Armchair-travel enthusiasts and hard-core mountain climbers alike should dive into Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance, Dr. Kenneth Kamler's remarkable firsthand tale of practicing medicine under extreme conditions.
Kamler, a New York microsurgeon, says he's wanted to be a mountain climber ever since he pulled the book Annapurna off his father's bookshelf when he was eight years old. So far, he has traveled to Mt. Everest six times, dived through flooded lava tubes in the Galapagos Islands and paddled down the Amazon.
"I grew up in an apartment house in the Bronx, where no one even ever talked about mountain climbing," he said. "That book opened up a world that I couldn't even imagine existed. And while it was always in the back of my mind, I found it much easier to do my exploring through a microscope. To me, the most mysterious world you could ever explore is the human body."
But while doing his residency, Kamler decided to act on his childhood desires. He began taking lessons at a climbing school in New Hampshire and was soon traveling the world, practicing modern medicine along the way. "I've been to some of the most remote regions on earth," he writes in his book. "And I've had the rare privilege to practice the only form of medicine that mixes modern drugs with herbal cures, satellite signals with ancient chants, and science with spirituality."
In Surviving the Extremes, Kamler analyzes how the body strategically protects itself to endure adverse environments. "I tell stories of people in survival situations, on the edge, and explain how their bodies adapt to these severe situations," he says. "I never cease to be amazed at the human body. The way that it can adapt to extreme environments is beyond our understanding."
Surviving the Extremesis divided into six sections: jungle, high seas, desert, underwater, high altitude and outer space. "I've always tried to anticipate situations before they happen and work out different solutions," says Kamler. "When you're a doctor, people look at you and expect you to be the calm one. If you're not, it's going to be chaos."
Doctor on Everest, Kamler's previous book, shared his experiences during the tragic 1996 expedition that claimed eight lives and was documented in Into Thin Air and the IMAX film Everest. "When you see Mt. Everest for the first time, it's like seeing a movie star," he says of the mountain that he is still in awe of. "It is overwhelmingly impressive."
And while Kamler is always careful to take diligent notes on his journeys, he finds the act of compiling them into a book difficult. "I put down a lot of my feelings, and there were parts that were very hard to relive," he says. "I've lost friends, and writing it out brings back a flood of emotions."
But Kamler, who will read from and sign Surviving the Extremes at both the LoDo Tattered Cover and the Boulder Book Store this week, doesn't let those emotions slow him down. As soon as his book tour is over, he'll be off on another adventure: delivering medical supplies to the central Asian country of Bhutan this spring. "For me, worrying about food and shelter is a more natural way to live than being in the big city and dealing with traffic, meetings," he says. "I enjoy getting up in the morning and deciding what to do based on the weather, not on what day of the week it is."