Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Manaslu Part 19

The Manaslu region had only been open to trekkers for five years and electricity, tea houses and even the wheel remained conspicuously absent. On the trail my stash of Nepali Rupees was nearly worthless as the only thing for sale was the occasional soda from the old ladies who squatted beside trail. The women could fit three or four of the rusty-capped bottles into a metal washbasin filled with river water. I purchased all of the soda pop I could get my hands on.

Mountaineering expeditions have placed me in front of some spectacular scenery, however the enjoyment of my surroundings is usually tempered by the overarching dread of climbing some big mountain. On the mountain you are usually too busy or too tired to question your motives and your courage, but during the approach you have plenty of time to battle self-doubt. The question of how you will behave under fire is even more troubling when you know that your companion will behave with resolve and unwavering courage. I had no doubt in the veracity of Brian Sato, he is as good as they come, but as for myself, I wasn’t so sure. So as I passed through this traveler’s wonderland, a world where nothing is as I have known it, I missed many of the subtleties: the scent of the rhododendrons, the feel of the trail, the smile of a child, the sway of a cable bridge. Still there were some things you could not miss.

After our second day of trekking we were sitting on our packs in the village of Lapbesi watching our sherpas pitch camp when a tearful mother approached and held out her injured child. The boy was probably two years old and had opened up a sizable gash above his left eye. The wound looked horrible and everyone on our team except Brian chose to ignore the pleading mother - as many of us have become accustomed to ignoring a bum on the street. Brian looked closely at the wound and then turned to me, “come here and look at this, I think someone has already patched this little guy up.”

I got off of my butt and examined the boy; it did in fact appear that he had had medical attention. What at a distance had appeared to be a grotesque wound was a gash about an inch long onto which someone had packed gauze and then doused the works with iodine. The staining iodine and the ragged gauze had accentuated the cut. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” I said, “but maybe you should clean it up a little bit and put a dressing on it.”

“It’s not infected,” Brian replied. “I think someone who knew what they were doing treated this kid.”

“Well the mom seems pretty upset. I mean it looks pretty bad.”

Brian turned around looking. “Shiva!” He yelled, “could you come and help us.”

Shiva came over, winced at the wound, and spoke at length to the distraught mother. He then turned to us, “She says her son is hurt.”

Brain said, “yeah I can see that. But I think the boy has been treated. I think it is okay.”

Shiva turned to the mother and quickly spoke a short sentence. The mother replied in a long pleading oration. Shiva listened carefully before turning to us to say, “it is okay.”

As Shiva turned away the mother pushed the boy in front of Brian pleading in a language that neither of us understood. “I think we should clean it up and put a bandage on it,” I said. “Anything has to be better than what’s there now.”

Brian motioned for the mother to stay put and then went back to his pack and pulled out his large first aid kit. He cleaned off the iodine, and the boy didn’t so much as wince as Brian picked bits of gauze out of the encrusted wound. Brian carefully applied some beta dyne and then covered it all with a large square dressing. The child now looked like a kid with a big Band-Aid on his forehead and the mother smiled, thanked Brian and then disappeared into the village.

“I don’t think I did the right thing there,” Brian said closing up the first aid kit, “the kid’s just going to go play in the shit and that cut’s just going to fester underneath the bandage.”

“Well you have to deal with the mother as well as the kid,” I replied, “and I think you did good for both.”

Brian’s actions garnered him considerable attention and soon Dr. Brian’s Mountain Medical Clinic was open for business. I acted as Brian’s triage nurse and witnessed in my friend a bedside manner that was both patient and compassionate. Beta-dyne and Band-aids fixed up most of Brian’s customers, but a few of the cases were well beyond our capabilities.

An extended mountaineering expedition will expose the inner soul. The outer fa├žade, the city face, quickly erodes and there is a very real chance of discovering that either you or your friends are not what either they or you once believed. Before leaving for Nepal I considered Brian Sato a cherished friend and an expert mountaineer, but I came to realize that he was better than I had imagined. I discovered in Brian a level of caring and compassion that I had overlooked during the twelve years we’d spent climbing and skiing together.

When Brian and I finished up the clean and patch operation we joined our companions at the cloth-covered steel camp table on which tea and cookies had been set. Shortly after I sat down Kusang tapped me on the shoulder, “Mike sir look please,” he said motioning for me to follow him. Together we walked to a crumbling stone building where in the doorway sat a woman nursing a child. Kusang motioned for me to look at the child, which I had a difficult time doing as the woman had dropped her shirt to her waist. The woman’s bare chest had no affect on Kusang, but it made me very uncomfortable. Once I was able to look at the child, who was less than two years old, I noticed that he was nearly covered on one side with a scabby rash which looked as though it had nearly eaten away the child’s left ear.

I had brought a small book to Nepal containing photographs of Melony and Sam, it was a big ice-breaker when meeting local people, and I believe Kusang, who has four children, figured that I shared a parent’s compassion for small children. He was correct. Following the birth of my son I cannot even tolerate talk of the suffering of children much less this much visual aid. My heart was breaking for this limp and resigned child. The only thing I could think to say was “fuck.”

“Kusang this child has to go to a doctor,” I said.

“Yes Mike sir, doctor sir, four times.”


Kusang spoke to the mother, “three days walking.”

“What did the doctor do?”

Kusang again spoke with the mother who pantomimed rubbing on a lotion.

I shook my head I didn’t know what to do. Kusang touched my shoulder and said, “okay, it is okay, go eat.” I walked back to the table thinking of Sam, I sat down but I didn’t eat.

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