A spiritual walk for charity

Dr Luise Parsons walked miles and learned the importance of training.

I did it. The walk to Santiago de Compostela is complete: 150 km, 250,000 steps, five blisters and one knee injury in seven days. I raised £1,000 for the Children's Society, and had a very humbling, but wonderful experience.

The Camino de Santiago is one of the world's epic walks, and something that I have always wanted to do.

The full journey from my front door to Santiago de Compostela would take three to four months, but an eight-day charity fundraising event for the Children's Society gave me an opportunity to see if the walk lived up to expectations.

Faith, break or history

The Camino de Santiago follows an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Today, some people walk to Santiago and Finisterre, one of Christianity's three holy cities, out of religious faith, others to take a break from daily routine, or to enjoy Spanish history and culture.

But you don't have to be a hiker to get to Santiago.

The trails are well marked, and the journey is made easy and sociable by centuries-old albergues and small family-run hotels.

I had no idea what to expect about the other people in the Children's Society group. Fortunately, we bonded and supported each other, and this became a very important part of the journey.

Steep climb

The first day from Ambasmestas to Alto do Poio was 21.6 km of a steep 1,000m climb out of the Cordillera Cantabrica to the village of O Cebreiro.

Graham, who is in his 50s and morbidly obese with hypertension, did not train so he could better understand what the pilgrims suffered in the Middle Ages.

After 12 hours, Graham was really struggling. I was worried about his electrolyte balance, acidosis and coronary arteries, but this time he was alright.

I did wonder what we could do on the trail if there had been a real health emergency.

I have been the medical officer at several sporting events including the London Marathon, and these events have on hand ambulances, defibrillators, IV and other rehydration and monitoring equipment, none of which were available on the Camino de Santiago.

As GPs, we know the heartsink when patients ask for medical approval for trips such as this. After that first day on the Camino de Santiago, I have a new insight into the risks involved. Who would be held responsible if Graham had had acute coronary syndrome?

Responsibilities

Should the GP approve the individual going on the trek? Should the tour operators provide adequate first aid? Or does the individual take all health responsibility by consenting to go in the first place?

The inquest into the Great North run may provide the answers to where the medicolegal responsibilities actually lie.

Fortunately, Graham completed the trek looking stronger and definitely fitter.

- Dr Parsons is a GP in London.

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