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[at-l] illness on the trail

Two separate thoughts brought on by this thread
1.  In 1988 I had a recurring stomach problem in the first few months.  I
was sure at the time that it was Giardia, but later had second thoughts.  I
was bloated, gassy, nauseous and extremely ill.  I wanted to see a doctor,
but had no insurance, besides which I had problems with the imagined dialog
with the doctor:
"I must be ill, I'm not starving any more."  "You're not eating?."  "No, I
can eat, but I'm eating like a normal person, not a thru-hiker.  Besides I'm
really weak."  "Oh you can't walk?"  "Well, only 10 or 12 miles a day.  I
just don't feel up to 20 any more."  While I knew I was sick, I might have a
hard time convincing someone else.  

Later I figured out that the problem was what I called "townitis".  After
several days of eating very bland food and no fruits and vegetables or
meats, I would hit a salad bar, topped with a big hamburger or steak and ice
cream.  My stomach couldn't handle the change.  For several weeks, every
time I would leave town, for 3 or 4 days I would feel very ill and very
weak.  After a while my body got used to switching back and forth from bland
to rich and rough and the problem stopped.  But I still remember lying on
the floor in the motel crying because it was a 5 mile walk to the doctor,
and I couldn't do it.  That time took over a week of 10 mile days to get

In `92 near the Smokies there was a flu or bad water spring that got several
people.  They just stayed put until they felt better, then slowly they made
their way onward.  When my tendonitis acted up in `88, I did short days
until I reached town.   Carrying an extra light meal can help get through if
you have to stay put longer than expected.  Other hikers will often help
too, if you need to stay with a sick friend.  

Although people will help, there is also an expectation that all thru-hikers
are self sufficient.  It is rare for a non-partner to stay with a sick
hiker.  The expectation is that it is the individual's responsibility to get
themselves out, unless that is obviously impossible (i.e. a broken leg).  I
ran into someone at the Overmountain Barn who had been ill for two days.  He
had no expectation that anyone stay with him.  He was just waiting it out. 
He didn't mind the hikers leaving him behind every morning. The worst part
was the cold winds through the cracks in the barn and the mouse that ate his
long underwear and socks while he was sleeping there.

Second point is - Watch out for hiking too much on the Ibuprofen.  If you
cannot walk without serious pain relievers, you might be doing permanent
damage to yourself.  Bad knees on the descents, some pain at the end of the
day or at night or stiffness in the morning are all normal, and will heal
over time ( a year or three).  If you are in constant excruciating pain, you
should listen to your body.  Take 2 or three days off. If rest and slowing
down doesn't help, you could be doing some real damage.  Is the thru-hike
worth that?  Ask Bronco.  He knows.  Better still, ask a sports medicine
doctor.  I know how important a thru-hike can be - but isn't it better to do
it over a longer period of time with the body intact than to do "come death
or dismemberment"?  Like the professional athletes who need the drugs to
play, the price can be really high.  The body uses pain as a signal, saying
STOP or at least SLOW DOWN.  Listen to your body.  

Ginny Owen

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