Thursday, August 11, 2011

September 13, 2010 The Journey Begins

Monday night was like any other, staying up too late on the computer. I should be reading my philosophy homework; instead I am on youtube again watching climbing videos. Occasionally, I will come across useful new climbing techniques or new ways to tie knots. The Scotts have a practical way of roping up for glacier travel but being a woman, I can't imagine undoing all those perfectly tied practical knots to pee. My team would leave me behind for sure if I show up wrapped in a climbing rope full of knots. Canadian climber Mike Barter has the funniest videos on basic mountaineering, always very non-PC typical of British humor. I get bored quickly of watching Mike and just before I close my laptop I spot a video about mountain climber Lori Schneider.

I had never heard of Lori Schneider in all my reading about mountaineers. The stack of mountaineering books is now competing with the number of medical books I have on the shelves. I especially enjoy reading mountaineering tragedy books since you can learn so much from reading about past mishaps. I have several high altitude medical books as well since I have had personal experience with altitude sickness a couple times in the past. This eventually led to learning that I have a heart defect or hole that allows some blood to bypass my lungs but also bypassing much needed oxygen at high altitudes. I wanted to learn as much as possible how to compensate when the air becomes thinner since I was not going to give up climbing. I just have to breathe more deeply and more often than most and focus my training on anaerobic exercises.

Lori's 2009 video is still my favorite. The video is about her journey to climb the seven summits and was filmed before she climbed Denali or Everest. I was moved to tears listening to Lori's story about her MS diagnosis and her focus on not letting the diagnosis define her, the photos in her video of her climbs and especially her story about her mom and Mt. Elbrus was very moving. I found her website and spent hours reading about her seven summits, places I frequently read and dreamed about. I was hooked on climbing and had just finished reading about Dick Bass and Frank Wells and their climb of the seven summits. I thought I too wanted to climb all those summits, except for Everest of course. I was inspired by Lori to really consider climbing those summits in more than just my mind. I was also impressed at how down to earth Lori was in her message about her personal journey with MS, her belief in other people and her courage to never give up. I thought, this is a woman I would like to climb with someday.

While reading about Lori's summits, I noticed she was forming a team of people with MS to climb Kilimanjaro. I wondered if maybe Lori would let Monique and I join her team since we would be an asset as medical professionals and possibly helpful to her team. We had tried the year before to form a team to climb Kilimanjaro to support awareness for Parkinson's wellness but our friends would say yes to going but then quickly lose interest when we were ready to sign on with a guide company. Thinking it would be too risky, we never considered asking anyone with PD to climb Kilimanjaro but hoped we could inspire people with PD to train as we trained and then follow us up the mountain from their computers.

The next day I couldn't stop talking about Lori, Kilimanjaro, climbing and Monique finally insisted I get back to work. Between patient appointments, I found the courage to write Lori an email hoping she wouldn’t say no. I mentioned to a few patients that day what I was up to and was surprised at the response "I want to go too!" I talked to Monique about my thoughts and whether I should ask Lori if people with PD could also join her team. Monique and I talked for a few days about the pros and cons of asking people with PD to join us in climbing a mountain. First we weren't sure Lori would want to do it. We had never climbed with anyone with PD. What would our hospital say about it? Could we raise money to help pay for the climb? Were we expecting too much from our patients with Parkinson's? What if someone fell or was injured? What if the PD symptoms become uncontrollable on the mountain? What if the medications get wet or get lost? Was the climb too expensive or too risky? How would we answer to our medical peers if something went really wrong on the mountain? How could we face the families if we failed? Should I risk going to high altitude with my heart problem?

I couldn't stop thinking about the excitement, the smiles and the change in the faces of the patient's in clinic when I mentioned Kilimanjaro. We both decided if we are going to preach to our patients about living life to the fullest, we should also walk the walk and take that leap of faith that Lori embodies for those with MS. I wasn't sure Lori would say yes or if her team was full, but we both decided we were ready to step outside our clinical roles into an unknown founded on a hope that anything is possible, that there is a life to be lived, even after a diagnosis of PD. If we set an example for our medical peers, maybe they too will expect more for their patients with PD. More importantly, if we were successful, it might empower all of our patients to at least try to do things they feel are impossible because of the PD.  

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