that – on the surface seemed inconsequential, but given everything that I’d been through – I just didn’t need to be dealing with.

On my second day post-surgery, it was clear that the bandages wrapping my leg were too tight, causing pain and discoloration in my foot. Re-applying the dressing and bandages to relieve the pressure could have been done quickly by a junior doctor or even a more experienced nurse but instead it had to wait until one of the senior doctors was able to do it – which turned out to be a full day later.

The cannula in my right arm for the purpose of administering IV antibiotics started causing pain and slowly a red rash began making its way from my wrist up the length of my arm. As with most things during my stay in the hospital, I was told that attending to this would need to wait until later when the doctor could have a look at it. I pushed much harder on this issue though, and before long one of the nursing sisters came and re-inserted a new cannula in my left arm.

On top of all this, the dosage of my pain relief meds seemed to be inadequate for much of the time. I was in far more pain than I needed to be and for longer than I should have been.

Despite all this, there were good things about the hospital too. The ward was kept clean and tidy and my room was comfortable and warm. Nursing sisters were generally kind and gentle. The surgical team – particularly the main surgeon who visited most days – was thorough, courteous and gave very rational explanations and recommendations for treatment.

By this stage my mum, Sue, had arrived (in rather a hurry) from Australia. Because she had been employed as a registered nurse for much of her working life, the senior surgeon was willing to discharge me early. He agreed that Mum could administer IV antibiotics and change my dressings at home.

The young woman responsible for liaising with my very responsive and obliging (Austrian-based) insurance company was efficient and helpful. I had visits from both the anaesthetist and even the radiologistl both of whom just popped in to say hello. Two days after surgery, the hospital physiotherapist visited and assisted me, very painfully, into a standing position on my good leg and then taught me how to move around on my new crutches. Thanks to the good sterilisation techniques they used in the operating theatre, and wound management afterwards I avoided any post-operative wound infections, which was a welcome change of luck!

It didn’t take me long though to want to go home. It seemed after a couple of days that the only reasons why I was still in the hospital were their very conservative approach to infection control and my continued need for IV antibiotics. Other than that, I didn’t see much of the nurses at all. We started to advocate for my discharge, and on the evening of Thursday, January 9th, I got to go home.

 

On the mend: Louise Currie and daughter Shanaia in Kathmandu, November 2014. (pic: courtesy Louise Currie collection)

On the mend: Louise Currie and daughter Shanaia in Kathmandu, November 2014. (pic: courtesy Louise Currie collection)

 

Apart from my family and the doctor, the most important people to me in those initial few days were those who were intimately involved in the drama of the accident and to whom I didn’t need to explain anything. Mingma, our trek operator, and Sanghe our guide, both came to visit at the hospital before I left. Lakpa’s wife also rang me and said that their family loved ours and they were so glad I was going to be okay.

 

Sanghe - who assisted Louise in the helicopter rescue and transportation to the hospital. 2013 (pic: Louise Currie collection)

Sanghe – who assisted Louise in the helicopter rescue and transportation to the hospital. 2013 (pic: Louise Currie collection)

 

Perhaps the most important person in all of this was Lakpa Sherpa, whom I finally got to talk to properly about 10 days after the accident. The first part of this story is as much his, as it is mine.

 

The Author and Lakpa Sherpa in 'happier' times. (pic: Louise Currie collection)

The Author and Lakpa Sherpa in ‘happier’ times. (pic: Louise Currie collection)

 

 

 

About Louise Currie

Originally from Australia, although I have been living in Nepal since 2005. I worked for a long time for an international aid agency in Kathmandu. I am interested in community development and having adventures in remote places. I am married with one daughter.

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