Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Summit Push (Part 11)

The positive sign I was waiting for ended up being right in front of me the entire time. Our entire team was blessed to have a strong group of sherpas assisting us. Shortly after I arrived back at Camp 2 a few of our sherpas started walking back in to camp singing and praying. Not only had they just gone to the summit the same day our team did, but they had the added responsibility of clearing the oxygen bottles and tents from the higher camps. The amount of weight they had on their back was staggering. Upon learning of Mike's condition several of them dropped their heavy loads, grabbed a couple of full oxygen bottles, and some hot tea and started climbing  back up Everest again to reach Mike. In my book, these guys are the heros.
Several hours later, heavily assisted, Mike gingerly walks back in to Camp 2. I went over to greet him and I knew something was still wrong with him. He had a blank stare and would not talk. He was beginning to suffer from facial edema as well (swelling of the face in addition to swelling of the brain). I assisted with taking off his harness and other essential elements for ice climbing and we put him in our dining tent. A few of our teammates who had arrived with him began filtering in to the dining dome as well. Still suffering from the delierious effects of altitude, Mike began arguing and swearing. He would not eat or drink. I found this extremely strange. Especially since he had not eaten or had anything to drink for 2 days. I sat next to Mike and tried to see how I could help. I spoke softly with him and asked him what was going on. I never imagined what I was about to hear.
Mike looked in my eyes and spoke softly and yet with great conviction. He told me how he had joined our Everest team as a double agent for the British Secret Service. He confided in me that there was a huge illegal drug operation going on and the high mountain passes of Everest were the drug's pathway between China and Nepal. He was put on the team in order to bust the drug cartels and to free this part of the world of illegal drug trafficing. He told me the reason he would not take the oxygen up higher on the mountain was that the bottles, in fact, were not oxygen but argon gas. Everyone up higher on the mountain, wrapped in thick down suits and oxygen masks, were the enemy. This is what his paranoia induced brain was telling him. He would not take any oral dexamethasone pills because they were poison. He was absolutely 100% certain that everyone had found out his position in the B.S.S. and the Chinese had sent people to kill him.
Wow! Why was he telling me this and no one else? Why did he feel confident that I was not one of the bad guys? I thought back to the Bible verse, "The Lord works in mysterious ways". What a mystery this was and I was deep in the middle of it.
After several hours of Mike talking to me I decided to use his comfort and familiarity with me to his advantage. I gently persuaded him to drink some hot tea and to eat a few biscuits. Phil came in to the tent and told Mike he needed to take some more dexamethasone, orally. Immediately, Mike became irate and absolutely refused. "I may have been found out, but I will not be put to death. I will not be poisoned."  You see, Phil had heroically helped Mike for most of the last 48 hours and was exhausted. He took great care and responsibility for his teammates but I could see in his eyes that this situation was wearing on him. Phil and I had gotten to know each other quite well, as this was our third Himalayan climb together. Phil and I locked eyes and I nodded my head. He immediately knew what I would do. I immediately knew what he would do. I told Phil, "I've got this". Secretly, outside of Mike's vision, Phil put the dexamethasone tablets in to my hand and left the tent. All alone in the tent, it was just Mike and I. I looked in to Mike's eyes and I told him, "Mike, this is the good stuff. I just brought this back with me over the border. This is not poison but pills to help with your fatigue. Trust me." Mike looked directly at me and paused. "I like your style" Mike said with complete trust. He grabbed the pills from my hand and swallowed them all - 6 in total. I persuaded him back to his tent and reassured him that the bottle I was giving him was my secret stash of real oxygen. I had successfully determined who was trying to give him argon gas earlier in the day and I had eliminated them from the situation.
Mike slipped in to a deep sleep and I was relieved-slightly. Taking the pills and oxygen had no doubt saved his life but he was now facing, head on, the most important night of his life. I prayed outside of his tent asking God to continue to use me to help save my friend's life. Utterly exhausted I crawled in to my tent. I thought I would fall asleep instantly but I could not. I was worried about Mike. Now that Mike was asleep, Phil had taken over monitoring him through the night. The objective was to do whatever it took to enable Mike to survive the bitterly cold, Himalayan night in great hope for a possible helicopter rescue the following morning. The growing storm outside the tent was suggesting otherwise. I prayed.