This year’s expedition had extra hidden problems, in that having a National Geographic film crew and photographic crew plus the added extra porters meant we had to get the medical kits right.
In Hang Son Doong at the beginning of the trip a few of the team had problems with eye irritations, ranging from watery eyes to very inflamed red eyes, causing discomfort. All the eye complaints responded to chloramphenicol cream or drops.
Sneezing and a bad cold also seemed to do the rounds, with five people affected, making for a miserable few days. For one or two people it lasted a bit longer.
On offer this year was some quite serious walks for up to eight days and on most of these walks we experienced a lack of water. We had to resort to cutting vines and draining the water out of them, and cutting banana trees, and collecting the water from the stumps. It was felt that a number of cases of D&V were caused by dehydration, and the lack of being able to rehydrate properly. Meal choices often had to be restricted to those which would use the least water e.g. boil in the bags, so carbohydrates such as rice and pasta were eaten sparingly.
One member of the expedition brought with him a foot with several screws in it, which didn’t perform very well. The foot swelled up quite badly, so anti inflammatories and paracetamol were taken. Also 1000ft down a cave the same person (who will remain anonymous in this article due to medical confidentiality) suffered an attack of very severe cramp in both legs, probably as a result of dehydration. He had to be helped up every pitch with good friendly teamwork, until the surface was reached and he was then called a big fat b*****d. A muscle relaxant was taken that evening so he could get into his hammock!
Other usual expedition issues such as harness rub were dealt with by Sudacream.
One person had a bout of gout, which puts paid to the old wives tale of too much red wine. It resolved with rehydration.
Another small problem was burnt hands from PF300 flash bulbs exploding as they were loaded into the firers. Gloves essential. These were treated with burn cream/gel.
Only one telephone call back to our friendly GP John Burton was needed, for advice in connection with bites. One member had small bites around the ankle and foot, which swelled rapidly with fluid, and ulcerated within the hour leading to open sores. These were treated with iodine dressings, and soon healed. Some scars remain.
The youth of the expedition came back with descent rope burns on his neck, unless he’d been up to something else he hadn’t told us.
Bad backs were a problem, for a couple of people stopping them caving for a few days.
As you can see no major problems, but one feels we have to keep on top of safety and dehydration on future trips.
This year’s sick note award had been awarded to:
Adam ‘sick note’ Spillane with Ian ‘big foot’ Watson a close second. Third place goes to anyone who wants it!
A serious thank you to Dr Nick Howlett, and Dr John Burton, for their help before and during the expedition.