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Asia, Nepal, Medical Aspects of the Austrian Alpine Club Expedition to Mount Everest

Medical Aspects of the Austrian Alpine Club Expedition to Mount Everest. On May 9 while I was ascending, I met Messner and Habeler, the two “oxygenless” climbers, twenty-two hours after their success. Both were tired but otherwise on physical examination in excellent condition except for a painful conjunctivitis of Messner—he had taken off his sun glasses while filming on the summit ridge. In contrast to many medical and other predictions, the mental status of the two was perfectly all right. Each has written a best-seller in the meantime. There were three major accidents: Dawa Nuru was killed by falling ice in the Khumbu Icefall on April 18. On May 3 42-year-old Sherpa Ang Dawa, a heavy smoker and dehydrated at that time, suffered a stroke with permanent left-side hemiplegia after returning from the Lhotse Face to Camp II. This is the sixth reported case of stroke occurring to Himalayan climbers. Seven days later Sherpa Nurchung fell 150 feet into a crevasse in the Khumbu Icefall. He was rescued three hours later and had suffered several fractures, the most serious being an open skull fracture. In Base Camp our surgeon, Dr. Margreiter, performed several operations and the patient eventually recovered completely. He is keen to join another expedition soon. Eric Jones, who stayed on the South Col for 48 hours without oxygen suffered second-degree frostbite on the right foot. No other European climber had any serious illness, high-altitude complication or accident. This was certainly in part a consequence of adequate fluid intake to avoid dehydration and subsequent hyperviscosity of the blood. Climbers were advised to drink enough beverages and soup so that their daily urine output was at least 1½ liters per day. This was possible but sometimes laborious since four to seven liters had to be prepared and consumed per day as soon as they climbed above 20,000 feet. For example after returning to the South Col after my summit climb, I had to drink five liters of tea before my kidneys started working again. The meticulous control of appropriate fluid intake certainly helped to avoid high-altitude associated diseases and to limit high-altitude deterioration. Also the incidence of retinal hemorrhages was low: only two of the eight summit climbers whom I examined 22 to 48 hours after the summit (I could not examine myself) had peripheral retinal hemorrhages. We conclude that if one drinks enough, one can climb Mount Everest safely—some of a special breed of people even without oxygen—and have a lot of fun.

Oswald Ölz, M.D., Oesterreichischer Alpenverein