The journey back was truly a living hell. Any weight on my left foot was sheer agony and not possible. I hobbled my way around Istanbul airport with my ankle swelling to the size of a grapefruit, why it took this long to swell and start bruising? I don’t know, maybe temperature, maybe altitude, maybe psychological.
I did not check the flight details when I called Turkish airlines and changed my flight to ‘the first flight back to Barcelona’. Once I arrived into Istanbul airport I realised I had a 14 hour layover. Great! I found a place to recline and elevated the burning sack of liquid which was once my ankle and tried to sleep.
When my flight to Barcelona was boarding, I hobbled into the plane and found my seat. Finally this journey was coming to an end and I was on the last leg 😉
When I walked through the arrivals gate in Barcelona airport to find Alejandra’s beautiful face smiling back at me, I was elated. I was home.
Driving through the city with the windows down and the warm air blowing inside the car brought a smile to my face. The tree lined avenues of the city were lush green and the sky a rich blue. The sights and sounds of a first world city felt nice. Even the air felt immaculate after the polluted dust-bowl which is Kathmandu.
Straight home to see my baby girl Charlie who is now 17 months old. As I walked in the door, she was in the process of walking around the kitchen with her new toys being waved in the air, two empty Nespresso tubes. She didn’t even stop in her stride and came straight over to be picked up and cuddled. She then realised when she was up at eye level that she had not seen me for a long time and got a bit shy. After 10 seconds of looking away a cheeky grin appeared and I was showered kisses and cuddles. She kept wiping my face saying ‘Guapa’ which means beautiful girl but as it is pretty much her first word, I let it slide and thanked her for the compliment.
I spent that afternoon resting on the couch and enjoying time with my girls as I couldn’t be bothered going to wait in A&E for the next few hours.
The next morning I woke up, got my crutches from storage (I have crutches from previous sprains) and then made my way to the hospital.
Luckily as I was one of the first for the day, I was straight in. The doctor checked both ankles, he was not impressed with my story of spraining them weeks ago and continuing to trek. By this point they had both fully swelled up and were dark purple on the outsides. He sent me off for an xray.
When I came out of the scanning room I sat and wondered what the prognosis will be. A nurse came storming in and bandaged both feet, ankles and lower legs. I thought they were beginning the embalming process a little early! The doctor walked in and informs me that there are no major breaks but he suspects a hair line fracture in the left due to the pain and swelling. These types of fractures do not show up on Xrays initially, they only show after the calcium deposits are left there during the healing process. He gave me some anti-inflammatory pain killers, the same ones I have been given after knee and shoulder operations, passed me a referral document for a trauma specialist, I was put in a wheelschair and out of emergencies I rolled. I was hoping to get an MRI but they do not seem to do MRIs in A&E unless it is critical – fair enough.
I spent the next couple of days waiting for my other appointment resting at home with the girls and gorging myself on anything in the fridge. It seems my appetite had come back and it was time to replace the 6kgs I lost in the past month. Much steak was eaten. Much wine was drunk to drown my sorrows.
My ankles swelled and bruised to their maximum while I rested. Then the swelling started to subside. After about three days, I could move around the house without crutches. They were healing fast!…..Very fast.
I went back to hospital to see the traumatologist (who knows my history of dodgy ankles, knees and shoulder) and when he brought my file up on his computer the history displayed on his screen. The repetition of the words PERONEAL TENDONS jumped out at me. I had forgotten how bad my history is with these damned tendons.
He sent me off for an MRI and after some delays we reviewed the results.
Both peronal tendons had been overloaded and were severely inflamed – probably due to my new approach shoes I used for the first 3 weeks. But the good news was that they were not torn or broken. One of the ligaments was also inflamed but not broken. One of the bones on the left foot (where I had the big sprain) had a ‘Bone Marrow Edema’ which he unfortunately explained to Alejandra as ‘kind of like a break inside the bone’. After some research and talking to my friend who is a Doctor (and an Everest summitteer) it was confirmed that this edema is kind of like an internal bone bruise, something which is expected after trauma and nothing too serious. Avoiding heavy impact is ideal.
The pain was quickly dissipating. I was walking (carefully) without issue. Slowly up stairs – OK. Slowly down stairs – Ouch! The swelling was all but gone. The bruising was fading.
I spent the next day organising my 2018 Everest summit attempt. I was already looking into buying a hypoxico machine, tent and mask to simulate the high altitude/low oxygen environments of altitude. I enquired into a 1 day climb of Elbrus to test out my pre-acclimatisation with that machine. This is standard obsessive behaviour after being denied a summit – at least for me it is. The only way to put it to rest is to have a solution. I realised this was ridiculous but sitting on the sofa all day, the mind wanders.
I then had a thought.
Why pay another massive chunk of money on another expedition, plus the hypoxico equipment, plus the Elbrus test trip, plus another year of this bloody hill consuming my life and annoying my wife when I could simply pay for another international flight and try to see if I can climb in a week or two? Worst case scenario, my ankles hurt too much and I turn around. But with this ultra-rapid healing I think it might be possible. The expedition is still going. My paid spot is still there – worth a shot a least.
Acclimatisation may be a problem as I had been away from Base camp for about 8 days at this point.
I suggested the idea to Alejandra before the MRI results who was initially not opposed but once we got that feedback from the Doctor, she was dead against it.
She was right. This is a ridiculous idea. Surely the ankles are not healing that fast. Then again, is there any harm in trying? All I would lose is the cost of an international flight and any remaining pride I have left from the last evacuation. Will the temperature affect the healing? Will it make it worse? Will the lower pressure air cause swelling (gases expanding)? Do I have tunnel vision on this topic? Am I an idiot? Am I making sane decisions?
I racked my brain with these questions. With the possible scenarios. With the repercussions.
I contacted Tim – my extremely cautious and sensible expedition leader. He said acclimatisation should be fine but we can do some contingency work just in case. He said if I genuinely feel I significantly healed, he is happy to help me give it a shot BUT he will spin me the second he thinks something is up, whether I admit it or not (I always would).
So there you have it. I type this from Istanbul airport, my layover on the way back to Kathmandu.
If I make it through a ‘test run’ in the icefall I will be continuing the expedition.
Watch this space.