Mary Sue Land, member of Holy Family Parish, was sleeping at her home in Fond du Lac on Saturday, April 25, when her neighbor sent her a text message around 6 a.m.
At the time she wondered, “Who in the heck is contacting me this early?”
Land’s cell phone was on the nightstand next to her bed.
“I keep my phone by me because when Andy (her husband) tries to get in touch with me it’s usually early morning our time because it’s evening their time,” Mary Sue said. “But I wasn’t anticipating I would hear from him because I had heard from him the day prior and he said they were heading up the mountain from base camp and I wouldn’t hear from him for five days.”
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Mary Sue’s husband, Andy, 52, a passionate mountain climber and a nurse and director of Hospice and Palliative Care at Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, was in Nepal attempting to climb Mount Everest to raise awareness for hospice care. He left Wisconsin Wednesday, March 25, and was hoping to make it 29,000 feet to the top of Mount Everest on his trip which, according to his website, climbingforhospice.com, was to take two months.
The text message asked her if she was watching the news. She wasn’t. Land immediately turned on CNN.
“That was when I found out about the earthquake,” she said. “As soon as I turned on CNN, they were talking about it.”
According to a Tuesday, April 28 Catholic News Service report, more than 4,300 people were killed, more than 6,000 were injured and a million people were homeless due to the quake.
The death toll was expected to rise as rescue teams could not reach hundreds of remote villages flattened by the quake in the nation situated in the lap of the Himalayas.
Andy’s trip was organized through International Mountain Guides and Mary Sue went to the organization’s website to see if it provided more information.
“They posted just a brief blurb that they talked with everybody on the mountain and all of their people are safe,” Mary Sue said. “But I had no idea where Andy was on the mountain. I knew he wasn’t at base camp.”
Land called IMG’s office in Washington state and left a message. Friends and family tried to assure her that Andy is safe.
“I like to say I’m a realist, but some people say I’m a pessimist,” she said. “Everybody was saying, ‘I’m so glad he’s safe …’ I’m thinking, I don’t know if he’s safe.”
Roughly 12 hours after she left the message at IMG, she received a call from the organization’s office saying, “Andy is safe at camp one.”
“That was just one piece of it because OK, yeah, he’s safe at camp one. There’s aftershocks going through,” she said. “He’s safe now (but) he’s got to get down from there.”
Throughout that first day she was watching the news for updates.
“The day was a series of emotions,” Mary Sue said. “It’s certainly not over yet, but hopefully he’s out of grave danger.”
Mary Sue learned that Andy was evacuated from Mount Everest via helicopter back to the base camp. He called her on Monday, April 27.
Early Tuesday morning, Andy posted an update on his Climbing for Hospice Facebook page.
“Climbing for Hospice was based on the hope that we could use interest in an expedition to Mt. Everest to help highlight the need for improving care for people struggling to live in the face of a terminal illness. I guess time will tell on that,” he wrote. “I can tell you that, many times on this expedition, I found strength through thinking about the courage, perseverance, and resilience of many of the families I have had the privilege of serving.
“After the earthquake, I saw my guide service, IMG, and all of my teammates, immediately take action to help everyone who needed help, despite knowing it would use all of the expedition’s resources. This has been a life-changing experience. I look forward to getting home, and sharing the story of what happened here, but for now I just wanted everyone to know I am safe.
“We are planning to begin the trek down from EBC tomorrow. But, of course, a storm is supposed to roll in. Thank you so much to everyone for your support. It means more than you know.”
Mary Sue admitted she is is happy to hear from Andy, but also a little frustrated.
“I’ve had a lot of conflicting emotions about this whole journey,” she said. “I was very relieved, but also I found myself feeling kind of, like, ‘Why are you doing this to us and to yourself?’… and I’ve struggled with that for the past year since he’s been training.”
Mary Sue said her husband’s drive to complete this challenge grew from his love of climbing – something he began in 1992 – and his passion for hospice care. She said he calls it “the metaphor.”
“Climbing a mountain and the struggles, both physically and mentally that you go through, are very similar to the struggles that patients in hospice and their families go through,” she said. “The dying process.”
The idea for the climb came to Andy after he returned from a trip in Bolivia in 2013. He received a call from a guide who was with him on the trip who asked him if he would be interested in going to Everest.
“He’s been a mountain climber for a long time and it’s always been a dream that he could climb Mount Everest; he didn’t think that would happen,” Mary Sue said adding he needed to raise the money. “I certainly didn’t think he was ever going to find the money.”
But through help from the HOPE network in Wisconsin, family and friends, along with the website www.climbingforhospice.org, Andy raised the money.
As she and her family, including the couple’s three sons – two in college and one in high school – focus on getting Andy back, Mary Sue said she is leaning on her faith.
“I’m not a deeply spiritual person,” she said, but added a friend suggested she read a book of daily devotions and it has had an impact. “Even prior to this catastrophe (faith) has really kind of helped me in a lot of different ways. It’s helped me deal with that; it’s helped me in general just take it one day at a time.”
Andy is planning to trek down the mountain to the city where they began their adventure, Lukla, Nepal, and to try to fly out. It will take four days to make that journey.
“If they can’t get a flight, they’re going to have to go on foot (to Kathmandu) and it will be another six days added on to the four days they’re taking to get to Lukla,” Mary Sue said.
She estimated it could be as long as two weeks before Andy is home.