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Mountain Sickness

Mountain Sickness by Peter H. Hackett, M.D. New York: American

Alpine Club, Inc., 1980. 29 pages.

The opening paragraph begins “The past decade has witnessed an explosion in mountain traveling by skiers, back packers, climbers, runners, hunters, fishermen and assorted mystics. There is now good wilderness medical information available, especially on frostbite, hypothermia and general first aid. This book is designed to fill the existing gap in specific and detailed information on acute mountain sickness.” The remainder of its brief, readable pages does just that. It fills a need that has long existed for those who travel above 3000 meters. With the combined experiences of Charles S. Houston, M.D., and I. Drummond Rennie, M.D., to supplement his already large experience in Nepal, especially at Pheriche, the author has written a book that should fit into rucksacs as well as on bookshelves.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and Cerebral Edema (CE) are discussed individually in a way that non-medically trained persons can understand. Also, they are covered completely for those wanting an authoritative source on the subject. For example, “lassitude,” a difficult symptom to define, is discussed in a clear manner that any long medical text would be delighted to imitate, yet it is succinct and understandable by all.

Not only are the symptoms presented clearly but the necessary physical examinations that will enable one to assess the severity of the problem are described throughout the text. Most impressive was the important reminder to use “an apparently normal (and sober) companion (or oneself if necessary) as a comparison.”

Another admirable aspect of this book is the way the reader is presented with various treatments. The options available are discussed for each presentation of mountain sickness. Common-sense solutions are stressed (as in yak evacuations versus helicopter). When concern is unwarranted, the author describes why in sufficient detail to calm the most apprehensive climber, yet the situations when quick action is needed are well identified.

A separate chapter on fluid balance is included and a chapter on prevention of mountain sickness. The two are especially pertinent for anyone who wishes to ascend over 10,000 feet, climbers or non-climbers. And, since literally anyone can develop mountain sickness if he ascends fast enough, this book is written so anyone can understand it and react in a way that will reduce its incidence and severity.

Chris Chandler, M.D.