Peaks of Life:
Dr. Douglas Beall, 43, is thousands of feet in the air and suspended horizontally. A fall would mean almost certain death for the Edmond radiologist. His only lifeline is an alarmingly thin rope strung between two jagged rock formations and something is terribly wrong.
Beall has just realized he’s stuck.
But that was months ago in Indonesia, on a peak called Carstensz Pyramid. Beall’s rigging locked, leaving him stranded during his quest to complete the final summit in a long but steadfast journey to stand atop the seven highest places on earth. So with a calmness of character that embraces the obstacles adventure brings, Beall righted the snag in his gear and made it to the other side. He finally realized his dream of climbing the highest peaks on every continent.
Today Beall’s clean-shaven and dressed in a suit. That is, until he changes into scrubs and almost effortlessly performs a spinal surgery to fix the fractured vertebra of a 90-year-old patient.
Though he’s proven his capability in the elements of the world’s tallest peaks, including Mount Everest, Beall is clearly in his element here, as well. He speaks to his patients with kindness and familiarity. It’s easy to believe that this Kingfisher native’s wanted to be a doctor since he was nine years old.
Having graduated from OSU in 1988, Beall joined the U.S. Air Force and received a military Health Professions Scholarship to attend Georgetown University Medical School in Maryland and ultimately, residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Beall’s obviously not afraid of hard work, but he does acknowledge the challenges of his chosen career. “Physically, it’s reasonably demanding – long hours, early mornings, late nights. Mentally, it’s very taxing, as you’re responsible for people. If you really first-personalize it, you carry a lot of concern for these people and you want to make sure it’s just right,” Beall says.
He finds his position as Chief of Radiology Services at Clinical Radiology of Oklahoma rewarding. Beall calls his work a “combination of see and treat.” And says that “to be able to accurately figure out what is going on with a person, to diagnose their condition and then be able to treat it, is very satisfying.”
Beall’s medical work led him to Tanzania in 1998. He volunteered at a hospital at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The experience altered the course of his life forever.
Beall says that in Tanzania he saw “an incredible amount of need. I saw cases there you would never find in the developed world. Lots of tuberculosis, lots of parasitic diseases, people that had advanced cancer without any care whatsoever.” To treat these cases “personalizes you to what medicine is,” Beall says. “Then you come back and you realize how lucky you really are.”
Being at the base of Kilimanjaro, a stand alone, flat topped and snowcapped mountain that emerges from the Serengeti plains, started Beall on his seven-summit journey. “It’s absolutely impossible to walk by Kilimanjaro without looking and marvel. There was only so much time that I could spend there before I thought ‘I wonder what it’s like to climb up there,’” Beall says. And so he did.
From Kilimanjaro, Beall traveled to Argentina, then Alaska and even chartered a plane from Chile to Antarctica. Beall says, “In Chile it looks to be the end of the world, and then you fly six hours south to Antarctica.”
From there, Beall went on to Everest, then Russia and finally Indonesia. On climbing, Beall says that there are moments of doubt, especially physical doubts. “When I’ve got eight to ten hours of more climbing to go and I don’t think I can take another step, I wonder if I’m up to it, but I don’t think I ever wondered why I was there. I knew why I was there and what I wanted to accomplish.”
Beall developed close friendships with people he’s climbed with, saying he’s climbed with multibillionaires and with people just living for the next climb. Beall says that up on the mountain you can’t tell the difference between people and calls it “one of the great equalizers.”
One such friend is David Larson, an anesthesiologist from California. Larson and his daughter, Samantha, the youngest person to climb all seven summits, met Beall in 2002 and have climbed five of their seven summits with him.
Larson calls their team a “well-oiled machine,” and speaks sincerely about Beall’s competence and kindness.
“To have a team makes all the difference in the world, and then you have people that really care about you,” Larson says.
Through these climbs, Beall’s been all over the world. He attributes perspective and tolerance to travel. “The bigger your perspective, the more tolerant you are. The more tolerant you are, generally the better your life is,” Beall says. “I’ve learned more about the people around me, the environment in which I live and more about myself from traveling.”
Beall’s ability to face challenges in his career prepared him for challenges in his climbs and vice versa. “Climbing is a little like life,” Beall says. “You plan for success but inevitably something goes wrong. Then it’s about plan B, C, D, E, F. You always have to be resourceful, to rely on your experience and training.”
Like in life, Beall explains, “People think reaching the summit is a successful trip. Eighty percent of injuries happen on the way down. Getting to the top is only halfway there. A successful trip is a picture at the summit and a picture at the bottom having come back down.”
Beall climbed the seven summits of the world, but his journey is far from over. He’s currently writing a book about his experiences called “Highest Places.”
And for his next adventure? Beall says, “I’m going to see Santa next year.” He plans to join a group that will spend weeks navigating the frozen ice, extreme temperatures and polar bears to arrive at the ultimate world height, the North Pole.