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Chapter 26: My Untold Story. Stand UP!

Failure was imminent 150m before Base Camp. 


On day 6 of my trek to Base Camp we had an acclimatising day in Dingboche at 4410m. I woke up with a sore throat, and by lunchtime after our fun acclimatising hike to 4730m, I knew I was sick. I couldn’t believe it. I did so well up to now. I got the notorious Khumbu Cough, also referred to as the high altitude hack. The cough is caused by the low humidity and temperatures associated with high altitude. The combination of exertion, sub-zero temperatures and low humidity at high altitude results in the faster breathing of cold, dry air that literally dries out the lung lining and bronchi. The irritation of the lining of the lungs results in a persistent hacking cough. It was extremely painful. Every time I coughed, I held my chest and my tummy, leaning forward with immense pain. My cough worsened and by now I had the flue, draining every ounce of energy I had left. Mix this with altitude where you rely on your lungs and it is not ideal.


3 Days later at 6am we were ready to leave Lobuche to reach Base Camp later in the afternoon. I was in a very bad state by now and had coughing fits at night. Going to the toilet at least 7 times a night (severe side effects from my altitude tablets and blood thinners) didn’t leave me with much sleep, but with this cough there was actually no sleep for me. I was knackered but it was a big day, the day I worked so hard for and a dream to see Everest, Base Camp and The Khumbu Icefalls. I started tasting blood when I coughed but there was never any visible blood. My guide kept an eye on me and constantly checked my oxygen levels. What was frustrating was the fact that my muscles were super strong and I had no joint pain, but my lungs were in a bad state. The hike from Lobuche to Gorakshep and then on to Base Camp was not an easy one (luckily I didn’t know that at the time).


I am a goal-orientated person, headstrong to reach any goal placed before me. The athlete in me knows my competitive side but now with limitations. I had to discover a whole new me since my EDS diagnoses. I’ve been in many situations in my life where I thought I’ll never get trough, but I’m persistent and resilient. When I was diagnosed with EDS and 10 years prior to that, the most difficult thing I had to come to terms with, was the fact that maybe I will never be able to be in a physical condition to play sports or just be active. When I started my training in Oct '18 it was hard but week-by-week I saw results. I got stronger and the dislocations and pain in my joints got less. It did not happen over night at all, it took a lot of commitment. I know we are all different and what worked for me may not work for the next person with EDS. The final stretch to Base Camp was about to push me far beyond where I had been pushed before.


The terrain had changed once again. The sign post at Gorakshep said; 3km to Base Camp / 3 hours. I am so glad I did not see that sign till the next morning. No green trees, hardly any birds, just boulders and lots and lots of glacier dust. Boulders are the worst nightmare for anyone with joints that easily dislocate. 150 meters before I had to turn right to descend and put my feet on Base Camp, I stood still, I lent over my hiking poles and I was done. I sobbed. I was tired, my lungs were burning and for the first time in my life I experienced a complete mental block. Normally I would talk myself out of things “come on Janettie, you can do this, you are strong and nearly there - 150 meters - come on it’s your goal, you got this", nothing. I could not stand up. Looking to my right, I saw some orange tents down at Base Camp, I saw the Ice Falls. I’m in an arena of mountains 7000-8000m plus, and I’m standing in the middle of it not able to move.

I sat myself down on a boulder while my team made their way down. It broke me. I accepted the fact that I failed and I was heartbroken. My brain could not receive the SOS from my heart to stand up and complete this journey. I rested on my poles crying my eyes out and there, a message from Jamie, my 10 year old, written on one of my poles. My poles were extended throughout my whole trek so I did not see this message at all during my 9 days ascend. “I love you Mummy Dwag. Jamie” He calls me Dwag (short for Dragon as he is obsessed with How to Train Your Dragon). I cannot explain what and how it happened, but it aligned all my emotions and thoughts and I knew I had to get myself down there. I’m not doing this for me alone, I’m doing this for me, my family, friends, my dedicated Facebook followers and every Zebra out there who is struggling with EDS on a daily basis. The message came through and my heart and mind were communicating again. I stood up and walked down to the glacier and when I put my feet on Base Camp it was a moment I will never forget. It is still very raw as this mental block was new to me and challenged me on so many levels. The three hours walk back after reaching Base Camp was a blur to me. I felt a big relief, accomplishment and gratitude when we reached Gorakshep by late afternoon. 



During the night my oxygen level dropped drastically and I was given the opportunity to be evacuated by helicopter. In my head it was a done deal during the night when my water bottle froze next to my head inside the tea-house and I had constant coughing fits and a fever. But when I had to make a decision, I couldn’t take the helicopter. I wanted to finish strong. My guide knew our descent that morning would do me good as the oxygen will increase. He was confident that I’d be able to do this and walk back to Lukla in the next 3 days. My roommate was evacuated, as she was very ill. Listening to the helicopter leaving and flying over my head was very very hard, as I knew it was going to be 3 days of gruelling descent.


To make a long story short - I did it! What I have ascended in 9 days, I walked down in 3 days. Once back in Kathmandu the hospital awaited me. They had a specialist there within the hour to check for blood-clots (given my history), x-rays, blood tests, IV’s and the best ham and cheese sandwich I’ve had in my life! I had excellent guides who helped carry my backpack in order to help with my breathing and two amazing friends who walked down at my pace. My amazing support group who carried me down with their messages from all around the world, I am forever grateful and last but definitely not the least; I believe God has a plan for each and every one of us. He knows the desires of my heart and knows what makes me tick. Jamie’s message on my poles was no accident and I know He used that message to get me to reach my goal, knowing my heart. He did not leave me alone and in tears, He was with me all the way holding my hand, not letting go when I was petrified. He strategically placed that message there, for that divine moment when I was going to need it most. I can do all things as He is my core.



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