“The mountain calls”- “der Berg ruft” is a common saying in Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, that is, everywhere we have mountains. It derives from the famous 1937 movie of the same title, by the unforgettable Luis Trenker (yes, this was before he had his own clothes line). It’s about the first person climbing the Matterhorn. I’ll save you an essay about Mountain films.
When I was in the hospital this January, I was on ward 10 B, I had a beautiful, beautiful view of Mount Hood. You have to know, OHSU is built on Marquam Hill. Patients and people who work there affectionately refer to it as “the Hill”. I had an amazing view of mount hood every morning- and since the surgeons make their rounds around 6.15 am, I got to see the mountain in all its glory.
Aside from it being a gorgeous view, seeing that mountain every morning was incredibly meaningful to me. Mountains were always part of my life. It gave me a sense of home, as in the Lake of Constance area where I grew up, you can see the Swiss alps on a clear day. Yes, those are mountains formed from a glacier and Mount Hood is a volcano, but for the sake of symbolism, we won’t care! In California, you could see the Sierras on a clear day, and one of my happiest memories there is hiking quarter dome in Yosemite. Also, the building next to the CA State Capitol in Sacramento, the 3rd district court, has a beautiful inscription: “Give me men to match my mountains”- I am taking the liberty to include myself here.
Seeing Mount Hood every morning was a reward and a cheer on at the same time. I made it through another night and I could get through the day even stronger. The mountain metaphor finds itself in language again and again- fighting an uphill battle, don’t die on that hill ( in my case maybe a little too literal), and of course, Dr. King’s most beautiful speech- “I have been to the mountaintop.”
Over the course of the next months, I was at OHSU again and again, check ups, CT scans, blood work- and I always made the point of going to the cafeteria to look at Mount Hood. The mountain seemed as far as my recovery, and yet, I knew how close it was-90 minutes by car! How close was recovery, and the even farther away remission though?
On September 15, almost eight months later, sweet Dr. Leitz from infectious diseases told me I didn’t need to come anymore. My blood work was excellent and it looked like all my internal abscesses sterile or gone. For better or worse- remission. Someone had spoken the word. I stumbled to the cafe, got my beloved cappuccino and found a bench with a view. And then I bawled my eyes out. Public embarrassment, Number 40586. I had been feeling strong and fairly healthy for a while, but it had been a roller coaster! Getting to the point of trying the Remicade again, losing my hair over it, hair coming back stronger and weeks of mood swings . Yes, uphill battle, no shit. So now, officially remission.
That weekend, my husband, my parents and I decided to do the bald mountain hike. It’s an easy hike, but you can make it as long as you want, it connects to other trails. As any mountain hiker will tell you, once you are close to the top and you have an amazing view, everything else is forgotten. You are in awe, religious or not, you have your “Who the hell am I in the midst of all this ?” moment. This time I didn’t cry. I had arrived at my mountain. I stood at the bald mountain plateau, looked at the mountain, surrounded by my loved ones and was happy.
I know that the disease can strike at any time again, and I will still have my daily battles with fatigue. But I’ll always have my mountain. And the mountain calls.