Monday, September 6, 2010

The Summit Push (part 9)

Photos 1 and 2 - Assisting with Mike's rescue high on the upper slopes of Everest - 28,000'. Notice the ever intensifying snow storm in the background.

As the afternoon slowly turned to early evening, the sun began to set. The splendor of the sun setting on the far horizon was a beuatiful sight to behold. All of this surrounding beauty seemed to hold no significance to my still missing teammates. Phil, Mike and a few Sherpas had not returned and I was mentally preparing myself for the worst. I figured that in his physical and mental condition, Mike was forever lost to the frozen slopes that steeply stretched above me. After all, when I last saw him he was incoherent and very combative. After the Herculean effort all the rescuers were giving, no one would have faulted them for just leaving Mike and saving their own lives. They had tried their best. One of the foundational principles of search and rescue is that the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few. In this case there were now more than 10 people assisting with the rescue and with the weather turning from bad to worse, death's knock was getting louder. Any death would be tragic, but it would be silly to lose 11 or more people when all but 1 could have made it down.
More than an hour passed, the sky grew dark and there it was. The recognizable sound of climbing hardware jingling around on the harnasses of a group of people coming back in to camp. It was the rest of my team - including Mike! As he was being lowered down the mountain coupled with the shot of dexamethasone he began to regain coherency. By no means was he his regular self but he was upright and stumbling along. I greeted my teammates and told Mike that there were other ways of getting attention if he wanted it. Of course I was just continuing the friendly rapport Mike and I had developed over the previous 2 months. He blankly looked at me and just said "sure". I could tell he was still dealing with the delirium induced by his cerebral edema. Everyone was back safely, however, the most important night of Mike's life was drawing near. For someone in his condition and breathing supplemental oxygen at a high flow rate, the first night is the most critical. We had just a few medical supplies to sustain him through the night but it was obvious Mike would need a lot more attention. If only he would make it through the night.