“At an altitude of 5,000 metres in the Siachen Glacier, the levels of oxygen in the blood of a healthy solider is similar to that of a patient with severe lung disorder at sea level. Prolonged stay at these high altitudes presents a completely different set of medical challenges”.
These are some of the interesting aspects captured in the recently 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 the toughest call of duty for Indian soldiers, the book mentions that survival on the glacier involves much more than battling the gruelling 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 food, struggling for clean drinking water, living in cramped temporary shelters without electricity and the absence of a host of things taken for granted by civilised society,” says one of the chapters that touches upon medicine and men in Siachen.
The story of Lt Col Rajesh Mehta, who developed clots in the veins of his brain, 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. Mehta, a former commando, is still with the Indian Army and is now posted in Pune.
When Doctors Fight a Battle
The book also dwells on 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. No blood tests, X-rays, ECGs or fancy investigations are possible,” the book states.
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is one of the most common 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,” the author writes.