As you may know, we send an international doctor (and guide) on every one of our expeditions. And we love to hear their stories! Joe Keena has worked on nine of our expeditions, from Kilimanjaro to the Kenya Tri Adventure. He is the latest guest on our brand new adventure podcast. His tale is fascinating, particularly if you’re wondering how to become an expedition doctor. He also tells us all about his past adventures…
How he became an expedition doctor
“I’d just finished medical school and was working in Drogheda. My friend saw an advertisement in one of the medical journals, and it was for an expedition doctor. She sent it on to me straight away and said, “This is you”. I met James and went on my first trip that year. I never looked back!
When I was in medical school, we got a certain amount of grants to do courses. I did a course in expedition medicine in Morocco. We went out there for two weeks and learned basic mountain skills and navigation, and we climbed Toubkal as part of it. Which is actually the ninth trip I did with Earth’s Edge, ten years later!
When I was in second year of medical school, I did my elective in Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, at the base of Kilimanjaro. I went there on my own. Halfway through, we decided we’d climb Kilimanjaro. And that was my first time on a mountain. I climbed it and it was amazing. I’ve gone back twice since!”
His first Earth’s Edge expedition to Kilimanjaro
“The good thing about Earth’s Edge trips is that I’d still have contact with people from my first trip, which is eight years ago. I remember that complete sense of achievement. One guy got a little bit of altitude sickness on the way up, but he just put his head down and got to the summit. And he was so happy when he got to the top.”
His experience of getting sick on Aconcagua
“I learned a lot about myself. I probably didn’t eat enough, or drink enough water. Unfortunately, like a lot of lessons in life, you learn them the hard way. I was fine until I got to high camp, at around 6,000m, but I wasn’t as strong as I should have been on a summit day. As I started walking, I felt weak. But I was able to keep going. When I got to the summit, as I started to come down I felt really unwell.
That was the only time I’ve ever had altitude sickness. I had enough insight in my brain to comprehend I needed to do something. I was really nauseous, had a bad headache, and knew I had to get off the mountain. Then I felt like I was really drunk. I was lucky, because there was a girl on the trip who was a vet. I was meant to be the medic, but here was me, sick and unable to stand. We have all the medical kit ready, with everything we need. I got her to give me the medication and get me down.
I really questioned my life there for a few hours! But I learned the hard way. It just comes down to eating, drinking water, and sleeping. If you drink your 4-5litres of water a day, eat regularly, your chances of getting altitude sickness are much lower.”
There are plenty more incredible stories from Joe in the episode, which is live now. If you want to hear all about his amazing adventures and advice, click here to listen to the podcast.