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Death in Holy Orders

Book Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the "Death in holy orders" by P.D. James.

05:47

Other segments from the episode on April 19, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 19, 2001: Interview with Jamling Tenzing Norgay; Interview with Kenneth Kamler; Review of P.D. James' new mystery book "Death in Holy Orders."

Transcript

DATE April 19, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Jamling Tenzing Norgay talks about his famous father
and about his own Everest experience
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Jamling Tenzing Norgay says he climbs mountains because it's in his blood.
Born in Darjeeling, India, Norgay belongs to the Sherpa ethnic group, a
mountain people who have traditionally served as guides for foreign climbers
in the Himalayas. His father, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, was the first person,
along with Sir Edmund Hillary, to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953.
Norgay hiked and trekked in the region with his father as a child, and says
that ever since he was six years old, he dreamed of one day also making it to
the top of Everest. But his father, who died when Norgay was 21, discouraged
him, maintaining that he climbed his whole life so that his children wouldn't
have to.

But Norgay persisted. Finally, his opportunity came in 1996, when he was
invited to join the IMAX filming expedition on Everest. While the film team
was on the mountain, a sudden storm blew in, resulting in the death of eight
climbers from another expedition.

In his new book, "Touching My Father's Soul," Norgay writes of his experience
on Everest and the spiritual significance climbing the world's highest
mountain holds for him and once held for his father.

Mr. JAMLING TENZING NORGAY (Author, "Touching My Father's Soul"): You know,
there's something about it that called him to the mountain all the time, and
ever since he was a small boy, he had dreams of climbing this mountain and,
you know, he was always attracted to it. And in the lectures that I followed
with him and I heard from him, he talked a lot about the experience of
climbing, but when I personally sat down to talk to him, he would not talk to
me too much about the climbing techniques, but more about what the mountain
was, what the mountain meant to him, and those were in all the religious
sense, because, you know, Mt. Everest should be called Chomolungma. And the
deity that resides on Everest, Amyolungsoma(ph), you know, she is the deity
that my father worshipped, and he always, you know, told me, you know, that,
you know, you should always respect the mountains, because they are abode of
the snows where the gods live. And he, I think, had a different view, you
know, just like I do. I learned from him and from other Sherpas about viewing
mountains differently than just another rock.

BOGAEV: Now your father was celebrated around the world after he made it to
the summit with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. He was awarded the George Medal
from the queen of England. You were born 13 years later. How did your
father's fame affect your family life? How did you feel it as a kid?

Mr. NORGAY: Life for us was normal while we went to school in Darjeeling,
because my father lived there, and he was just a normal person there. Being
his son, you know, being the son of a famous father--he was away a lot. We
were in boarding school, you know. For 12 years, we were in boarding school.
He traveled a lot.

BOGAEV: This is you, you and your brothers?

Mr. NORGAY: Yes. Yes, me and my two brothers, Norvu(ph) and Damay(ph), and
my sister, Dikin(ph), all of us were in boarding school, so I personally
didn't have much time to spend with him and, you know, to be with him.

BOGAEV: So you missed him, as a kid?

Mr. NORGAY: Yes. I think I missed him as a kid and as a young adult, and
just when I was in my teens is when I came to the US to go to school, and then
he passed away before--you know, it was too late to learn anything. I think
my whole motivation to pursue climbing this mountain was to try to learn, you
know, what I had missed while my father was alive.

BOGAEV: At the time that you were invited to be part of the IMAX filming
expedition, what was your climbing experience? What mountains had you climbed?

Mr. NORGAY: I was in the US for almost nine or 10 years, and before that I
had done some climbing in the Sikkim Himalayas, and these are all small
mountains. We call them, you know, trekking peaks, and they can range up to
21,000 to 22,000 feet, from 18,000. And in '92, I did a small expedition, a
solo expedition to do some five summits in Sikkim. And as far as high
altitude, you know, I had not been up above 21,500 or so, and this was my
first high altitude--you know, big mountain.

BOGAEV: Were you afraid that maybe you didn't have the strength or the skill
to make it to the top, given that all the other members of the expedition had
significant experience in high altitudes?

Mr. NORGAY: No. You know, this is something that I felt ever since I was a
boy that I was going to climb Mt. Everest, sooner or later, and I was
confident even when I was at the age of 18, when I asked my father I wanted to
climb this mountain, I was very confident of, you know, getting to the top,
and not because of my strength, but I had faith in myself and in the mountain,
that, you know, I was going to climb this mountain one day. And as far as
being fit for this mountain, you know, I was a Sherpa, you know, by ethnic
group. You know, being a Sherpa and being the son of Tenzing Norgay also I
think gave me a boost that, you know, I have it in my blood to climb this
mountain and to do what my father had done before.

BOGAEV: Do you mean that literally, physiologically?

Mr. NORGAY: Yes. I think we--the Sherpas are believed, you know, to have,
you know, bigger lungs and, you know, we adapt to higher altitudes a lot
faster and, you know, easily than any other humans on the planet here.

BOGAEV: You were offered the position of climbing leader on the expedition.
What were you responsible for?

Mr. NORGAY: Well, my responsibilities--you know, climbing Everest in '96 and
when my father climbed Everest in 1953 were--we had very--it was very similar,
you know, in regard to my father and my role. And my role was to help, you
know, get all the loads up to the higher camps, make sure that all the camps
are well-stocked and the campsites are put up, the fixed ropes are up. You
know, I organize groups of Sherpas who would fix the ropes on the mountain
and...

BOGAEV: These are the ropes that the climbers follow...

Mr. NORGAY: Use, yes.

BOGAEV: ...and use...

Mr. NORGAY: Yes, yes.

BOGAEV: ...and attach their gear to. Mm-hmm.

Mr. NORGAY: Their carabiners. Yes, yes. And I was more of a liaison between
the Sherpas and the members, because, you know, I could speak English and I
can speak Nepali and Sherpa, because sometimes you can get into some
misunderstanding between the members and the Sherpas.

BOGAEV: After you hired porters to carry loads to base camp and you
established a camp there, you described the whole scene at the base camp of
Everest as a boomtown without a mayor. And you said that--you write that it
reminded you of a college. What is it like there at base camp on Everest?

Mr. NORGAY: It's a zoo. You know, you have--when we were climbing, there
were about 15 expeditions, and each expedition has an average of 10 members
and another about 20 Sherpas, so it's about 35, maybe up to 45 to 50, you
know, people in one expedition. And that's a lot when you have, you know, 15,
16 expeditions. Every camp, you know, is unique because everybody has their
own dining tent, they have a storage tent, you know. It's almost as big as
your grocery stores that we have. They have all the goodies in there. And
they have communication tents now. And things that people bring in today is a
little bit too much--you know, too much of high-tech. And with so many people
there, you know, there's not too much space in the base camp area. I mean,
it's big, but there's only a few nice areas to camp because it's all on a
glacier, and the ice is always melting below you.

BOGAEV: My guest is Jamling Tenzing Norgay. His father, Tenzing Norgay
Sherpa, was the first man, along with Sir Edmund Hillary, to reach the summit
of Mt. Everest in 1953. Jamling Norgay also made it to the top of Everest
with the IMAX filming expedition in 1996. He has a new book about the trip
called "Touching My Father's Soul."

We'll talk more in a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with Jamling Tenzing Norgay. His father, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa,
accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary on the first ascent of Everest in 1953. Just
five years ago, Jamling Norgay also made it to the top of that mountain as a
member of the IMAX filming expedition.

Now the first really dangerous part of the climb is called the Khumbu ice
fall.

Mr. NORGAY: Yes.

BOGAEV: What makes it so dangerous? And you point out that it's particularly
dangerous for Sherpas carrying loads.

Mr. NORGAY: Yes, yes. Now the Khumbu ice fall is a very--it's almost like a
large river of ice boulders moving, you know, a couple feet a day. And you
never know when these boulders are going to collapse or--it's sort of a
labyrinth, you know. It's ice blocks, and you don't know when one of the
crevasses are going to open or close or, you know, you might be on a ladder
crossing one of the crevasses and all of a sudden if it closes or opens, then
you're in trouble. Or, you know, a boulder falls on you. And it's very
unpredictable in this area, especially in the later part of the day, because
if the sun comes out, you know, ice melts and it gets warmer and there's more
movement.

And Sherpas are more--you know, they risk their lives a lot more than anyone
else because they ferry loads up to the high camps, you know, a lot more. I
mean, in one climb or, you know, one climb on Everest, I think on average a
Sherpa goes through the ice fall maybe about 18, 20 times, maybe more, and
whereas a Westerner would probably go up the ice fall maybe, like, four times
or five times at the most. And so that way, the Sherpas, they risk their
lives, you know, a lot more.

BOGAEV: How many times did you pass through it on the 1996 expedition?

Mr. NORGAY: I went through the ice fall maybe about nine or 10 times. And I
did not go through it as much as, you know, the other Sherpas did. And I went
through it with the team members because we were doing the film. We were
filming, and I had to be with them all the time. And it is not something that
I look forward to going through, because every time--you know, the ice fall
would change. If we went through it, you know, today and three days later,
when we would go through it again, you know, it look a little different. And
so--you know, the ladder's been removed.

And we had a team of Sherpas that maintained the ice fall for two months.
Their soul job was to go up and down the ice fall every morning--there, it was
like three, four in the morning--then go out to make sure that the route was
still safe. If it wasn't, their job was to fix the ice fall and then come
back.

BOGAEV: While your team was waiting to summit, at the same time a sudden
storm came up and endangered the lives of another expedition. Eight climbers
lost their lives in that storm.

Mr. NORGAY: Yes.

BOGAEV: The story's told in Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air" and a number
of other books about the trip. At what point did you know that the climbers
making the ascent on May 10th, 1996, were in trouble?

Mr. NORGAY: You know, I think we sensed trouble that afternoon, when we were
looking through the telescope, you know, up on the ridge between the Hillary
Step and the south summit, you can see climbers that were still up there about
3:00. You know, they were going for the summit. And immediately David looked
at me--you know, David Breashears and Robert Schauer and Ed Viestur--you know,
we looked at each other and said--you know, the communication between our eyes
was like, `There is going to be trouble.' Because it was very late, you know,
to be up that high on the mountain at that time, and...

BOGAEV: Where were you on the mountain?

Mr. NORGAY: We were lower down in Camp II, which is at about 21,000 feet,
21,500 feet. And we can see straight up, you know, on Mt. Everest. And we
noticed that, you know, when people were still climbing at that time, we
wondered what was going on. And we even sort of partly felt that there might
be trouble even the day before, when we saw all these 30-some-odd people going
up towards the last camp, and there were quite a few of them that were
inexperienced and they were very slow.

BOGAEV: The team leader of that expedition, Rob Hall, was stranded...

Mr. NORGAY: Yes.

BOGAEV: ...and was in radio communication with other climbers and also with
his wife. Did you hear any of those radio transmissions?

Mr. NORGAY: Oh, yes, I did. I was in the tent when they were talking, and
there was a very, very sad moment. I mean, at one point I broke down, you
know, and I just left the tent because, you know, I could not take any more.
And it reminded me also a lot about, you know, why I was on the mountain and
about, you know, hoping that I would not have to make the same call to my
wife, you know, back home.

BOGAEV: Was he pretending things were all right or how did the conversation
go?

Mr. NORGAY: I think that when he talked to his wife, I think he knew that,
you know, he was not going to make it. You know, he basically was giving up,
and he knew that this was probably going to be the last time he was ever going
to talk to his wife. And, you know--but he was very strong and very, you
know, good about it. You know, he, you know, tried to keep a straight face
and tried to convince his wife that he was going to come down and, you know,
not to worry, that he was going to be fine and there was going to be help,
which, at that point, we knew, you know, that it was not going to happen. And
that's what really hit us, was when they were talking about this.

BOGAEV: I think a lot of people thought in the wake of this that too many
inexperienced climbers can pay a high price and attempt a summit and, in the
process, endanger the lives of guides and also of Sherpas.

Mr. NORGAY: Others, yes, yes.

BOGAEV: What's your perspective on that?

Mr. NORGAY: I feel that if a person wants to endanger their lives, you know,
that is not right. I mean, at least if you want to climb Everest, you should
come there with some experience or have climbed some other mountains. The
commercial teams should screen the climbers before taking them on, you know, a
bit mountain and a dangerous mountain like Mt. Everest.

BOGAEV: What was the thinking among the other Sherpas on your team during the
rescue effort? Did they feel they weren't going to take risks to go out and
find stranded climbers without extra pay or incentive?

Mr. NORGAY: Well, a few of the Sherpas that were up there now, they
volunteered freely to go up and help. And they are, again, employees, you
know, of the Western groups there. So they have to follow the leader. If the
leader says, `Well, you go and rescue'--you know, because a lot of times you
don't want to give away, you know, the Sherpa people--you know, the Sherpas
that are on the mountain because they're trying to save them and save their
energy, you know, to do some other thing or to help, you know, bring some
other people down or maybe to go up higher on the mountain to bring those
people down, you know. And a lot of times, in moments like these, the leaders
come out and say, `Well, we'll give you, you know, extra bonus when you go up
and, you know, help or when you do another trip to bring back this injured
climber down the mountain,' which happened in the beginning of the climb,
where we had to bring--you know, we had to collect about 35 Sherpas to bring
this one injured climber down the mountain.

BOGAEV: I've read that dead bodies litter Everest, that the bodies of
climbers have been left there in many cases. Did you see any?

Mr. NORGAY: Yes, I did. Actually, I saw maybe about five or six bodies up
there. And it's not a pretty sight, you know, to see--the first body that I
ever saw on the mountain just scared me because I've heard so much about them,
but never seen it personally. And we had to walk right past by one of them
and almost--not even a full body, it was sort of a half-body wrapped up in
some tarpaulin. And it gives us a chill and sort of makes you wonder why you
are here. And, you know, you can end up like one of them. And we climbed,
you know, like I said--when the accidents took place, when these people died,
when we climbed afterwards, that's when we passed by a lot of dead bodies
that were, you know, of friends that had just died, you know, a couple days
ago. And it was a very sad sight, you know, to see friends lying there,
frozen, and knowing that there was nothing you could do to help them.

BOGAEV: I think Sherpas have a name for bodies found on the mountain?

Mr. NORGAY: Yeah, the ones below it, we call them momos(ph). You know, it's
sort of a joke. You know, it's sort of Tibetan Sherpa delicacies. They're
like meat dumplings. And I was surprised when the Sherpas told me, `Oh,
there's a momo,' you know? I said, `Well, it's not really that funny.' But
then later on, after I was on the mountain for a while, you tend to sort of
get the joke and you keep some humor to, you know, keep you moving.

BOGAEV: I think your father attempted Everest seven times. Is it
something...

Mr. NORGAY: Yes.

BOGAEV: ...you wanted to do again?

Mr. NORGAY: Now my father tried, you know, six times and then on the seventh
attempt he finally made it because this is something he wanted to do all his
life. And after the seventh time, when he finally made it, he did not
have--you know, he did not even attempt to climb Everest. And I was very
lucky to have made it on my first attempt, and I don't have any plans to go
back again because, you know, I have completed my goal. You know, I have
fulfilled my dream of following my father's footsteps and being there with
him, and I don't see any reason to go back again because it's done and, you
know, I'm happy with what I have and, you know, what I've learned from, you
know, this mountain.

BOGAEV: Jamling Tanzing Norgay, I want to thank you very much for talking
with me today.

Mr. NORGAY: Well, thank you very much, Barbara.

BOGAEV: Jamling Tenzing Norgay's new book is "Touching My Father's Soul."
Norgay is one of three climbers featured in the IMAX film "Everest."

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BOGAEV: Coming up, treating extreme frostbite, snow blindness and altitude
sickness. We feature an interview with Dr. Kenneth Kamler, who's made several
climbs on Mt. Everest as an expedition doctor. And Maureen Corrigan reviews
"Death in Holy Orders," the new mystery by P.D. James.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Dr. Kenneth Kamler talks about his experiences as an
expedition doctor on Mt. Everest
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross. During the
disastrous snowstorm on Mt. Everest in 1996, Dr. Kenneth Kamler was on the
mountain taking care of survivors. That was one of several climbs he's made
as an expedition doctor on Everest. He's treated extreme frostbite, snow
blindness and altitude sickness, and has risked his life to save others. He's
conducted research on Everest in conjunction with National Geographic and
NASA. Dr. Kamler is also a hand surgeon. He directs the Hand Treatment
Center in New Hyde Park, New York. He's the author of a memoir called "Doctor
on Everest: Emergency Medicine at the Top of the World." Terry spoke with
Kenneth Kamler last December. She asked him how good a climber you have to be
in order to work as an expedition doctor.

Dr. KENNETH KAMLER (Author, "Doctor on Everest: Emergency Medicine at the
Top of the World"): Well, of course, that depends on what mountain you're
climbing.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Good point.

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah, on a mountain like Everest, you have to be, I would say, a
very accomplished climber to even get started on the mountain. It's a very
technically difficult mountain, and many of the difficulties come right at the
beginning. So if you want to be an effective doctor, you have to be up where
the problems are, which are high up, for the most part, and you can't even get
there if you're not able to get past the first barriers which come lower down.

GROSS: And the problems are high up because that's where the oxygen thins and
where the air pressure changes.

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah. If you think about it, the summit of Everest is 29,035
feet. That's about the same height as the cruising altitude for a
trans-Atlantic jet. So there's only about a third as much oxygen as there is
at sea level and your body can't burn fuel efficiently at that height. So
your metabolism is sort of like smoldering instead of burning and you can't
give yourself enough energy. So it's easy to get into trouble at that
altitude.

GROSS: What are some of the medicines you pack with you when you're working
as an expedition doctor?

Dr. KAMLER: That's a difficult problem. Like Everest itself, the challenge
of packing medicine is daunting, if you don't take it one step at a time. So
I try and think of every injury I might encounter and every problem I might
run into, then I list every supply I would need for it, form cardiac
stimulants to adhesive tape. Because if I don't bring it, I don't have it and
I have no chance of getting it. But even more subtly, you have to consider
the quantities which I have to bring, because in climbing weight is critical,
and I have to limit my supplies, recognizing that I might run short in a major
disaster. And as you go up the mountain, you can take less and less. I start
at base camp with about four yack loads of supplies, but by Camp 2, which is
4,000 feet higher, I'm reduced to just a fishing tackle box worth of
equipment. And then higher than that, I just take what I can put in a plastic
bag and keep inside my pocket. Medications freeze; if I don't carry them
right against my chest, they'll be frozen and for the most part unusable.

GROSS: What are some of the main differences in how the body works high on a
mountain compared to how the body works at ground level?

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah, the biggest problem is with the lack of air. There's only
one-third the air pressure as there is at sea level and since metabolism
depends on burning oxygen, you don't have that ability. And it's--as I've
seen before, it's like a smoldering fire. So your metabolism is very low.
Plus, at that altitude, temperatures can run 40 degrees below zero or even
colder and you can have winds there that can be up to 40 miles an hour or
more. You're so high up that you're actually exposed to the jet stream. So
you're dealing with wind-chill factors that you'd only find on the surface of
Mars, maybe. And added to that, at the summit, after several days of
relentless climbing, you've probably had very little to eat or drink, you've
had maybe half a bowl of warm water on summit day, when you start out, and
you'll be out for 16 to 20 hours that day. It's a very, very long day. And
you'll be burning 12,000 to 15,000 calories, which is about 10 times your
normal amount. So you're really on the edge of survival there.

And to just give you an idea of just how thin the margin of survival is, I
remember on one of my own summit attempts, I was carrying a water bottle
inside my down jacket, against my chest and as I was coming back from the
attempt, I wanted to take a drink of water and I reached inside my jacket and
my water bottle was frozen. So you really see how thin your margin of
survival is there.

GROSS: Gee, remind me to climb a mountain on my next vacation.

Dr. KAMLER: I wonder myself what I'm doing there sometimes.

GROSS: What's breathing like that high up?

Dr. KAMLER: Well, as you get higher, it gets harder to breath. At that
height, it's essentially taking one step and then several breaths and then one
more step and then several breaths. It becomes extremely laborious to breath.
Breathing requires muscle power and you get to the point where the muscle
power required to breath uses up more oxygen than what you're taking in. So
it becomes a law of diminishing returns. In fact, the summit of Everest is
physiologically just about man's limit as to where they can breathe.

GROSS: What's the impact on your ability to think clearly and to remember
things when you have so little oxygen getting to your brain because the air is
so thin? Does it make it difficult for you to function well as a doctor?

Dr. KAMLER: Yes, it does. I'm called upon to make some critical medical
decisions which are complicated enough in a modern hospital intensive care
unit, and I'm often in a situation where I'm not getting enough oxygen myself
and it's very cold and the cold is sort of debilitating as well. So you often
have a situation where it's hard to think clearly, and sometimes it's
literally confusing to figure out how to tie your shoes--that becomes a
problem--much less making difficult medical decisions. But I find that I'm
aware that I'm thinking slowly. It's not like I'm hallucinating. I'm very
aware of the situation. I'm aware I'm thinking slowly and, therefore, I can
just sort of concentrate and focus and I find I can get the job done, even
though it's a little harder than it would be at sea level.

GROSS: So what happens if you need a doctor?

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah, that's what people often say to me up on the mountain.
The people I climb with are very experienced and they very often do climb
without doctors on other expeditions. So many of them do have a good deal of
medical experience. Some of them are emergency medical technicians and
they've had a lot of first-hand experience. So I think that they would be
able to take care of me in an emergency situation.

BOGAEV: Dr. Kenneth Kamler, talking with Terry Gross. His memoir is "Doctor
on Everest: Emergency Medicine at the Top of the World." We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back now to Terry's interview with Everest expedition doctor Kenneth
Kamler.

GROSS: You were an expedition doctor in 1996 during the storm on Everest in
which so much has been written and filmed about. Where were you during the
storm?

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah. When that storm hit, I was at 24,000 feet, which is what
we call Camp 3. And the climbers who got in trouble were 2,000 feet above me
at Camp 4. They had just gone for the summit that day, and we were in our
camp below them listening on the radio as to what had happened to them. And
we had heard that they had summited just in the afternoon, but even though
there was some celebration on their part, it made us all very nervous because
they had summited very late in the afternoon. It's a good rule to make sure
you have enough daylight to get back, you know, with plenty to spare. And
they had summited at about 2:30 in the afternoon, which was a very late time
to be coming down. They only had a few hours of daylight left and no margin
for error.

And at that point we were just sort of hoping they'd get back down. But a
storm came up, and unexpectedly the mountain was just engulfed by the worst,
most intense storm I've ever seen. And we knew that they were still out high
above their camp, which would have been their shelter. So we were quite
nervous about them. And it got dark and we still had no word that they were
back. And, in fact, they did not get back. They were stuck out in that
storm, and they were unable to get back to their tents. So I was at Camp 3 at
that point, which was a place where I could--I would be unable to even treat
anybody. We were 2,000 feet below them. They were almost inaccessible to us.
But our strongest climbers risked their lives to go up and try and rescue
them. And two of our climbers did make it up to the area where most of the
climbers were and started doing what they could for first aid.

Where I was, I could radio advice, but we realized we'd have to get the
survivors back down if I was going to treat them at all. There was no way
that I could get up to that height. And there would be nothing I could do for
them at that height anyway. So...

GROSS: What did you do to prepare in the hopes the climbers would come down,
knowing that if they did come down they would need help?

Dr. KAMLER: Well, I was in a place where--I was on a 45-degree icy slope.
It's just a notch cut into the mountain. The camp is really--it's just enough
room for a tent. And you can't even stand up without roping yourself in.
It's bitter cold. Everything freezes. I had very little equipment with me.
I just had that plastic bag worth of supplies. My supplies were 2,000 feet
lower down. So we felt that if we could get the survivors down to the next
lower camp, Camp 2, we'd have a much better chance of treating them and
keeping them alive. So we worked out a plan where the climbers would have to
stay overnight at Camp 4, which was already a dangerous place to stay, but
there was just no way we could bring them down that late in the day.

So we waited overnight. The climbers did survive overnight. And as they were
being brought down by the rescuers, I, myself, down-climbed 2,000 feet to that
lower camp. So what I did was I took the New Zealand camp's mess tent, which
was the largest tent in the area, and turned that, essentially, into a little
field hospital. I laid out foam mats on the ice and sleeping bags on top of
those. We collected sets of dry clothes because I anticipated that the
climbers would be soaked and they would have to get out of their freezing
clothes. I hooked up IV bags from the tent, which had to be defrosted first
in warm water. And we had oxygen tanks. I opened them up; got them ready;
put out my bandages, my medications. And I had the Sherpas boil up as much
water as we could because I anticipated some severe frostbite. I knew I'd
have to warm their body parts.

GROSS: How many people made it down who you ended up treating?

Dr. KAMLER: There were two critical climbers who came down, Beck Weathers,
the American climber who got a lot of publicity in the United States, and a
Taiwanese climber named Makalu Gao who was in a very similar condition as
Beck. They both had severe frostbite and hypothermia.

GROSS: Well, how did you treat Beck Weathers? Many Americans saw the photos
of his extreme frostbite...

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...when he came down from the mountaintop. He wasn't expected to
live. I mean--I think--yeah, go ahead.

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah. He was not expected to live. In fact, when we first heard
about Beck, we heard that he was dead. That was our first report. He had
been found in the snow at Camp 4 and pronounced dead. And our rescuers were
tending to the other ones who were still alive when Beck suddenly just
appeared out of the white-out, out of a swirling fog and he just staggered
into base camp. And I remember getting the radio report from one of the
rescuers. He said: `Beck is alive but I don't know for how long.' We really
weren't sure he'd even survive the night. But he did survive the night and he
was brought back down to us.

When I caught up with him at Camp 2, I expected an incoherent, half-conscience
phantom, but he walked into the tent and he said, `Hi, Ken, were should I
sit?' He was really very well-oriented, much better than I expected. So we
laid him down on the mat and on the sleeping bag and we started an IV. And I
started to examine him. And he had the worst frostbite I've ever seen, and
I've seen quite a bit of frostbite. His right hand and wrist were purple and
frozen, all the way to a third of the way up his forearm. His left hand was
also frozen. His nose was just a brittle, black crust; it looked as if he
would sneeze, he would just blow it away. So the first thing to do was to
make sure that he wouldn't die of hypothermia so we started the intravenous
line, but that in itself was a problem because the fluids are so cold at that
altitude. They have to first be defrosted and then you have to make sure
they're warm because the last thing you want to do is put cold fluid into
someone who is already cold. So we used hand warmers, the kind of chemical
hand warmers that skiers might use, and wrapped them around the IV bags to try
to keep them warm.

Once I was sure Beck was warm enough, we started the process of trying to thaw
out his hands and feet. So we had buckets of warm water and I put his hands
and feet in there. It was very difficult to keep the water warm because of
the outside temperature being below zero and because of the fact that his
hands and feet were essentially blocks of ice and they would cool the water
very rapidly. So we had to keep reheating the water and adding it and
measuring the temperature. It was a difficult, very time-consuming job but
the Sherpas, most of whom had never used a thermometer before in their lives,
very quickly got the hang of how to do it and sort of took over monitoring the
temperature while I could look into their medical condition a little more.

GROSS: Are there any dangers when you're defrosting somebody's body parts
that have frostbite? Are there any dangers in having the temperature being
too warm or in trying to defrost them too rapidly?

Dr. KAMLER: Yeah, that's a very interesting point that people don't realize
very often. I'm dealing with a frozen body part and when I try to rewarm
that, if I do it too quickly, of course, they might get burns and since their
hands are not able to feel pain, they wouldn't even be able to tell me. So
you have to be very careful about the temperature. And, of course if it's too
low, you're not going to be effective. But an even more difficult problem is
that if their bodies are not warm, their hearts will be a little bit cool and
cooled heart muscle is very sensitive and it can react by going into what we
call an arrhythmia, a pattern of beating which would not allow blood to flow
and can be fatal. So I had to be careful that their body temperature was high
enough where their heart was functioning properly because, if I suddenly
rewarmed their hands, that wave of cold blood, which would come out of their
hands into their body, would be a shock which could kill them.

GROSS: So how did he survive your treatment?

Dr. KAMLER: Well, he did amazingly well. He did survive, as did Makalu.
They lived through the night. I stayed up all night taking care of them, just
making sure their IVs were working, making sure they were breathing.

In the morning, we were hoping that a helicopter would be able to come to
evacuate the two climbers, but the wind was still blowing so hard that there
was just no way the helicopter pilot said he could land. So at that point, I
had to make a decision as to whether or not I should try to keep them at
21,000 feet a second day or whether we should try to evacuate them over the
ice. Over-the-ice evacuation is quite dangerous, you have to go through a lot
of crevasses, it's technically difficult and it would not be me who would be
risking his life to evacuate these people since we would be using our
strongest climbers. So I would be asking our strongest climbers to risk their
lives to bring down these two sick climbers. But the alternative was to leave
them another day at 21,000 feet and I didn't feel they could survive another
day at that altitude. Twenty-one thousand feet is an altitude where cuts
won't even heal. And I had two climbers who were so critically ill that--I've
seen healthier-looking patients die in an intensive care unit.

GROSS: Why won't cuts heal at that altitude?

Dr. KAMLER: There's just not enough oxygen. The body is functioning at its
bare limit. The body does what it has to do to keep itself alive but it has
no extra energy, so to speak, to bring about healing. It's the last place
you want to have a critical person.

GROSS: So what did you decide to do?

Dr. KAMLER: Well, I knew my decision would be taken without question so--it
was a difficult decision, but I felt that we had to get these two climbers out
and I felt we should evacuate them over the ice, even knowing that it would be
risking other climbers, so we prepared to do that. The climbers organized
themselves into rescue teams. I packed up the two climbers as best I could,
keeping them as warm as I possibly could. And we started out with that in
mind, going down the ice fall. We were at 21,000 feet and we had a stretch to
go of 2,000 feet, after which we would enter the ice fall, which is the most
dangerous area filled with crevasses. And as we were going down the route, I
was trailing behind the rescuers, and I remember thinking how I'm going to
manage these climbers when I get them down to base camp. And, you know, what
are the problems I might encounter as we went through the ice fall.

I didn't realize, as we were going, that the wind had died down and, all of a
sudden, I was startled to hear a noise and then look up and see a helicopter.
So the pilot had been monitoring the weather conditions; he'd noticed the lull
in the wind immediately and made a very daring rescue. He came in in that
lull in the wind and landed in a crevasse field and was able to lift out the
two climbers, one by one actually. And he was flying his helicopter above the
limit that was considered safe for that helicopter. He was at 19,000 feet;
the limit of the helicopter was 17,000 feet. But he risked his life to go
higher and bring these climbers out. And, in fact, he did get them both out.
He helicoptered them out to Kathmandu, where they were in a hospital before we
even got back to base camp.

GROSS: So in what conditions are Beck Weathers and Makalu now, the two people
with the extreme frostbite who you treated?

Dr. KAMLER: Well, Beck I'm still very much in contact with. He's a
pathologist. Lucky for him, it's about the only field of medicine you can
practice without hands. Beck, in fact, unfortunately, did lose both his
hands. He has a prosthetic hand on one side and he has a kind of a pinching
mechanism on the other side. But he is able to function. He's gone back to
work as a pathologist. And just like he didn't let the mountain stop him, he
didn't let his disability stop him either.

As for Makalu, he went to Alaska for treatment. He was in hospitals almost a
year. But as he told me, he knew it was time to get back to Taiwan because
the doctors in Alaska wanted to refashion a nose for him, and he said he
didn't want to have a Caucasian nose. So he headed back to Taiwan, where I
haven't heard from him since.

GROSS: How did the deaths during the storm on Everest and the extreme
injuries affect your attitude about climbing again?

Dr. KAMLER: Well, when you've climbed all over the world and had a lot of
experiences, you always are involved with people who are dying on the
mountain. It's not--unfortunately, it's not that unusual to have climbers
die on the mountain. So it's something that we've all thought about. And
we wouldn't be climbers if we didn't sort of accept that risk and understand
that that can happen.

But having said that, I have to say this was the first time that my friends
died on the mountain. And that puts it in a whole other perspective. The
risk is no longer abstract. It becomes real. And it's--having a consolation
like saying something like, `they died doing what they loved,' it suddenly
seemed ridiculous. Nobody loves freezing to death. And saying things like
`We go for the thrill of the climb,' it sounds pretty thin compared to the
devastation you see in the families of the people who died up there.

But the risk is inherent in climbing, and it's--actually, I think it's
essential to the sport. It's part of the appeal, but it's not an appeal as it
would appeal--as a daredevil might enjoy it. Because in climbing you assume a
risk that makes you responsible for your actions. And your actions have
direct, immediate consequences. It's a kind of refreshing condition that's
often lacking in modern lives where the actions and the effects of what you do
are dissipated. And someone like me who goes climbing has to just believe you
can control a lot of the risk, keep it within an acceptable limit, although,
honestly, I'm not sure that taking any risk is acceptable.

GROSS: Well, Dr. Kamler, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. KAMLER: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Dr. Kenneth Kamler, speaking with Terry Gross. His memoir is "Doctor
on Everest: Emergency Medicine on the Top of the World."

Coming up, a review of the newest P.D. James mystery. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: P.D. James' new book "Death in Holy Orders"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

Book critic Maureen Corrigan has left her guilty fingerprints all over P.D.
James' new mystery novel, "Death in Holy Orders." Here's her review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

`P.D. James again?' That's the enthusiastic response I got from a friend who
asked what I planned on reviewing this week. It's true, every time James
issue another book, I review it. I guess I'm in a rut with P.D. James, who
herself is in a rut, writing her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries year after year.
This latest, "Death in Holy Orders," is her 11th. But in our joint defense,
allow me to get theoretical for a minute and suggest that ruttedness is
precisely the great literary advantage that series fiction, in James' case
detective series fiction, has over one-shot novels.

As a writer of series fiction, James has had the luxury of developing her
complex characters over decades. She's also wrung slow, subtle changes on the
familiar formula of the classic British mystery. For a loyal reader like me,
part of the pleasure of reading James is the pleasure of being in the know,
catching on to how Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard and the
supporting cast of police characters has changed from book to book, noting the
insider references to earlier cases.

"Death in Holy Orders" serves up those same cerebral attractions, as well as
the restrained narrative suspense and palpable mood of dread that
distinguishes James' best mysteries. But something else is also afoot here.
James is now over 80, and I hope she's planning to write more mysteries. But
I suspect "Death in Holy Orders" might well serve as the last of the Dalgliesh
series. This story has an apocalyptic feel to it. Everything here is coming
to an end. Even the stark east Anglican coastline where the book is set is
crumbling into the sea. Also lending to the summing-up tone of this story is
the fact that James, brilliantly and sometimes comically, alludes here to the
work of all the immortal mystery writers who've preceded her, starting with
Edgar Allan Poe through Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers,
and the rest of that distinguished and murderous company.

My final, and I think conclusive, piece of evidence for why "Death in Holy
Orders" may be James' literary swan song is the fact that Adam Dalgliesh,
James' solitary poet detective, falls in love by the end of this novel.
Beyond bullets, knife wounds or poison, the only thing that could kill off
Dalgliesh's essentially gloomy character is happiness.

The opening premise of "Death in Holy Orders" nods at the Gothic origins of
mystery fiction. In a soon to be closed theological college by the sea, the
body of a young man studying for the Anglican priesthood has been found buried
under a collapsed, sandy outcropping. As one character puts it, `The image of
that boy gasping open-mouthed for air and finding only the killing sand
haunts the atmosphere.' Dalgliesh is called in because the boy's father, an
influential business mogul, is dissatisfied with the inquest verdict of
accidental death. In rapid succession, three more corpses turn up, and soon
Dalgliesh is creeping at night through the labyrinithian corridors of the
college, desperately trying to outwit a criminal intelligence that, we're
told, is equal to his own.

If James weren't such an elegant and serious writer, the plot of "Death in
Holy Orders," which also references black Masses and a secret Egyptian
papyrus, could easily have devolved into slapstick. But James consistently
has harbored loftier aims for her murder mysteries. Nowhere in her canon has
James' almost religious appreciation for mystery with a capital M been more
apparent than in this novel, which explicitly meditates on the problem of
evil and on the future of faith in an increasingly godless world. Here's how
one character cheekily dismisses organized religion. `The church, in the
Middle Ages, gave comfort and light and pictures and stories and the hope of
everlasting life. The 21st century has other compensations. Football, for
one. And then there's shopping, art and music, travel, alcohol, drugs. We
all have our own resources for staving off those two horrors of human life,
boredom and the knowledge that we die. And now, God help us, there's the
Internet.'

That character left out of his list of worldly compensations mystery novels,
which in the case of P.D. James' own mystery novels have both entertained
readers and prodded them to ponder the infinite. P.D. James again? I hope
so. But something about the autumnal feel of "Death in Holy Orders" makes me
think that it's a fitting and final eulogy for an extraordinary mystery
series. But my hunch may be wrong. After all, I almost always pick the wrong
suspect as the murderer.

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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