Explorers Connect

How to...be a Doctor on Everest

How-toJames Hipkiss

It is amazing what a wonderful drug oxygen is. Neil Rushton, a family GP from Cullompton in Devon and EC Member, has been getting used to the daily grind of his new job in Pheriche - two days' trek from Mount Everest's Base Camp - and deciding whether to send people down the mountain by yak. Dr Rushton, 60, who works for College Surgery Partnership, traded his modern surgery for the Himalayan Rescue Association six weeks ago.

He will work there for three months treating trekkers and locals who fall ill. As well as contending with the language barrier and the electricity, which according to Dr Rushton only works half the time, he is still getting used to the mindset of his patients. How many of my patients would piggy-back on their husbands for two hours with a nasty urinary tract infection in the UK? As part of his role Dr Rushton had a crash course in dentistry - just in case And I am just arranging helicopter evacuation for a USA citizen who came in by horse last night from a camp above us.

He had started wobbling while walking and had fallen twice. This was an early sign of developing cerebral ataxia. The work here is very varied and it is amazing what a wonderful drug oxygen is. At 4,270m (14,000ft) above sea level, Dr Rushton is working at what is believed to be the highest hospital in the world. The work is varied and with just a small team - Bartek, a Polish doctor, and Govinda, a doctor who has done two seasons each year for the past 19 - it is all hands on deck. I learnt how to be a dentist. Apparently this little known skill can be learnt in an afternoon, Dr Rushton said. What it amounted to was how to give dental anaesthesia for an extraction. Our American instructor let us try on each other, luckily with the needle cover on. Bartek, my Polish doctor colleague, assures me that with our head-torches we should get by. Away from work, Dr Rushton and his partner Ceri Lloyd are living with a Nepalese family.

Despite the basic nature of the area, there is still a lot of medical information to take in. Dr Rushton decides whether patients are transported from the mountain by yak or helicopter Dr Rushton said: The way to tackle altitude problems is by taking 125mg of Diamox twice a day. Hardly any western doctors know this so it's really important we spread the word when we get back. The other thing to do is climb high and sleep low. But it also seems the NHS has a lot to learn in bureaucracy. He said: There are queues for everything including one for the man to paperclip your photo to your application for visa papers.

While deciding whether to send patients down the mountain by yak or helicopter and studying for his MSc in remote medicine, Dr Rushton is also getting to grips with the difference between Everest and Cullompton. Services are chaotic. The roads act as sewerage conduits most of the time. There is no rubbish collection. Life expectancy is 53. Despite all these shortcomings they manage to smile all the time.

Written by Beth Rose, BBC News Online