Lt Col Rajesh Mehta with his artificial limbs . Photo: Beyond NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga
By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: "At an altitude of 5000 meters in the Siachen Glacier, the levels of oxygen in the blood of a healthy solider would be similar to that of a patient with severe lung disorder at seal level. Prolonged stay at these high altitudes presents a completely different set of medical challenges. For doctors, nothing that's learned in medical school applies here."
These are some of the interesting aspects captured in the just-released book -- Beyond NJ 9842: The Siachen Saga -- written by television journalist Nitin A Gokhale. The book captures some of the untold stories from the glaciers ever since the Indian Army launched Operation Meghdoot in April 1984 to thwart Pakistan's attempts to gain supremacy over the region.
Tough call of duty: Terming Siachen as the toughest call of duty for Indian soldiers, the book says that survival on the glacier involves much more than battling the grueling environmental conditions. "In addition to the constant threat of enemy action, life in the glacier is all about combating long periods of isolation, making do with tinned and preserved food, struggling to obtain clean drinking water, living in cramped inhospitable temporary shelters without electricity and the absence of a host of things considered essential and taken for granted by civilised society," says one of the chapters in the book that touches upon 'Medicine and Men' in Siachen.
The story of Lt Col Rajesh Mehta, who developed clots in the veins of his brains, hands and legs while posted to the glaciers, is an apt pointer to the hardships soldiers in Siachen undergo. The doctors had to amputate the officer's right leg from his hip, the left leg from the knee and the left arm from the elbow. Rajesh, a former commando, still works with the Indian Army and is now posted in Pune.
The book goes deep into the sustained efforts of Army Medical Corps in keeping the Saichen bravehearts in good shape. "Doctors on Siachen are indeed a rare breed of professionals and no medical school in the world prepares them to serve in such conditions. Nothing that a doctor learnt in medical school would apply in such conditions. No blood tests, X-rays, ECGs or fancy investigations are possible," the book states.
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is one of the commonest high-altitude illnesses encountered by 20-30 per cent of soldiers arriving at Siachen. "AMS is extremely distressing and often demoralising for the soldiers. A healthy and physically fit soldier suddenly finds himself experiencing headache, nausea and loss of appetite for no apparent reason which spooks him, often causing him to wonder what other terrible things lie ahead," the author writes.
Height of maladies: A soldier posted in Siachen has to battle multiple health issues. According to the book, a soldier could have impaired absorption of food from the intestine, dulling of taste sensation and severe loss of appetite. "This could be combined with low oxygen levels, impaired nutrition, raised haemoglobin levels, lack of mobility and dehydration -- further making the solider susceptible to host of medical ailments. These could range from raised blood pressure, increased susceptibility ton infections and weight loss, to life-threatening events like blood clots in the lungs, brain, intestines, spleen and heart. Many soldiers also report sleep disturbances, impaired memory and loss of libido," says the book.
Copyright@The New Indian Express
(The above report is based on one chapter in the book -- Medicine Men: Siachen Saviors.)