Back home

Reflections on life since the mountain tour to Monte Rosa. The final day was so long: we’d started well before dawn and arrived at the Gornergrat railway to head home in the early evening. But surprisingly, the first three days after the tour I was still sort of high, and full of energy. Then on Monday morning – surprise, surprise – the tiredness hit me, and I had terribly aching joints and cramps, which even woke me in the night for about a week. Probably I should have kept up some sport to let my muscles relax slowly, but I didn’t know that, and enjoyed being really lazy.

The most amazing thing about the tour was that after it I could bend and move so easily and had no pain, not even in the lower back, where I usually have a small nagging ache all the time. The backache started again exactly two weeks after the tour. So in all I had about 4 weeks without pain. Anybody who has experienced chronic pain can imagine how amazing that was for me. The best holiday you can imagine.

Actually I think that experience is rather interesting. Usually people with rheumatic disorders are told to exercise – yes! yes! but only moderately. I imagine that is good advice if your arthritis is degenerative and the bones in the joints are being worn away by movement, but my arthritis is inflammatory. It seems that my mountain tour of 16 4,000m summits in 5 days, which was quite excessive exercise, did me a lot of good, and during this time my symptoms disappeared completely. Maybe that is something for health care specialists to think about.

I work for the Institute of Rheumatology Research, which funds research to look for better treatments. In that context I was talking to somebody who suffers terribly from degenerative arthritis. X-rays have revealed that at least one or possibly three of the discs of this man’s spine are completely worn away. That is very severe disc degeneration, and causes terrible, unremitting pain. At present there is no treatment for this man, and thus no perspective that his pain will lessen. Severe pain itself is terribly difficult to treat effectively. Some pain-killers, for instance those containing opiates, are very strong, but they have side effects. If they are strong enough to work, they may make people not just oblivious to pain, but also to really everything else around them. At least, that’s what I felt happened to me. That’s not life. Chronic pain allows people to exist – you don’t die of it. But you don’t live either.

People talk about fighting pain, but I’m not sure that is a good approach. Because you can’t ultimately win. And as long as you are engaged in a fight, the pain is exercising power over you. I tried to take the attitude of accepting the pain, so that it lost its power over me. Sometimes it worked, and those were moments of peace for me.

The weeks since the tour have been full professionally and this blog was picked up by a newspaper and other media, which made me very happy, but kept me busy. That’s why I have not written a blog for ages. Very sorry about that.

Apart from the press and answering enquiries about the tour, I lived quietly, spending a lot of time at home. I enjoy the familiarity of my garden and the house I’ve lived in for 20 years. Remembering the time when I could hardly walk, let alone go on trips to the mountains, I was always aware that the beauty of nature is always all around me. Flowers and even leaves are incredibly perfect, beautiful things. So I don’t need to ascend high mountains to see the splendour of nature, I can just look out of the window. One of the first evenings when I got home after the tour there was a thunderstorm brewing up over the Gantrisch mountains to the south. A huge cloud was towering up over the hills behind the house. It was filled with the light of the setting sun. Later, lightening flashes illuminated the cloud from the inside.

Thunderstorm over the Swiss mountains
Thunderstorm is brewing up over the mountains
Autumn sunset in Switzerland near Bern
Sunset in Switzerland in autumn seen from my house

And now in October, we see the red, lilac and yellow of autumn colours. They are not just in the leaves, but in the stunning sunsets as well.  Looking north over the “Mittelland” towards the Jura mountains at this time of year we are regularly treated to the most beautiful evening light shows. I took this picture in early October and would like to share it with you.

Until next time, enjoy the autumn. It’s hard that summer is over, but there is comfort in the splendour of autumn colours.

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