“Then the room heater is the cause of your sickness,” the doctor explained. “When turned on, this kind it emits harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. It also depletes the percentage of oxygen present in the room. And all this affects your body and causes nausea.”
The doctor’s words barely registered in Grishma’s mind as she battled with the nausea that had overcome her. Earlier that evening, she had retired to her room in the guest house at Leh, all set for the Chadar trek. However, she was rudely woken up at night by an irresistible urge to throw up. As she rushed to the bathroom, doubts about her ability to do the trek started creeping into her mind.
Grishma Shah on Chadar trek in February 2014
Noting Grishma’s condition, Indiahikes staff at Leh had rushed her to the Sonam Norboo Memorial (SNM) hospital for a check up. To Grishma’s surprise, the first question that the doctor asked her was “when did you turn on the room heater at the guest house?”. Grishma had left it on all evening to keep her room warm – night temperature outside sometimes dropped to -20 degrees Celsius.
It turned out that this had depleted the oxygen in the room. Added to the already low levels of oxygen at such high altitudes, Grishma’s body had to struggle to get its breath back.
To normalise the oxygen level in her blood stream, Grishma stayed on in the guest house the next day. She was ready for the Chadar trek. However, the Indiahikes team was cautious, observing Grishma’s condition closely.
The trekkers set off for Tilat Sumdo, the first campsite, early the following morning, February 3, 2014. Low temperatures all along the trail built up their appetite as they reach the campsite. Grishma ate very little despite the weather and the exertion of the trek. This got the trek leader, Preet Sandhu, worried.
Grishma’s energy levels were dipping. That evening, she threw up again. “If this continues, we might have to send her back,” Preet said to the local guide, Tashi.
The next morning saw Grishma’s health stabilize again. She even completed the 6 hour trek to Shingra Koma, where the team camped for the night.
On the morning of February 5, 2014, trekkers started off on their trek till Tibb. Grishma felt fine in the beginning. But barely 50 metres into the trek, she grew very weak and could go no further.
Preet immediately sent Grishma back to Leh, where she had to be hospitalised. Back at the SNM hospital, Grishma found it difficult to ingest the water and medicines given to her. This made her dehydrated. She began to recover after an antiemetic agent was injected into her blood stream.
Frozen Zanskar river, Leh. Photo courtesy: Prashanth UC
After spending a night at the hospital, Grishma had recovered enough to return to the Siala Guest house. As traces of colour returned to her cheeks, she began to think of the things that we take for granted on a trek. An unassuming room heater had jeopardised not only her trek but very nearly, her life.