Taking on Kilimanjaro
Dr Patti Gardiner is a volunteer doctor at Freedom from Torture and a long-term supporter of the charity. She has taken on a wealth of challenges to raise money for Freedom from Torture's work with torture survivors – from skydiving in the UK to cycling through Vietnam. As a volunteer doctor she sees clients with complex medical problems and liaises with GPs and consultants. Everyone at Freedom from Torture is indebted to Patti for her 5,000m ascent of Kilimanjaro and her tireless fundraising for the charity.
When I enlisted for the six-day trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro, it never crossed my mind that I would not get to the top. I have completed a number of challenges over the last 10 years and am used to succeeding using a combination of training, hard slog and gritty determination. I anticipated that I would return triumphant having conquered the mountain, but I had to turn round at 5,000m (just 900m from the peak).
Life at altitude
The trek starts through glorious rainforest and then climbs over the next four days through increasingly steep and arid terrain to the base camp from where we started the midnight trek to the summit. However, on day 2 I started vomiting, then the diarrhoea started. I can't actually remember the second campsite, as I was so ill. I have only hazy memories of the landscape over which I struggled and of the expedition leader and the doctor talking about evacuating me. I was truly devastated at the thought of giving up early.
As I remembered the torture survivors for whom I was doing this – and the oceans of love and prayers that surrounded me as I set out – I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other, until at last my tummy settled with the help of modern blunderbuss drugs. But the damage had been done: 48 hours with very little food left me pretty weak and watery, if a good deal cheerier now that my symptoms had improved.
I brightened up, managed to eat my porridge and potatoes, took a load of photos and laughed with my newfound chums. Then the high altitude symptoms of nausea and loss of appetite started. They hit many of us but my reserves were all gone already and I was even breathless turning over in my sleeping bag at night. But 01.00 on Day 5 saw me out with the rest, filling our water supplies, putting heat pads in our gloves and preparing for the eight-hour trek to the summit, Uhuru Peak.
I managed about two-and-a-half hours before I had to stop. I had no breath left and barely enough energy to get safely back to camp. Sitting on the frozen mountain slope I felt despair knowing I could go no further. One of the porters guided my stumbling path back to the tents where I was so exhausted I couldn't even take my rucksack off. I was totally gutted and completely deflated.
No respite for torture survivors
Before I set out I had never doubted that, being a healthy, trained, well equipped woman I would stand exhilarated and triumphant at Uhuru peak. I imagined returning and encouraging Freedom from Torture's clients that they too could overcome their own personal struggles, which I had likened to climbing a mountain.
But how much more clearly I now understand the relentless suffering, distress and grinding disappointment during their journey of rehabilitation. Throughout a lot of this challenge I struggled, miserable and exhausted, despairing when I thought I might not make it to the top and longing to escape to the comfort of a bed. My hardship did come to an end and I did enjoy that luxurious shower and deliciously comfortable bed. Torture survivors are not so lucky. There is often no respite for them as they battle with the courts, housing authorities, benefit agencies and, of course, the enduring traumas of their maltreatment.
This experience started as a personal challenge to overcome adversity and achieve success. I expected to experience exhilaration and elation. Instead, I experienced exhaustion and disappointment but managed to endure beyond what I thought myself capable of. It has helped me understand more of what our clients' rehabilitation journey must be like and has substantially increased my respect for their courage and tenacity.
Hugely disappointed as I am not to have seen the fabulous glaciers and views, I am very proud of what I did achieve in enduring setbacks and hardship to get to 5,000m and I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me on this challenge. You have helped me to raise over £3,500, which will all go to help clients at Freedom from Torture.