RSS

Trek to Everest Base Camp

I’m finally managing to update everyone from the village of Gorek Shep which is just 2.5h from Everest Base Camp. It’s amazing that there is mobile phone reception here at 5180m above sea level when there was none all the way from Phortse. We managed to catch a glimpse of Everest finally before the clouds started moving in during our walk from Lobuche to Gorek Shep this morning. The temperature is below 0 deg C in the day now even though the sun is shining bright. My hands are really cold as I’m typing this post on my laptop. The further we trekked up the valley and the higher we get en route to base camp, the more expensive everything got. As I said, everything here, from food to equipment to building materials has to be carried manually up the hills. Thus prices of food and drinks are more expensive than that in Singapore. Even a litre of hot water costs about 5 SGD. Battery charging costs about 6 SGD per hour. Hot showers are available but at about 15 SGD per 20litres of hot water and a simple meal would cost close to 10 SGD. There are just so many trekkers, porters, Sherpa and yaks ferrying loads to and from Everest base camp. From a distance, the animal and human traffic looks like ants walking on a trail carrying their precious supplements towards their nest. It has been difficult getting lodges to stay at especially at the higher villages. The whole village of Gorek Shep was full or pre booked when we arrived that we’ve to settle for a lodge with a dorm room system with no blankets. I’m glad that I’ll finally be reaching base camp tmr and can eat, drink and sleep in comfort without worrying about the price.

The 3 of us with a big Mani stone in the background on the way to Phakding from Lukla

Yesterday marked 1 month since my arrival in Nepal. Time has flown by so fast and I’m about to embark on phase 2 of my Himalayan adventure – the Everest expedition proper. I picked up Dr Gayathri and Dr Shuwei from Lukla airport after a 2 day walk down from Phortse about a week ago. Then we began our slow ascent up the Khumbu valley with Everest Base Camp as the destination in mind. Since it was Shuwei’s 1st experience at altitude, we decided to play it cautiously and ascend slowly, having frequent stops and trying not to ascend more than 300m a day.

The highest airstrip in the world. Syangboche (3720m)

A visit to Phortse was mandatory since Gayathri would be spending most of her time after sending me off at EBC running the clinic which was set up. We spent 2 nights there. I introduced Shuwei and Gayathri to the villagers, her home stay hosts and her translators. We visited the clinic and unpacked and stock took all the medical resupplies that they had brought from Singapore and Kathmandu. That took a whole day’s work. Another 80kg of medications and equipment was added to the pre existing medical supplies. We also visited some villagers to pass them some special equipment and medications that we not available in the region. We hoped that our small gestures made at least a small difference in their lives.

A visit to Kunde hospital with Dr Kami

It had snowed in Phortse the previous night and it made carrying the medication resupply bag to the clinic extremely difficult

The gentleman with stroke who had requested for a larger object to grip so that his fingers would not be clenched up so tightly. A request to Gayathri in Singapore and she brought over some tennis balls.

The previous ball the man was using compared to the tennis ball that we had brought for him

Repacking the resupplies in Phortse clinic

Kami Sherpa's home visit in Pangboche where every family member eventually became a patient

After 8 days, we’re finally at the last village before hitting base camp. The cold and the altitude have taken a toll on the 2 and they’ve agreed that the trek has definitely been tougher than they had expected. These are their thoughts.

Gayathri:

“What were mere words 4 yrs ago have manifested itself into the actually journey that I’m embarking on today. I have dreamt of trekking to EBC ever since a kid but accompanying a special someone is indeed an added bonus. Sitting at the foot of Everest, I can’t imagine Kumaran is going to climb the icy, steep peak that I can barely see. I underestimated the journey from Lukla to Everest base camp. I can’t believe Kumaran said ‘No prob. I will walk from Phortse to Lukla to pick you up’ when we were planning our trip in Singapore. He made it sound like he was walking from orchard rd to little India to pick us up. After sending Kumaran off, I will be taking over the clinic at Phortse. The altitude does take a toll on oneself. I am amazed at Kumaran’s stamina throughout. As the villagers of Phortse put it, he is not just ‘Kumaran’. He is Kumar Sherpa. He has been mistaken for our guide numerous times along our trek so far. In my eyes, he has conquered more than just summiting the peak of Everest.”

Shuwei:

“I decided that I wanted to accompany my friend, Kumaran whom we fondly know as ‘Maran’ since our secondary school days, just about two months ago; ‘we’ being  the circle of scouting friends from 01 Raffles Scout Group. I know Maran since we were Sec 1s, as fellow scouts through 01 and he will forever be a close friend and confidant from this closely knitted community that I have always appreciated till this day. Today, less than a day away from the ultimate aim of travelling to Everest Base Camp to send my scouting friend off on his remarkable journey of conquering the world’s highest peak, I reflect on the reason why I have chosen to embark on this road with him. Life is about options and opportunities. By selecting an option, we forego other opportunities that could have been taken. Being my first exposure to high altitudes, the past eight days of trekking have been a humbling experience for me. Every day’s trek is a challenge to the unaccustomed. Yet I believe in the value of this journey, albeit a short one compared to the much longer road that Maran is embarking on. This is about sending my batchmate off, someone with whom I have had the chance to work as a team for the many years we were in scouting together, someone who is bringing the Scout Group’s flag up to the peak, someone who has in his way, sought to make a difference in the lives of many others. In comparison, this gesture of mine may not be much but I hope that together, we can send a positive message to all our junior scouts in 01 – that the friendships we cultivate as 01 scouts will always stay strong, that 01 scouts will always be there for one another and that the spirit of 01 and the values inculcated in us through 01 Raffles Scout Group will always bring us through the adversities we face in our lives. No amount of words can describe the spirit of 01 that have held batches of scouts together. Similarly, no amount of words can describe the pride we have in one of our fellow scouts efforts in taking on this challenge. On a final note, I wish him success in his climb.”

Since I don’t know if there will be proper mobile connection up at EBC, I’ll promote another one of my causes in this post. After the 2nd phase of my Himalayan adventure – the Everest Expedition, I will begin the 3rd phase of my adventure in Nepal – helping out the school in the village of Gorkha. BRAND’S® has kindly agreed to sponsor up to $10k towards the school depending on the number of likes on their facebook page. Do your part to contribute towards the school in Gorkha by liking the page. Simply click on the image below (which will transport you to the BRAND’S® facebook fan page) and then click ‘like’. Each and every one of your ‘likes’ will go towards establishing a better education for the children in Gorkha.

I will write again from base camp shortly (if there is reception there)….

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Experience in Phortse Clinic

I wanted to write this entry quite some time ago but things cropped up along the way. It is nearly the end of my medical stint here in Phortse. 3 weeks as flown by so fast since my arrival in Nepal. I am really enjoying myself here and feel that locals are benefitting from me as much as I’m benefitting from them.

Some of the medical supplies I brought from Kathmandu

The past 2 weeks has become a routine for me. Waking up at 8.00am, having breakfast at 8.30am, leaving the lodge at 9.40am, taking the 10mins uphill slog covering a vertical distance of 60m from the lodge to the clinic, starting to see patients at 10am and closing the clinic at about 3pm. Usually the clouds will start pouring into the village by 3pm making everything really cold and thus no one would come by the clinic. That would be the signal for me to close and get back to the cozy comforts of my lodge. Just walking up and down from the lodge to the clinic everyday has been excellent acclimatization for me.

Every afternoon, the clouds would shroud over the village

When I first talked to the healthcare worker of Phortse when I was down in Nov last year, she told me that the max no of patients she had seen in a day was 12 and the number can plunge as low as 0 during the free days. Somehow I have never seen fewer than 10 patients in a day since I started the clinic. My busiest day was 32. I’m not complaining as I’m really enjoying the experience of running a rural clinic. I don’t know how the locals came to hear about my arrival in the clinic so quickly. The news has travelled like wildfire in the region. Villagers, even take a day’s walk from other villages to come to see me. It amazing I’ve seen over 150 patients so far when Phortse’s population is only around 400+.

The beautiful view from outside the clinic

Most of the villagers don’t have acute problems. They come to the clinic to complain about problems that they have had for years on end. At this juncture, I’m convinced that almost the whole village is plagued by knee/back pain and gastritis. ¾ of the patients walking into the clinic complain solely of musculoskeletal or gastric pains. The older they are the more chronic problems they have. Some of them come into the clinic, have a seat, and start by telling me that they can’t see for 5 years, can’t hear for 3 years, can’t eat properly for the past 10 years due to gastric pains and can’t walk properly for 20 years due to knee pain and would request something that would remedy all these problems all at once. I’ll start by telling them that I’m not god, and that I’ve only limited medications here and that I’ll see what I can do. Just by looking into their ears with an autoscope, they’ll miraculously be able to hear better. Just by giving them eye cleansing drops, they’d be able to see better. I feel that it’s an exaggerated placebo effect there being a doctor in the village and him giving out medications when no one else ever did. What ever the case may be, I still take each one of their complaints seriously as I don’t think there is a need to malinger over here and there’s definitely a problem when an 80 year lady takes a half hour uphill walk to see me.

One of the oldest women in Phortse, 90

One thing that I’ve noticed is that whatever I can or cannot do, the locals are still extremely grateful and thankful at the end of the consult. I have felt more appreciated working here for 2 weeks than working back at home for more than a year. I have felt more job satisfaction here even through I have been volunteering without any pay. No one complains about the waiting time and you can see each patient thoroughly without being pressured by the next patient waiting to be seen for a long time, there is no need to take down extra micro detailed case notes or do unnecessary investigations in a fear of litigation, you don’t have to order particular medications or perform certain procedures/tests just because the patients or their families demand you to do so, your clinical acumen is brushed up a million times as you don’t have blood tests/X-rays/MRI scans at the snap of a finger, there are no patients who think they know their own case better than you just because they have googled and read a few lines about their disease, there are no overnight calls, there aren’t that many emergencies and most of all, all the patients here appreciate what you’re doing for them because they know you are trying your best regardless of the outcome. It has been an excellent working environment if you don’t consider the freezing cold, the accessibility to shower only about once a week and the lack of any form of entertainment post office hours. After saying all this, if ones asks me to stay here, I’d have to decline as I still dearly miss family and friends back at home.

A kid trying to weight herself

No plastic bags for all her medications, so had to improvise with a large glove

Minor surgery of excision of a wart

Compression bandage for ankle sprain

Below are some memorable moments from the clinic.

The cutest most playful girl I met in Phortse

I'm not doing anything funny with this kid. He's just jumping from the cold stethoscope on his back.

A home visit to one of the old men in the village. It turned out to be a family affair and when the photo was taken, even the sick guy propped up in bed to pose

When I was in Phortse the last time, I had received a request for a proper light weight stretcher to facilitate the transportation of any seriously ill individuals to Kunde hospital which is a day’s walk away. Their reason for this request was due to their current stretcher facility comprising of 2 heavy bamboo poles tied together with a piece of cloth. They were very appreciative when they saw the new stretcher I had brought over (courtesy of Dr Donald Foo who went through great means to acquire the stretcher for me).

Phortse's previous stretcher made of 2 bamboo poles with a cloth binding them

Dawa and the rest of the village were delighted with the new stretcher I had brought along

There was this lady who came to the clinic complaining that her eye sight was getting worse ever since she got her new pair of glasses from Kathmandu 2 years ago. She said her vision was so bad now, she could see clearer without her glasses than with their aid. This was rather peculiar. When I took a look at the glasses, it was smeared with dirt and grime and the lady confessed that she wiped her glasses with her fingers (which were super filthy) as she did not have any piece of clean clothing on her. I took sterile gauze, wet it with some soapy water and cleaned her glasses for about 5 mins to a new shine. She was so thankful she could see perfectly upon wearing her new cleaned glasses. I gave her the pack of sterile gauze so that she could continue to have perfect eyesight.

The lady who could see after I cleaned her glasses with a clean gauze

There was this other case of a man saying he had gotten progressively death in both ears over the span of 6 years. (I was wondering how he could still have a verbal conversation with us then.). I was thinking that it must have been an old untreated ear infection, just like the other villagers, which might have caused his deafness. When I proceeded to take a look into his ear, I could not insert the autoscope even halfway into his ear canal. It was full of wax, or so I thought. I went onto syringing the ear (using high pressure water to flush the ear of debris) but little came out. So I went onto using tweezers to manually pick the wax out. I was totally grossed out when this 1x1cm huge dirt ball with hairs sticking out came out of his ear. Even the patient was shocked. I had just removed 6 years of dirt, debris and wax and just like that, his hearing was restored! It felt weird but really good at the same time to have restored hearing in the patient with a simple act like that.

The removal of 6 years of ear wax and debris and the guy could finally hear after pulling this eeky looking thing out of his ear

The biggest drama that happened over the 2 weeks here had me trekking out from Phortse for 3 days to see a sick patient. A man rushed into my clinic and said he needed pain killers for his father who lived in a village a day’s walk from Phortse. When I questioned more about the condition of his father, the son could say little other than that his 70 year old father had woken up one day with extreme pain in his knee and could not walk (previously able to do so unassisted). Since there was no mobile phone reception or any land lines in this village and since his condition was deteriorating, the patient’s wife had to walk about 3 hours to a nearby village to use their land line to call their son in Phortse. Nothing much was communicated other than the above info. I bombarded the son with a whole array of questions but he was as clueless as me as he had heard the info form his mother. I decided to give the son (who would be visiting the dad the next day) some generic painkillers and a list of questions for him to ask and find out from his father.

2 days later, the son shows up in my clinic and said that the analgesia made the pain better but the father still was only able to limp around the house with a stick. He then told me that the pain was not in his knee but his left hip. All the questions that I had requested the son to ask the dad were somewhat redundant after the source of the pain had shifted away from the knee. One thing that the son told me (that I had asked him to enquire as well) was worrying. The father had been running a low grade fever. Pain in the hip, inability to weight bear in a short period, restricted range of movement due to pain and FEVER! Alarm bells started ringing and I thought of septic arthritis (infection of a joint space which could potentially destroy the joint if not treated early) which is quite dangerous. I requested the father to be brought to Kunde hospital for further investigations and treatment but the son said that would be extremely difficult as Kunde was 2 day’s walk away and with the father not being able to walk and no one being to help him out, it would be out of the question. I had to see the father personally myself to provide a sound diagnosis and management plan.

Since his father’s village (Charchung) was 2 day’s walk from Phortse (to and fro) and along the Gokyo trek (a beautiful trekking path just adjacent to the more popular Everest Base Camp trek) and since I had not done this trek before, I decided to use this opportunity as an acclimatization hike and add an extra day to complete the whole Gokyo trek – Chola pass trail and return to Phortse after which. Normally the Gokyo trek – Chola pass combi would take an unacclimatized person, 5 days to complete but it took us 3 days since I had already been spending 2 weeks at high altitude.

The trek was simply magnificently beautiful. All the lakes and waterfalls were still frozen has winter had only slowly started easing out. No regrets adding a day and completing the whole trail. On day 2 of the trek, we took a detour to complete our main objective – to see the father. We trekked down to this isolated yak housing village which I later found had only a population of 3 during the winter months. I was going to visit 2/3 of the whole village (the father and the mother).

2 Brothers whom I met along the Gokyo trek who were on their way to Phortse to see me. Unfortunately they had to turn back when i told them that the clinic would be closed for 3 days. They eventually came back when I was back in Phortse.

The beautiful frozen Gokyo lake

Bright orange ducks standing on one leg along the Gokyo trek. Maybe it was too cold to place both feet on the frozen lake

The village of Charchung of population 3 during the winter months

It was a modest shed. I and Dawa were cordially invited for numerous cups of tea as a gesture of kindness for us to have come all the way there to see the patient. There was no bed or place that the father could lie down, so the mother took a mat (that they usually use for covering leaks on the roof) and placed it on the ground of the cowshed, and there instantly, the dung filled dark cowshed had transformed into my examination room. The moment, the patient undressed, the problem was obvious. It was Shingles along the Lumbar 5 nerve root distribution. The son never mentioned anything about a rash (even though I had asked him to find out about that). The father was experiencing pain along the whole nerve root distribution and that accounted for the pain in his hip, knee, calf and ankle (which was reported truncated). It all made sense the moment I saw the lesions but I hadn’t brought any acyclovir (medication for treatment of Shingles). I had just brought augmentin and cefalexin to cover for any intra articular sepsis. In a way, I was relieved it wasn’t septic arthritis or anything very serious. The father would eventually recover with or without medications (though the acyclovir would speed up recovery with less pain) but I gave him the augmentin anyway for what its worth since I had already brought it with me (to cover for secondary skin infections form the burst lesion perhaps?).

My examination room - a mat placed inside a cowshed

The man turned out to have Shingles along L5 dermatomal distribution

If you want to build anything in the Khumbu region, there's no other way but to carry the materials up painstakingly step by step

I will be running the clinic for another 2 more days and will then proceed back to Lukla. There I shall be fetch Dr Gayathri and Dr Shuwei who will be bringing along resupplies. We will be visiting Dr Kami at Kunde hospital to discuss about further medical voluntarism in the Khumbu region and will then be proceeding to Phortse to deposit the new medical supplies. The 2 of them will be following me to bid farewell at Everest Base Camp. Dr Gayathri will then travel back down to Phortse to continue with the medical work there.

For myself, there at Everest Base Camp, I will start the next phase and the main part of my adventure – my Everest Expedition.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Finally in Phortse and the Khumbu Health Care System

I’m finally writing from Phortse. It has taken almost a week to get to this remote village in the midst of the Khumbu valley at the start of the Gokyo trek. Surprisingly, the 3G internet connectivity here is faster than that in KTM. I can’t say the same thing however for the normal mobile phone connectivity which gets disconnected every few minutes. Phortse is an isolated village at an elevation of 3810m atop a spur projected into the Khumbu valley. The locals live on terrace farming of potatoes and buckwheat – all that grows on this barren sandy earth of the Himalayan highlands. I’m living in the company of Danaru Sherpa, a 53 year old, who’s a 9 time Everest summiteer. I met him during last year’s Cho Oyu expedition when I climbed with IMG. Similar to how no one recognizes Clark Kent with his thick black spectacles, its funny how these Sherpa superheroes engage Everest during spring and become potato farmers in winter. No one would even take a second look at these tiny men as they plough their land planting potatoes as the hordes of trekkers wisp past the village. The humility and strength of these great men is far beyond one can perceive.

Danuru Sherpa, 9 times Everest sumitteer and father of 3 holding up a plaque presented by Sir Edmund Hillary

Climbing Everest is just a job for these Sherpas. No guts nor glory involved. Its something that has to be done, so that they can feed their families and send their children to school. When you ask them why they suffer and risk their lives to climb, their simple reply is “I climb so that my children do not have to climb”. When one does the Everest Base Camp trek in the Khumbu valley, they will need to stay in teahouses from day to day. There, they will notice, hung proudly on the walls, will be the photos and certificates of the children of the owners of the respective teahouses. The fathers climb, the mothers look after the teahouse and their family land and with whatever that is earned, the children are sent to the best schools all around the world. They risk their lives to provide the best for their children. Photos from Australia, US, UK and the degrees with which the Sherpa children graduated from, line the walls. The Sherpa are simple minded family oriented friendly people. I respect them for coming from no where, working hard and self educating themselves with the necessary skills for entertaining tourists/trekkers/climbers and making a living out of it. Most importantly, I respect them for recognizing the value of education and wanting to give the best for their children despite all the hardship. With all that said, its still sad to know that the average Sherpa climbing guide, earns less than the average Nepalese citizen.

 

Sherpa children along the trek

My last piece of luggage arrived in Lukla by noon on Friday. I was thrilled with that until I opened my bag. 2 of the Motilium medication bottles had broke and 500ml of the sticky liquid had coated nearly all of the equipment inside. Further more, the broken glass had damaged some of medical equipment and my duffle bag as well. So much for having chosen a waterproof duffle when in fact, it had prevented the liquid from quietly draining out of the bag. I had to spend 2h cleaning the stuff inside. The cardboard boxes holding the rubber gloves and the surgical masks were all soaked and had ripped open. I had to duct tape all of it back together. At the end of the day, it looked totally unpresentable and unacceptable as medical equipment. I had to condemn some of the boxes.

 

As we walked uphill in the terrible terrain to Kunde hospital to meet Dr Kami from Namche, I recollected this amusing incident that happened in Lukla when I landed. I was waiting for my other pieces of luggage to arrive when this tall lanky man dressed in a rather formal attire (for trekking) with a thick British accent deplaned and stood by his luggage waiting for his porter to arrive. His baggage turned out to be a Samsonite suitcase with a handle and rollers for easy transport … in an environment like a hotel lobby that is. Obviously he had never trekked in Nepal before and went onto ask his porter why he was tying the suitcase with ropes (the way the Sherpa porters carry loads with their heads). He pulled up the handle and innocently asked “why not we just roll it along?”. If only the poor chap knew what he had gotten himself into and the terrain that lay ahead of him.

 

The majestic Ama Dablam seen from the village of Kunde. Never getting sick of it even after seeing it a million times.

We reached the village of Kunde, with the magnificent view of Mt Ama Dablam in the distance. Looking at it for the umpteenth time now, I was still awed at its beauty and couldn’t believe that I had summitted that majestic peak. I and my 3 porters marched into Kunde hospital bearing gifts of medical equipment for Dr Kami and his hospital staff. There Dr Kami explained in detail the health system in the Khumbu region.

 

The medical gifts that we bore to Kunde hospital

Dr Kami and team delighted to receive our equipment

The Kunde hospital was set up in 1966 by Sir Edmund Hilary. This was after he climbed Everest and saw the plight of the Sherpa people in the region. He 1st set up the school in Khumjung before the hospital. After many trials and tribulations, the hospital still stands strong today with funding by the Himalayan Trust, a non profit organization based in Canada. It recently set up out reach clinics in 4 nearby villages, Thame, Monjo, Phortse and Pangboche. They trained some of the locals from these villages in KTM for 16 months before they were made to run each of the clinics as health care assistants. These outreach clinics were intended to help the locals seek medical attention for simple conditions and to allowed them to collect medications for chronic diseases instead of having to walk 1-2 days to the Kunde hospital. All this looked very good on paper but things were very different on the ground.

 

When I first visited Phortse in Nov 11 after climbing Ama Dablam to reccee the clinic, I found out the actual situation. I linked up with the health care worker and she was describing the common symptoms she sees and the medications that she prescribes. There were very basic medications in very small quantities available. In my opinion this was not enough to run a basic clinic even for a small population of 400. Some antibiotics were at her disposal without her knowing the indications for prescription. There were simple surgical instruments lying around waiting to be brought to Kunde hospital for autoclaving (sterilization), the tap and the sink didn’t work and in general, the whole place didn’t look like a clinic to me. The locals didn’t really trust the system and chose to go to Kunde hospital (a day’s walk away) to seek help from a real doctor. Somehow the perfect system that was set up didn’t seem to have as much a positive impact on the locals as it was intended to be.

 

The whole remote village of Phortse seen from Mongla. Not many people visit Phortse as it lies away from the main trail of the Everest Base Camp trek as well as the Gokyo trek.

I came in with the mission of setting up a proper clinic in Phortse with new medication and equipment and to adequately train the health care worker such that she is more competent in rendering medical help to the villagers. Basically, I was trying to get the health care worker confident in using more medications and seeing slightly more complicated cases and at the same time to gain the trust of the people to trust the system such that everything was more sustainable once I left. However the stars had planned otherwise.

 

Dr Kami informed me that he was pretty upset with the health care worker in Phortse. She had married a man from Kathmandu and often took long vacations from the clinic to visit her husband. Recently she had gotten pregnant and chose to deliver at KTM instead of Kunde hospital (where there are adequate delivery facilities available) as even she herself did not trust the system. She had to undergo a Caesarian section and was staying in KTM till she recovered fully. This meant that she left the village of Phortse in Jan and was not going to be back till May. Even the villagers in Phortse, whom with which I spoke to later, were unhappy with her as she left them with a white elephant medical facility which was going to be locked for half a year. The 1st person I came in contact with in Phortse was a lodge owner who was sleeping wrapped up in blankets when I entered the lodge. He was ill and was still nice enough to receive me with a cup of hot milk tea. When I told him that I came to Phortse to set up the clinic, he was furious and went on rambling about the health care worker who had been chosen for medical training for the people by the people but had left them in the deep end of the pool ever since she had married the man from KTM. He had to chosen to wait out his cold rather than take a day’s walk to Kunde hospital for treatment. This seemed to be the plight of the villagers of Phortse- suffering in silence. Even Dr Kami said that the funds that they had spent on training her had been wasted. So there went my hopes of making the health clinic in Phortse sustainable by educating the health care worker. I now also had to grapple with the situation of not having any translator at the village for my clinic.

 

Cleaning up the Phortse clinic after the dust filled 3 months of lock up

Dr Kami also went on to explain that this was the similar situation in the village of Monjo. Coincidently both the healthcare workers in Monjo and Phortse were females and had conceived around the same time and had gone to KTM to deliver and had C-sections performed for their delivery. They were both recovering in KTM and thus both Monjo and Phortse had no one rendering medical assistance. Even Kunde hospital was facing a crisis. There are usually 2 doctors in the hospital at any one time thus the doctors were able to relieve each others duties when one had to return home for a short while. This time, the other doctor had so called ‘resigned’ without adequate notice and Dr Kami was stuck in Kunde hospital the whole time. He had not returned home (to his village of Thame which is 1 day’s walk away from Kunde) for more than 4 months. The whole healthcare situation in the Khumbu seemed to be in disaster during this time.

 

My assistance in Phortse clinic was received with open arms by Dr Kami. He gave his full support. Now, I and Dr Gayathri had to discuss on how we could maximize our time in the valley by trying to plug as many loopholes in the system as possible. The plan was as such. I will establish a proper clinic in Phortse and run it for 2 weeks and get the adequate contacts in the region. Dr Gayathri would then come down while I left to climb Everest and take over my duties in the clinic. Since she has a month here, she would rotate to the different villages with the different out reach clinics and educate the health care worker there (if available). She would also conduct basic health education sessions, women’s health and post natal care lessons to the villagers to establish a foundation for primary health care and make things more sustainable once we leave. Dr Gayathri might also take over the duties of Dr Kami in Kunde hospital while he retuned to his home town after a long time. There is so much that can be still done for the locals and plans are still very malleable.

 

I opened the clinic in Phortse on Monday and have been running it for 3 days already. Things are looking extremely good. I’m seeing about 18 patients a day in a span of 3h which is overwhelming for a village with a population of only 400+. The news that a doctor is in town is spreading like wild fire across the region and locals from even outside Phortse are coming to the clinic. I feel like my time here has been extremely fruitful so far and I will continue to look forward to the many more days I get to run the clinic. My experience so far will be in my next blog update.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Arrival in Nepal

The farewell in the airport was the biggest I’ve ever received. I was very touched and heart warmed by all those who turned up in the wee hours of the morning when they could have been enjoying a sleep in on a Sunday morning. Thank you to one and all who were present on the 11th.

MIR: Robert Goh, Lulin, Suling, Jonathan, Teng Jie
Scouts: Gideon, Yong Ho
Medicine OG: En Ming, Christine
Medicine Friends: Nita, Mogilan, Gowri, Shoba, Murugan, Siva (who had to leave for work after)
Special mention: Gayathri, Gaythri’s dad, Sathiyan
Family: Mom, Dad, Sis, Bro-in-law, Miruna, Uncles (1st and 2nd)
 

The whole send off gang (- my sis who was taking the photo)

Packing has been a bane so far. Packing at home started 3 weeks ago and even then, I didn’t catch a single wink on the eve of my departure. Worry worry worrying all the time about excess baggage. Baggage in the airport came up to 60kg and I had to pay excess baggage even with the 45kg that Silkair allowed out of goodwill. Collection of the 30kg of shipped medical equipment from the Nepal was also a nightmare. There was taxation of 20% of the value of the goods, even through I tried explaining to them that it was for charity. The general consulate letter in the end was of no use. People didn’t even want to take a look at the letter. After hustling for 4hours at the cargo terminal, I managed to bring the cargo back to my hotel room. My room looked as though a hurricane had swept through it. There were so many boxes, medical equipment and my own personal climbing gear lying all around in a jumble. I had to buy more medications in KTM and with that, another 2 boxes appeared in my room. I had more than 150kg of equipment to sort out within a single night!! The 3 days I spent in KTM before flying to the Khumbu valley has been almost as packed as during the days just before my flight from SIN to KTM. The worst part of it all was that I had to do all these errands alone in a foreign country without being able to speak the local language. None of these could have been done without the help of my Nepalese friends; Jangbu, Jamling and Tenzing.

3 big duffles each weighing more than 20kg but the nice staff rounded it down to 60kg.

My Hurricane swept hotel room

Money was another issue. Most places don’t accept cards and the places that do slap a 10% charge on any card transaction. Thus all my transactions had to be done in cold cash and furthermore, the biggest Nepalese bill is only 1000 Rs (equivalent to about 16 SGD). I was carrying more than 300 1k Nepalese Rs bills (equivalent to almost 5k SGD). There were bills in all available compartments from head to toe as they just couldn’t fit in one pocket. I felt like a walking bank ready to get robbed in the dodgy alleys of Thamel (where I stayed). With so many things on my mind, I took a wrong turn in the confusing streets of Thamel and took almost half hour to find my way back, I forgot to pack a sleeping bag along with me for my 2 weeks in the medical clinic and even misplaced my passport in a shop for about 2h (super panicky moment),

Then at the domestic airport for my flight to Lukla (the start of the hike to Everest) I was charged for the ridiculous weight of 95kg of excess baggage (only allowed 15kg). They just didn’t care about my pleas that it was for charity. The local people need help and yet there is so much resistance from the authorities for even volunteers to render their services without hassle. It is hard not to wonder that it is due to the bureaucracy in 3rd world countries that the people on the ground are not getting what they deserve. The rich get richer and the poor get stuck in the vicious cycle. I heard this particular story from Dr Kami (one of the 2 doctors in Kunde Hospital in the Everest region that serves over 8000 people) that there was this ophthalmologist from the states who shipped over a slit lamp (a huge piece of equipment used to see the retina of an eye). He wanted to donate it to the Kunde hospital after having seen the little facilities available there. It was a very expensive device and it got stuck in the customs (where I had the opportunity of experiencing 1st hand of the way they worked). Taxes that were imposed on the device amounted to more than what the device was worth and finally the poor guy who wanted to help the Nepalese people had to forfeit bringing it into the country due to the restrictions imposed by her own people who do little to make a difference in the lives of their own poor citizens.

100kg of medical supplies. Excluding my 20kg hand carry and 30kg of climbing gear.

Due to my baggage being super duper overweight, they had to be flown into Lukla piece by piece. The last piece of my baggage did not arrive in Lukla before noon where the airport closes for the day. So I started my hike without the medications and I’m still hoping that it would arrive in the lodge where I’m staying at now in Namche Bazaar (which is the capital town of the sherpas in the Everest region). I will be acclimatizing here for 2 days before meeting Dr Kami in Kunde Hospital. Then, I’ll be proceeding to Phortse, hopefully by the weekend, to start up the clinic.

My porters carrying the supplies towards Phortse. There is over 70kg of equipment between the 2 of them.

The images that are posted on the blog have been possible thanks to a number of people. Cerebos for providing me with a Cannon power shot G12 camera, the TTSH IT dept for providing me with a laptop with a ‘solid state’ hard drive (normal hard drive don’t work at altitude due to pressure differences) and Ang Jangbu for assisting me to get the 3G device with data plan from KTM. Cerebos has also provided a SPOT GPS tracking device that will allow my progress to be followed on my way to Everest. You can visit the following link to check on my location during the next 2 months. http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0vnjyTmrsPzsynTm1nFFcmVOtHgmcF3PZ

I have also added the link on the side bar of this blog site for easy access for tracking me.

On a side note, the 3G device I bought at KTM has a prepaid amt for 20GB of transmission. I won’t be able to top it up at EBC so bought the one with the widest bandwidth. However, being the cautious person I am, where ever I try to access the net, I will search for WIFI connection 1st to safe on my 20GB (just in case).

This WIFI / 3G saga reminded me of something I read on the net. To end off for now, I’ll leave you with the following. How true, you be the judge.

“Men are like WIFI and women are like 3G

Men search around for all available networks and pick the one up with the strongest signal. Even when he moves from one place to another, he continues to screen for the best available network to get connected to. If a certain network is password protected, he’ll just roam around for the next easiest accessible network. In contrast, women are like 3G.. They only connect to the one single network they were pre programmed to connect to regardless of wherever they are. Even if the signal is weak or there is none to begin with, they will still continue searching for that one particular network till its available.”

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Goodbye Home, Hello Everest!

My inspiration from day 1 was Mr Krishnan. He took 1 year of No Pay Leave and volunteered under the Singapore International Foundation for 1 year to teach at the Sree Saraswathy School in Gorkha, Nepal. When he resumed teaching in Raffles Institution, he spear headed an overseas community involvement project involving students and teachers of our school heading out to assist in the school that he previously taught in. We were the 1st batch of Singaporean secondary school students to have gone for an overseas community service project back in 99. That was my 1st trip to Nepal and 1st exposure to the mountains. We did the Annapurna trek and made it up to Poon Hill together with the teachers. As I stood amazed at the jaw dropping Annapurna range in the background, I asked my teacher if we could go climb one of the snow-capped peaks the next day. He laughed and said, probably one will need a year of training and at least a month to climb anyone of those snow-capped peaks that were within sight.

It is unfathomable that everything has come a full circle. 13 years later, I will be going back to the same place where it all started. My amazement for the mountains when I was a sec 3 student will be addressed 1st hand during the next 3 months. I will be climbing Everest; and this will be undoubtedly be the seeds that Mr Krishnan planted in me back in 99 when he 1st exposed this simple mind of mine to something greater out there. Thank you Mr Krishnan for being the inspiration that u are.

What is even more fantastic is that we will be returning to the same school together this time round. I got back in touch with my teacher as I was planning on the execution of my service work at the school in Gorkha with Cerebos. He is now the vice principal of West Grove Primary School and was exhilarated to hear this new story. He eventually got his leave approved to come along to Gorkha during the 1st week of the school holidays which will be the same time that I will be ending my climb. We will be going back to the school together! It was one of the most exciting things that has unfolded during this journey.

After Mr Krishnan heard of my story, he began telling his P5 kids about Nepal. He encouraged them to write pen pal letters to the kids in Nepal such that both parties could improve their English. When I visited him in his school a few days ago, I was shocked to find that there were huge stacks of big envelopes from each class with numerous letters in them. I had the pleasant opportunity of meeting up with the P5 kids and collecting these letters. All of them seemed extremely excited and were shooting questions after questions at me. One of the most fascinating questions that was asked from a P5 boy was, “What will be your aim after u climb Everest since it’s the highest mountain and there is nothing else to achieve after that” I was awed at his maturity. I did not know whether to tell him that I’d be going back to work or some other answer to match his level of maturity. I answered, “I’ll have to set my next goal higher than Everest then”. I hope he understood what I meant.

Mr Krishan in the background

Dr Gayathri and myself surrounded with the happy faces of West Grove Primary's P5 kids

The class monitor presenting his class's pen pal letters to me

Now for a special mention to Dr Gayathri. After I set up my clinic in Phortse and start climbing the mountain, she will be the one solely running the clinic for another 1.5 months. She is currently working in the A&E dept of SGH and has taken 2 months of no pay leave to pursue this venture. She has devised a through plan of how she wants to run the clinic as well as to provide basic medical education to the villagers in the region. She has also the plans of traveling to each of the 5 villages with the outpost clinics of Kunde hospital and rendering her services there. She will be helping out the clinic and then proceeding to help out the school in Gorkha together with myself and Mr Krishnan after my Everest climb.

The day has come for me to part my comfort zone for the longest period of time ever. I’ll be leaving for Nepal today on a Silkair flight and won’t be back for almost 3 months. I’ll be setting up the clinic, climbing Everest and helping out the school while I’ll be there. It has been a logistical nightmare working all this out in the shortest of time frames and the smallest of budgets but I hope it all falls in place in the days to come. I would like to thank each and every one who has helped me in one way or another throughout this journey of mine. For one person to reach Everest, there are hundreds of people behind him that actually made it happen. For all the unsung heroes out there, I salute to u. I’m a little hard pressed for time as I have been packing the whole night through and my flight’s in a couple of hours’ time. So I shall end here and continue when I reach good old Kathmandu.

The journey finally begins…. I’m waiting nervously and with baited breath. Whatever will be, will be and it will be for the best.

My messy room littered with all my climbing gear

Some of the medical supplies that i was intending to ship over to Nepal

The downsuit i will be wearing at the summit (hopefully) with my Everest Title sponsors

And I go around pasting their logos everywhere!

 
36 Comments

Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Sponsors Secured

Finally after a year and a half of searching for sponsors, waking up on some mornings with this gnawing feeling at the pit of my gut, not knowing if I would be able to carry on with my next climb due to the lack of finances, my prayers have finally been answered.

Cerebos (aka. Cerebos Pacific Limited) with their flagship product, BRAND’S(r) Essence of Chicken, have come forward to be my EVEREST TITLE SPONSOR. It was as though a miracle had happened when they tracked me down through this blogsite on google and requested if we could have a partnership. Of course, I immediately said yes.

Cerebos and myself are working together at the moment to see how we can benefit each other. They will be helping me out by fully supporting the finances for my Everest expedition.

Cerebos will also assist me with the medical clinic in Phortse and the school in Gorkha, Nepal which I will be helping out after my Everest climb. Cerebos has also managed to get me the endorsement and support of the Consulate General of Nepal in Singapore for this expedition.

One month can mean so much of changes and this month has been no exception to me. What I update my friends on one day can become obsolete news the next day. There has been just so much running around especially with the clinic and the school coming into the picture as well. The media has suddenly been very excited about my climb especially so due to the close proximity of my final climb. Everyday has been filled with replying to endless strings of emails, trying to get my accounts sorted, running around the country collecting sponsored medical equipment, coordinating plans with my Nepalese counterparts since I will be going to Nepal alone and meeting up one last time with friends.

A word about my other sponsors without whom, my expeditions so far would not have come true. Gayatri Restaurant’s owner Mr Shanmugan has come forward to become my GOLD sponsor. He is organizing a biennial golf tournament called ‘Fish Head Masters’ with the proceeds supporting my climb and the excess going to charity. Trailblazzers foundation another of my BRONZE sponsor. Tamil Murasu is now my OFFICIAL MEDIA and Gym 360 is my OFFICIAL FITNESS CONSULTANT. You can see the full list of sponsors here.

I have also set up a give.sg page to raise funds for my TTSH community charity fund while I am climbing the Everest. Please go to https://www.give.sg/TeamGIVE/Kumaran to give! I’m trying to hit a certain target each time I reach a certain camp. For example, when I manage to climb to Camp 1, I hope that donors would feel motivated by my progress such that they donate more and together we can hit a sum of $x. I’m still in the process of fine tuning this.

My departure date 11th March is looming near and there’s still tonnes of work left to be done. Hope that I’m able to complete things one at a time and still have some time to squeeze some trainings in between. EVEREST! My friends tell me not to Ever Rest there while climbing and I know my family yearns for me to come back in one piece and not to Rest Forever there. Getting more nervous as the days draw closer. 3 months away is no joke. So much luggage to pack. > 60kgs of it and I’m still shipping some more stuff over. Things have fallen in place so far and I pray that they will stay in place all the way. I’ll post a last entry before I leave soon.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

New edited Ama Dablam video

After months of procastination, i’ve finally managed to compile and edit all the videos and photos of our Ama Dablam expediiton and managed to create a short 10 min clip of the highlights.

After 2 failed attempts, finally managed to tweak my video and get it un-copywrited on you tube. Singaporean Ama Dablam expedition Nov 2011. My most difficult mountain and my proudest moment on a mountain as well! Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/CkP4Q3sbIDM – HD quality
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUUeYY3TFIY – Low quality

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Uncategorized