I spun around to see Kevin and Morgan about 100 meters behind us motioning for us to walk back as they hovered over my mom.
“Oh shiiii” my voice trailed off as Deirdre and started power-walking with Ramesh to see what the heck had just happened.
My mom seemed to have taken a wrong step and fallen down the rocky patch of rocks. “Oh my God, is she alright? ” Deirdre said picking up our pace as we walked back to them.
“Man, this is so fricken typical,” I muttered, ignoring her question in an effort to maintain my selfish cynicism. I was sure to say it before I got within earshot of Morgan and Kevin, who would likely tell me to shut up if they overheard.
But when we got to the scene I stopped complaining because it was more serious than I thought. I saw my mom laying there, crying. She tried to get up herself by pushing off of Kevin. But as soon as she put an ounce of weight on her foot, she let out another piercing wail and collapsed back onto the rocks.
“Just relax, Laura. Don’t try and get up,” I heard an almost-scolding tone behind me. It was Dad, who was the last to make it back.
We all just stood there, beating around the bush in order to avoid decisions and realities that we would ultimately have to face. We wasted time asking pointless questions like, Can you lift your leg? Where does it hurt the most? Can you roll your ankle? These are all doctor-ly sounding questions that serve to put the injured person and the rest of the group at ease because it implies that these questions will lead to some sort of diagnosis or solution.
But they won’t. None of us know anything about medicine, and while Tim Kevin, and my Dad have the Emergency Preparedness Boy Scout merit badge, it doesn’t explicitly discuss what to do when you are stuck on a mountain with an immobile person with nothing but some Target-brand ibuprofen.
My mom still hadn’t gotten up, and the first words she said through her tears were, “If I were at home, I would go to the emergency room.”
If I were at home. When I consider this statement now, I deem it much too narrow. How about “If I were in a developed country” or “If I were at a reasonable altitude”? Heck, if we were anywhere else in the world we would have been closer to a hospital, or at least could have accessed one more easily. Under pretty much any other circumstance besides being on an island deserted by pirates, seeking emergency treatment for a presumed foot injury would not have been as impossible as it was for us at that moment.
Believe it or not, this is not the first time a member of the Anderson party has been stuck on a mountain, alone, severely injured and helpless. While skiing, my dad found himself in this position just a few years earlier, only on a slightly smaller and more snowy mountain in East Troy, Wisconsin. Actually, it’s not even a mountain. As you geowizzes already know, the Midwest is flat. There are no mountains, so our ski hill is actually a former landfill covered with snow in Wisconsin. Our grammar school has organized ski trips there for years, and Paul has been our vice principal’s go-to head chaperone since 2001. My dad loved every moment of it, whether he was showing off his spread eagles on the jumps or helping me and my friends up when we were first learning to ski.
But in 2009, he forgot that by the time he was accompanying Tim on his field trips he was a decade older than he was when he started chaperoning me. Yet he still considered himself invincible and cool, ignoring his 49 years of age. Conditions were slick that day at Alpine, and when he went off one of his favorite jumps, his skis flew out from under him, and after being airborne for a bit too long, he landed flat on his back, but just off-center enough to spare himself from being paralyzed. Legend has it that he lied there motionless for several minutes and some forest squirrels and rabbits attended to him, saving his life.
(Real Story continued): Tim, who had gone racing ahead of him on his snowboard, didn’t realize what had happened until he was on the chairlift with his friend and saw an emergency crew surrounding a man with a blue ski jacket eerily similar to my dad’s. An emergency responder called for a medevac for my dad, whom he described to his buddies on the walkie talkie as “an injured 30-year-old male.” Dad was flattered by the roughly 20-years off estimate. He was then airlifted to a hospital in Milwaukee, stayed there for two weeks and didn’t return to work for months. He broke several ribs, shattered his collarbone and one of his lungs collapsed, inhibiting his breathing severely. (Readers Note: It wasn’t all bad: My dad has always wanted to ride in a helicopter, so he got to check something off his bucket list). But he really did almost die, and my mom attributes his increased insanity as an unfortunate biproduct of his accident.
The point of all this is to illustrate that even when one finds himself near-dead on a small landfill in Wisconsin, it was still way better than being alive and immobile in the Himalayas. No car or helicopter could come and get us, and the only way back to a hospital Kathmandu was to to hike back several hours to the Lukla airport the way we came–wading through streams, climbing over boulders and across long and shaky suspension bridges and then taking a flight back down.
Finally, Ramesh suggested we trek to the next tea house, rest a bit and figure out what to do from there.
“It’s not very far,” Ramesh said, just a little bit beyond that hill,” he said as he pointed to a steep path that curved up and over a grassy hill. At least it wasn’t rocks.
“But how are we going to get my mom up the hill?” I asked.
“Just wait a few more minutes and she’ll be able to walk,” my dad said matter-of-factly. “We’ll just have to take the rest of the trek really slowly.”
THE REST OF THE TREK? Ramesh never told us how much further we had to go, but I was certain the answer was in miles and hours.
“But Dad,” I tried to say it nicely, “we’re already running out of daylight, and we I’m pretty sure we have hours to go.” I looked over to Ramesh for confirmation but per usual, he gave me nothing. “We’ll never make it.”
If we didn’t make it to Namche Bazaar that evening, we weren’t making it at all. Our flight back to India was tomorrow night. I am not sure if Ramesh sensed the tension between everyone at that moment, but thankfully he intervened.
“Don’t worry Laura, I will carry you up the hill.”
“Oh thank you, Ramesh, that’s really nice of you, but there is no way I am letting you put me on your back.” My mom said it sweetly, but the rest of us knew she was nowhere near comfortable with being strung out over a Nepali man’s back like a knapsack.
“It’s okay, it’s no problem at all,” he insisted.
“No Ramesh, I weigh twice as much as you do!” When it comes to self-perception, my mom is still a 16-year-old girl. Although Ramesh was about her height, just more built and in infinitely better shape than any of us would be even after the most rigid of exercise plans.
Mom looked at the rest of the group as if to say you’re not really going to let this happen, are you? But there were no other options. As much as she didn’t want him to, with the help of Kevin, Ramesh put her on his back, hunched over so much that he walked with his chest parallel to the ground. With the rocky ground and steep incline, my mom winced in what was an expression of fear and pain each time he took a misstep or stumbled a bit. My mom implored him to put her down and let her walk.
But for the most part, Ramesh climbed the hill and carried her without issue about a quarter-mile to the tea house, where he knew the owner. The nice Sherpa lady served us tea while her three young children curiously stared at us in utter bewilderment. We sat outside the tea house at a wooden patio table and blankly stared at each other, waiting for someone to offer a proposition.
Dad was still in the “we can all keep going” mode, suggesting that all that we needed to do was just take turns carrying her backpack for her and keep a slow pace.
“Mom is going to be fine,” he told the five of us assuredly. “The rest of us can keep going and we will get her tomorrow.”
He actually said it in a pretty nice tone, but Morgan, already on the sensitive side, absolutely lost it. She stormed off muttering obscenities, calling my Dad names that FF is not authorized to repeat and telling him he was a terrible person. She stormed off. I wasn’t sure where she was walking and either was she, but we knew that if she stayed there any longer, an inevitable exchange between her and my dad would soon be loud enough to echo through the mountains.
As she walked away from the tea house, Morgan then went into a litany of reasons she hates our family and how normal families do not have the problems we have long endured for the better part of 20 years. Not surprising to anyone except maybe Deirdre and Ramesh, this really ticked off my Dad. He went into his own signature fit and also walked away, ineloquently spewing reasons that we are a bunch of rude and ungrateful kids who were making him the bad guy and scapegoat for the situation we were in.
Kevin and I exchanged here we go again glances. “I’m never going on one of these things again,” he mumbled to me. “Every year, all I want to do is stay home, and no one lets me.”
When Ramesh approached us, Kevin switched to his standard easy going and friendly tone. “They just need their space sometimes,” Kevin was trying to make this incredibly awkward situation for Ramesh and Deirdre seem as normal as possible, as if inferring, “What, you mean to say this doesn’t happen in your family? You must be really weird.”
“Ok,” Ramesh said. “You just let me know,” he said in his soft-spoken voice, “because, you know, these things I do not understand all the time.”
“Oh totally, Ramesh,” I butted in. “This is completely normal for Morgan and my dad.” I don’t think Ramesh was convinced, but he had no other choice but to go with it.
But to call Morgan temperamental and dramatic undermines, at least in this instance, how terrible she felt for my mom at that moment, probably more so than anyone else (except probably Deirdre). And honestly, though I took Morgan’s side, all my dad wanted to do was fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing Everest. It had already almost slipped through his hands the first time when we couldn’t take off, and here he was again with defeat looking him right in the eye. To me, both their emotions were warranted, but their reactions and tempers that come with them did them in.
There was so much damage control to be done that I didn’t know where to begin. My mom was still crying and needed help, Morgan ran off pissed off, my Dad was ready to leave all of us and climb the rest of the way himself, and Deidre was probably the most uncomfortable she’d been the entire trip, which was saying a lot (Recap: mobbed by adoring men in urban India, literally mobbed in rural India after dark, sitting on a dirty airport floor and sleeping at its cafeteria table for 8 hours, flying the most dangerous air route since Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, and waking up at 4 in the morning to go hiking).
This left Kevin and myself to figure out the rest, with a side of Tim. Ramesh gave us the option of leaving my mom at the tea house while the rest of us trekked on to Namche Bazaar, the Everest viewpoint and our planned destination. We would be back by tomorrow afternoon, and then return to Kathmandu together as planned. Since my mom wasn’t dying (at least we didn’t think so anyway), it seemed pointless for all of us to trek back to Lukla. It would be too late for us to catch a flight anyway, and I kind of doubted we could even get all 7 of us on a last-minute flight anyway.
In the meantime, Kevin took out an undershirt from his backpack, and with the help of my dad, ripped it in a few pieces to provide a makeshift cast for my mom. Ramesh advised her not to take her hiking boot off to contain the swelling, so we got the shirt wet in a nearby stream and then wrapped it over her boot. I took a picture with the blog in mind, and Morgan yelled at me, “What is wrong with you?” So I didnt take any more, but here you go, the one token picture of the crisis:
I finally caught up with Morgan, who had secluded herself not too far from the tea house. I told her if she was that upset with Dad she should just stay at the tea house with Mom. Besides, I was pretty adamant about someone staying behind with her. If it had been anyone else who had gone down, and believe me, all of us had taken a few wrong steps (my butt was nicely bruised from a few spills), my mom undoubtedly would have stayed behind and not left us at a tea house alone.
I ran my thought process by Ramesh. “It’s up to you. Your mom will be fine here, but if one of you wants to stay, I understand, and that is also okay.”
Kevin and I talked it over. I was out of of the running to stay behind because of Deirdre, otherwise I would have had no problem skipping out on seeing Mount Everest. Kevin volunteered to stay behind too, which sounded good to me, but Morgan objected. She reasoned that if someone else got hurt along the way Kevin would be able to help carry someone/run for help/perform CPR better than she could. So Morgan was ready to stay back, but upon hearing this, my mom objected.
“You guys, what is the point of you staying back? You can’t do anything. I will be fine!” My mom was putting on a good face.
I pulled Deirdre aside, the voice of reason in my life, and asked her what she would do.
“Honestly, I’d probably stay behind. But my mom would say the same thing and insist everyone else keep going. So, I don’t know,” she said.
None of us cared; as far as we were concerned this trek itself had really put the notion of seeing Everest on the backburner. At this point, we all just wanted to get out alive.
So friends of FF, I put it to you. What would you do?