Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heading to Africa

July 8, 2011. 
Monique checking in for
Seattle to Washington D.C.

After almost 10 months since my initial contact with Lori and 6 months of focused training, departure day had finally arrived. I had also just finished my comprehensive board exams as a final step to complete a degree in Philosophy. I wouldn't know if I passed my exams for several weeks but what a relief to now just focus on one thing, climbing. The flight from Seattle was delayed a few hours but we did finally leave Seattle at 1:00 a.m. The late departure was fine since Charles Mulvehill, the travel agent that Alpine Ascents recommended had made sure he allowed for delayed flights. I remember asking him back in December why there was so much layover time between flights. He said with confidence, "the time will fly and you will need the extra buffer in case of flight disruptions". Charles was right, why would anyone expect to fly 10,000 miles and not experience a delay some where along the way.

We arrived at 8:30 a.m. I managed to sleep most of the 4.5 hours to Washington Dulles International. I don't take sleep medication due to the hangover, so whether I sleep or not depends on the passengers near my seat. Monique said she didn't get much sleep. We made our way to the Ethiopian air gate for our boarding passes. We confirmed our climbing bag from Seattle was checked to Kilimanjaro airport. What a relief we didn't have to retrieve the 115 liter boundary bags and recheck them to Africa. Our boarding pass had a blue sticker and I wondered if Ethiopian air boards by colored dots. Monique saw another person in line with a red dot so she said they most likely will board by color. I wasn't sure when blue boarded so we would need to stay close to the gate. We ran into Nan and Doug at the gate. I was finishing up some last minute emails and noticed a text message from an unknown number. I texted back, "who is this?" Reply, "John". Oh, John and Martha. I dialed John to see where they were then noticed John walking toward the gate. We were meeting Martha for the first time.

Martha was very friendly and as jovial and engaging as is John. What a great couple. John is one of the PD climbers and Martha is climbing as his support companion. I think he said they had been married for twelve years. I hoped to get to get to know Martha better, she was confident, funny but also serious. I noted a familiar ascent as Martha was talking and learned that she was born in Kentucky. I am also from Kentucky and lived there until I left for New York for physician assistant studies. I left my teaching position at the University of Louisville's laboratory sciences department and was also about half way through an immunology graduate program. At the time, I couldn't have imaged how Parkinson's would be come a big part of my life and focus of my medical career.      

Martha and John had a lot of experience trekking the Rockies and John had experience with search and rescue. I knew I could count on Martha and John during the climb. The climb was unique in that most of our team were not very experienced in climbing at altitude but were very experienced at living life with the daily challenges and struggles of living with MS or PD. These challenges will usually make a person stronger and more resilient, that is when there is adequate support and caring. I tell my patients that climbing a mountain is very much like living with PD or MS. Climbing requires targeted fitness, planning, self-care and generally support from at least one other person, all ingredients to living well with PD and MS. 
Sierra, Martha, John,
Doug, Nan

We ate a quick breakfast in order to take our first dose of Malarone malaria prophylaxis tablets. My nervous energy was subsiding and I hoped I wouldn't have Nan's reaction to Malarone in flight - GI motility! After breakfast, we had some time to talk about the adventure before boarding. Boarding by color was nicely done and orderly. What a treat without the mad rush to the boarding area. Monique and I lucked out that someone wanted to trade seats so we managed to sit together on the long flight to Ethiopia. It's nice to fly with someone who will ask for a water or soda when the attendants come by while you sleep.

Monique, Nan and Doug
Waiting at Washington Dulles
There is no turning back now. Leaving for the climb was exciting and beyond my childhood dreams. I couldn't stop thinking about the MS and PD climbers. Most people I talked to about the climb were shocked at first that anyone with PD or MS would try to climb a mountain and then shocked even more that I would go along. More about this later. It was true, climbing is hard enough without having to contend with a neurological condition. Then I think about Lori, a living example that we should not define a person by their disease. I always encourage my patients and expect a lot for them and from them, but I have no idea what to expect on such a long trek at altitude. The climb will be an adventure in combating fears and working very hard to reach a goal. Ultimately, my thoughts settle that no matter what happens, no one should be denied the chance to try.
Once buckled in, I notice the amenities on the plane. Foot rests, toothpaste, eye shields, head phones, free movies, big cushy seats with lots of leg room. Very comfortable. It's still hard to believe I am going to Africa. As the plane lifts off, I feel a sudden sense of freedom; now time to relax

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