Counting Down to Departure: Do NOT Cough

We have been receiving a number of emails from the Agency – from booking to deciding on options.  Now that we are so close to departure they are sending weekly tid-bits.  They call them Trip-tips.  The first one outlined their great guides and porters and told us how much fun we were going to have.  The second introduced us to their webcam.  But the second email also started to warn us about stuff (maybe this is where the worrying started?).  Don’t book your connecting flights too close together or your bags may not follow you!  Test your gear before you get onto the mountain!  Here are the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness!  Don’t wear contact lenses at high altitude unless you have the special kind that lets the oxygen in!  Make sure you have trip cancellation insurance!  Your Passport must be valid for at least 6 months after you return home or they won’t let you into Tanzania! And the latest (5th) email, arriving 3 days prior to departure says, don’t leave home sick!  If you sneeze, or have a mild cough, CANCEL your trip and re-book.  Do it now before it’s too late: if you get sick within 10 days of departure….. Why didn’t they send this 7 days ago?  We are 3 days from departure…  and its mountain cedar season in San Antonio. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with mountain cedar…  the weed tree of the Texas hill country is called mountain cedar.  The pollen causes allergies in what seems like 60% of the population.  In the cold winter, the trees happily release their pollen in giant yellow brown clouds that get caught in the wind and strewn over every horizontal surface.  It is especially acute on days that fall in the “under 40 F” temperature category.  Thank you Polar Vortex: I have itchy eyes, and am sneezing, even with allergy medicine.  And no, I’m not going to cancel my trip!

I pause while I down an Emergen-C

Medicine and illness are actually a major part of preparing for the trip.  Inoculations necessary for Tanzania are a Polio booster, Tetanus, and Typhoid Fever.  However to travel in any of the surrounding countries, you need Yellow Fever as well.  Just in case the plane diverts, I don’t want to be stuck at the airport because I didn’t pony up for the $150 shot.  While I was at it, may as well get Hepatitis A & B and round things out!  Then for Malaria you have to go on a regimen of Doxycycline, starting 2 days prior to your arrival in Africa and continuing afterward for a week.  We also need to carry antibiotics (just in case) and meds to help with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

AMS is serious.  Altitude sickness sucks, but AMS is beyond feeling bad.  Altitude sickness should lessen after about 4 days and as we climb slowly up the mountain, we should acclimate to the altitude.  But if you do not acclimate, then you can get in real trouble.  You can help yourself acclimate by keeping healthy, sleeping well, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, drinking a lot of water, and then decide if you want to try Diamox.

The Daily Decision Dilemma:  Diamox debate

Diamox is used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of AMS, it can decrease headache, tiredness, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath.  It is a diuretic.  It works with your liver to help your body produce more oxygen.   Side effects are dizziness, lightheadedness, and an increased amount of urine, blurred vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, loss of appetite, stomach upset, headache and tiredness (sounds like the side effects are the same as the symptoms you are trying to decrease), and numbness or tingling in your fingers and toes.  You should not take this if you have liver disease, breathing problems, diabetes, and gout or are allergic to sulfa drugs.  And Diamox and Aspirin do not mix.  Just reading the side effects makes me very concerned.  I normally do not experience altitude sickness, and therefore have not been planning to take my Diamox, even though I do have the recommended dosage.

I read blogs that said they could not have made it without Diamox.  I read blogs where they took the drug even though they were not sure if it helped.  I read to start taking it 2 days before climbing, or to start only when you started to feel like you were getting Altitude sickness.  I then read that no drug has really been studied over 15,000 feet and no one should take any medication at that altitude.   What I did notice is that the people who promoted Diamox were all amateur climbers who felt like the drug did not hurt, but not sure if they actually needed it.  The arguments against taking Diamox came from experienced climbers. Those people only recommended taking the drug for quick ascents or for persons who have repeatedly had AMS in the past.

So we decided not to take it and are going with an herbal supplement… a mixture of Ginko Biloba, Rhodiola rosea, ALA, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.  While we climb, we will certainly write down how we feel about the herb and if we decide to switch to the meds in mid climb.  We both have been over 10,000 ft multiple times without incident, and over 14,000 ft without a headache.  Still – the oxygen level (or lack thereof) at the summit will be challenging even without altitude sickness.  As for full blown AMS – well we have to carry medicines that will reduce acctue symptoms should we experience accute AMS and then they will scurry us down the mountain to a safe altitude where our climb (sadly) ends.  And by the way, since you ended your climb early, you will owe extra money for a hotel stay that was not included in your trip price (ouch, talk about adding insult to injury). 

I am breathing deeply, taking extra vitamins and staying away from people to avoid any cough or tingling in the back of my throat, or any headache or sneezing symptoms.   


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