Isolation (Part 1)

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on Mar 23, 2020

Over the next few months we'll all be spending a lot more time indoors trying to limit the spread of COVID-19. We've been in touch with members of the mountain medicine community to ask them for suggestions on how to manage. Here's 3 contributions to get us started. Our first is from Marika Blackham, a Mountain Medicine Fellow at Chesterfield Royal Hospital and DiMM student...

"As someone who's slipped a disc in the last few months, I can wholeheartedly understand the frustration and itchy feet that mountaineers must be feeling at the moment! However the BMC have made strong recommendations against travel to mountainous areas and have instead recommended staying close to home and stopping all high risk mountain activities. This is not only to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus but to also reduce the burden upon an overstretched NHS. The volunteers of mountain rescue teams are under unprecedented pressure, with enormous demands being placed upon them and the NHS that many of them work for. By refraining from climbing, hill walking and mountaineering, we are drastically lowering the risk of slips, trips and falls on difficult terrain that may require a mountain rescue or ambulance call out, and a trip to hospital.

It's also worth bearing in mind that sometimes Mother Nature needs a little break. When we return to the mountains we'll all see, like the dolphins returning to the ports of Italy, the difference that a little less foot traffic has made to our treasured spaces.

Meanwhile here's a few recommendations for things to do closer to home...


1. The Dawn Wall - If you haven't seen it already, a truly awesome documentary featuring climbing superstars Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they attempt to summit the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. 

2. Cold - a short film documenting the ascent of the 8000m peak Gasherbrum II by Simone Moro, Denis Urubko and Cory Richards. This is sure to make you feel pleased you're at home all warm and cosy!

3. The Eagle Huntress - Truly stunning cinematography, the story of the first female to enter an eagle hunting competition in the Altai Mountains in the harsh wilderness of Mongolia. 

Home Exercise: 

1. Weighted Step-Ups - Either on the stairs or on a kitchen step/box, gradually load a rucksack with pasta/rice/toilet paper and perform sets of step ups, alternating with each leg. Perform 3-5 sets on each leg and build on the number of steps.

2. Fingerboard Workout - you may still be able to get a hold of a fingerboard online and have it delivered to your door without the need to step outside! Remember, only try this if you're over 18 years old, have been climbing for more than 3 years and are free from injury. Here's a good article from the BMC to get you started.

3. Gym-Free Climbing Training - Climbing Magazine has made an excellent set of exercises that can be done without fancy gym equipment. Try it!" 

Thanks Marika! 

The next contribution is from Stuart Allan, a well known Lake District GP and Module Lead on the UK's DiMM...

"Jeremy fires an email to me, requesting some thoughts on ‘how to comply with self isolation in the weeks ahead’ and on ‘anything really’.

I’m not convinced that I necessarily have the framework that people should be adjusting to. For a start, I sent my children to their Mum's last week in order to get Covid-19 off her and self-isolate in the same way as my parents exposed me as a child to other kids with chickenpox, measles and mumps!

For the millennials out there, this really happened to us older folk and may explain why we’re a bit odd. That’s our excuse, what’s yours?

For those that worry about these things, they’re doing fine with mild symptoms and are utterly delighted to be going back to school soon as children of an essential worker! They also find it hilarious that their Mum can’t taste anything! 

The other day, just before the more stringent government measures kicked in, I ran up Coniston Old Man from Torver during my lunch break. I saw 5 hikers out, all over 60 years old, giving me a wide birth (more than normal) and exercising a similar degree of extreme self-isolation.

At a height of 803m the summit of The Old Man of Coniston is the tallest point in the Furness Fells and a very popular option amongst walkers and the odd fell runner

I thought I’d write a list of ‘I’ve lost counts…’ which gives some of my thoughts on COVID-19 so far. 

I’ve lost count of:

1. how many ultra runners and endurance athletes have thought they’re funny on social media saying that the once a day exercise regime stipulated by Boris (24.3.20) is fine by them as they’ll just run for 5 hours or cycle 100 miles.

2. how many health care staff are still coming to work with cold symptoms and say ‘it’s OK … I know it’s not Coronavirus’ (I’ve counted 3 today already)

3. how many patients still want antibiotics for their cough.

4. how many patients who aren’t asthmatic want a ‘blue inhaler’ just in case.

5. how many nursing staff in General Practice are still doing face to face patient contacts with tragically inadequate PPE.

6. how many GP’s are still arranging face to face appointments for children with uncomplicated sore throats and earache.

In the meantime, everyone who’s still at the coalface needs to concentrate on reducing their viral load and respecting social distancing with colleagues as much as possible. Exposure is unavoidable. Take your own coffee mug to work, and wipe down all work surfaces and door handles as well as computer terminals with antiseptic wipes before even logging on!

Meanwhile I’m catching up with this new-fangled thing call Netflix. The Witcher. That’s all I’m saying.

Best of luck and see you all again soon!"

Thanks Stuart! 

Finally, I thought I'd recommend some art. After all, as Olivia Laing recently wrote in The Guardian...

"Art can't win an election or bring down a president. It can't stop the climate crisis, cure a virus or raise the dead. But what it can do is serve as an antidote to times of chaos. It can be a route to clarity and it can be a force of resistance and repair, providing new registers, new languages in which to think."

So here's 3 recommendations - podcast, TV series and book - that have nothing to do with mountains or medicine but can certainly provide the "force of resistance" that we need at this time.

Tunnel 29 is a podcast that tells the story of a small group of young men and women who dig a tunnel under the Berlin Wall to allow dozens of their friends and family to escape to the west. Extensive documentary evidence and first hand interviews combine to give the listener a very powerful sense of the risks involved in attempting to cross one of the world's most impenetrable borders. 

More than 70 tunnels were built under the Berlin Wall in the 1960's. Amongst the most successful was Tunnel 29. Over the course of a single night in September 1962, 29 men, women and children used it to escape East Berlin

Chernobyl is an Emmy award winning TV drama based upon the events surrounding the eponymous nuclear accident in 1986. The series follows Valery Legasov, a nuclear scientist from the Soviet Union, who is tasked with making safe the damaged nuclear reactor. Despite his success, vocal criticism of his country's nuclear programme led to persecution and his eventual suicide in 1988. Chernobyl not only reveals the disaster's impact upon an individual but also a failing totalitarian state. As the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev later admitted, 

"The explosion was a "turning point" that opened up the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point where the system as we knew it could no longer continue."

Finally, there's a book I'd recommend for these challenging times - the 2019 Costa Book of the Year -  The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather. It describes the life of Witold Pilecki, who as a Polish intelligence agent in 1940 volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz. Over the next 2 years he meticulously documented the atrocities that took place and arranged for several reports to be smuggled out of the camp. After his escape in 1943 he rejoined the Polish resistance and produced the most comprehensive first hand account of a prisoner's time in Auschwitz. Opposition to the Soviet invasion of Poland after the war led to torture and finally his execution in 1948. Like Tunnel 29 and Chernobyl, The Volunteer pulls together extraordinary survivor interviews and detailed documentary evidence to tell an incredible story that needs to be shared. Please do!

To finish off here's a new poem by Simon Armitage about the times that lie ahead...


And I couldn’t escape the waking dream 

of infected fleas

in the warp and weft of soggy cloth 

by the tailor’s hearth

in ye olde Eyam. 

Then couldn’t un-see

the Boundary Stone, 

that cock-eyed dice with its six dark holes,

thimbles brimming with vinegar wine 

purging the plagued coins.

Which brought to mind the sorry story 

of Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre,

star-crossed lovers on either side 

of the quarantine line

whose wordless courtship spanned the river 

till she came no longer.

But slept again, 

and dreamt this time

of the exiled yaksha sending word 

to his lost wife on a passing cloud,

a cloud that followed an earthly map

of camel trails and cattle tracks,

streams like necklaces, 

fan-tailed peacocks, painted elephants,

embroidered bedspreads of meadows and hedges,

bamboo forests and snow-hatted peaks, 

waterfalls, creeks,

the hieroglyphs of wide-winged cranes 

and the glistening lotus flower after rain,

the air hypnotically see-through, rare,

the journey a ponderous one at times, long and slow 

but necessarily so.

Thanks to Marika and Stuart for their contributions!

Part 2 of "Isolation" can be found here.

Please get in touch if you'd like to take part in other "Isolation" posts!

Stay safe.

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