BETWEEN the last week of April and late May, as the frigid Mount Everest base camp turned into a hotspot for the novel coronavirus, a senior medical officer and deputy commander with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) found on his hands a Himalayan task. The Everest had just reopened after a gap of a year because of the pandemic and climbers from around the world, with their Sherpas, had crowded the camp waiting for a window to trek to the world’s highest peak.
One of just two qualified medical practitioners at the base camp, Dr Tarun Rana would end up treating about 200 Covid cases, relying largely on a single 10-litre medical oxygen cylinder, some life-saving drugs and steroid injections, with oxygen having to be rationed and adverse conditions at the altitude of over 5,600 metres making any evacuations difficult.
Rana was part of a Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) team planning to climb Mt Lhotse (8,516 metres), the fourth-highest peak in the world, as well as Mt Everest (8,849 m). Eventually, while Covid-19 and bad weather forced the team to abort the Everest plan, three of the climbers managed to scale Mt Lhotse. Rana found himself roped in to lend medical expertise even as he managed to climb Mt Labouche (6,116 m) as part of a training segment.
With so many people from across the world at the camp, the doctor says they can say little about how the virus spread. “There were almost 280 climbers of which about 200 were suspected Covid-19 cases….