Blister Invasion on Julia's Feet
Julia's blisters sneered up after only 2 days of hiking. She'd had her boots since high school, but had never worn them for more than a half day of leisure trekking. When we examined her blisters by the light of my head lamp, we cursorily dismissed them and thought Vaseline and Band-Aids would do the trick. But, they didn't. Instead of healing, her blisters grew and multiplied. By day 4, 8 of 10 toes had wicked blisters and we agreed that they needed to be popped. So, in true Peace Corps fashion, we sterilized a safety pin with a borrowed lighter, and I squatted next to Julia's bed. For both Julia and I, the blister-popping surgery was entertaining. Each time I pulled the pin out of a blister, we both analyzed how much liquid oozed out and its viscosity. Unfortunately, the surgery didn't save her feet, and new blisters popped up in the following days. Julia was a trooper, though, and never gave me a hint as to the amount of pain she must have suffered. She just kept on taking 300 mg of Ibuprofen twice a day.
It was only on day 13, after pushing through a heavy 24 km, that I realized just how beat up her feet were. We were doing our daily analysis of her blisters when she unemotionally stated, "I think my toenail is going to fall off."
Closer inspection made it obvious that her toenail wouldn't last long; it was hanging onto her pinky toe by just a ligament of skin. it was quite depressing, really, to look at her 11 blisters and think they weren't too bad next to that deathbed toenail.
When I returned from my (ice-cold) shower, she announced that, in the 5-minute span I'd been absent, her toenail had fallen off. Knowing Julia, I suspect that she picked at it until it fell off, so it was more like murder than natural death. Our short mourning period was interrupted by a French-Canadian couple we'd met in Ngawal and trekked with for the past 4 days. After examining Julia's feet, Robert pointed to a discolored toe and her left heel (we naively thought the yellowish skin was a side effect of being suffocated by boots for 10 hours a day). He diagnosed both as infections and generously gave Julia antibiotics (calling them Smarties) and a reassurance that her toenail would grow back.
Julia, I wish I could have somehow shared your suffering, just as I would have shared Martin's and Gerard's knee pains during the Sanctuary trek. I was victim to just 1 mini, painless blister the entire trek, and the imbalance of foot pain was unfair. If I could have taken 5 of your blisters so that you were left with only 6, we could have had blister-taping parties every morning. Instead, Julia's blisters never improved, and she developed right knee pain once we started our descent days after reaching Thorung La at 5416 meters. Two more of her dwindling toenails fell victim to the torture of those stone steps on the trail in subsequent days.
I never knew which hurt more - the popped blisters, the unpopped blisters, the toes without a nail, or her right knee - or how much they hurt, because Julia never complained. Whenever I asked her how her feet were, she'd reply, "the same" with a careless shrug. We separated paths on day 17; I continued on to the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek with some fellow trekkers, while Julia decided it would be best to skip the Sanctuary and head down to Pokhara, where she could heal her feet.
She adamantly refused to take a jeep down to Pokhara, admirably trekking to the finish line of the Annapurna Circuit. When I met up with her in Pokhara 5 days later, her feet were stunningly gorgeous (relative to their Himalayan state), radiating from their days of rest.
Julia, I love you, because you trusted me enough to pop your blisters each night and wrap your knee each morning. I love you because you shared your Snickers at Thorung La, because we can take baby wipe showers together, because you don't mind when I keep my head lamp on to read at night, because our "splurge meal" is when we spend more than $4, and because your injuries didn't stop your from completing the Annapurna Circuit. Next year, Everest Base Camp! (Do you accept?)