Tuesday, December 23, 2008

South Pole Bound

I just received confirmation that I will be spending a week in January at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. This is an exciting and welcome opportunity. The physician at the South Pole will be staying there over the winter. Consequently, she will come to McMurdo Station for some rest and relaxation in early January. While she is out, I will fill in for her at the pole.

Tonight is Christmas Eve. I am on call tonight and tomorrow. Our Hanukkah party two days ago was fun and well attended. The food included such favorites as latkes with applesauce, smoked nova lox, challah, Hanukkah Gelt (not exactly a food) and other less traditional items such as cookies in the shape of a Magen David and spinach-artichoke dip.
Tonight is an all-station Holiday Party festively decorated in the Christmas theme. This will be the first time the Holiday Party is not held in the cavernous heavy vehicle maintenance facility (VMF) but is instead hosted in the gymnasium. I also understand from those who have been her before that in years past this Holiday Party had been quite the blowout with food, potent potables and live music. This year's event promises to be more sedate with none of the prior amenities. I'll let you know how it turned out, if I get to go.

Christmas Dinner will be served tomorrow. On the menu are roasted breast of duck, chilled crab legs, and prime rib. It's about the prime rib.....or the lack of it. It seems that the galley staff put the prime rib into the thawing refrigerator a few days ago. Shortly thereafter, 160 lbs. of it disappeared. Gone. Vanished. It has yet to return. It is unlikely that it could be cooked anywhere on station and everyone not smell it or discover it. Therefore, it is my speculation that it was purloined beef destined for another location. I know I've told you this story before, so this is just an update to let you know the prime rib is still on the lam (groan).

So here's wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Season's Greetings

Season's Greetings to all my readers. Once again, I have been the lucky recipient of handmade holiday cards from many of the students at Forest Elementary School in Forest, Virginia. Thanks to all the students that made cards and especially to the students in Mrs. Shuwarger's fifth grade class. I love receiving your cards and very much appreciate the time and energy you took to make them and send them to me.

The McMurdo community is getting all geared up for the upcoming Solstice, Hanukkah, and Christmas holidays. The dining hall is decorated with a Festivus Pole, Christmas tree, garland and many other seasonal items. The Jewish members of the community hope to complete work on a large scale paper representation of a Hanukkah menorah to display there too.

There will be a Christmas dinner on the 25th. I'm told there will be breast of duck, chilled crab legs and prime rib. Just one thing....there will not be as much prime rib as the galley staff planned. It seems that while the prime rib was out thawing, two of them were purloined. Yes, we have a beef thief. The irony is that now that the word is out about the missing prime ribs, who in their right mind would think they could cook and serve it without being discovered? It is the community's hope that the missing 160 lbs. of prime rib magically reappears. Naturally, this event sparked numerous jokes and rumors. The latest is this graphic I received in an email from a friend.
On a sadder note, this has been a busy week in the medical department. We had three medical evacuations this week, one of which was for very serious trauma. Our flight nurse went out on the first medevac and on the day she returned to MacTown she had only time enough to change clothes and there was another medevac waiting to go out. Her gear had not been returned to the hospital yet by the cargo department, so she had to cobble together an entire second set of equipment, supplies and drugs to take our second patient out. This patient flew in a Bell Helicopter from the hospital to Pegasus White Ice Runway where it met up with an Australian Airbus A319 that was scheduled to leave hours earlier, but was delayed specially for this mission. This beautiful twin jet is equipped and outfitted to enable an ambulatory patient to be medically treated. There are numerous 110 volt 60 cycle outlets along the walls and in the seat arms. The seats fold flat to allow litter placement.

Our third medevac patient was not fortunate enough to ride on this plane, nor was he ambulatory. He flew by helo to the airfield, then flew to Christchurch on an Air National Guard Hercules LC-130. The ride north normally takes about 8.5 hrs, but this crew made it in 7.5 hrs. The patient is in the ICU, is stable and is expected to make a full recovery.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ob Hill, Discovery Hut, and Helicopter Inspection

Yesterday, Dr. Hanson and I got to tour the helicopter facility here at McMurdo. We saw the New Zealand helicopter in the hangar and the AStar and Bell helicopters out on the pad. We evaluated the set up and arrangement of the helicopter for aeromedical evacuation.
Today, Air National Guard officers and I toured Scott's Discovery Hut at Hut Point.
SSgt McMannus was our official guide. This hut, erected in 1902 for Scott's Discovery Expedition, was originally designed and manufactured in Australia of Jakarta wood. The design worked well in hot dry Australia to keep the interior cool. That was not the best design for Antarctica. Later built huts were designed to retain heat inside.

According to Wikipedia:
"In selecting a base of operations for the 1910-1913 Expedition, Scott rejected the notion of re-occupying the hut he had built on Ross Island during the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904.

This first hut, known as the 'Discovery Hut' was located at Hut Point, 20km south of Cape Evans. Scott's ship, the Discovery, had been trapped by sea ice at Hut Point, a problem he hoped to avoid by establishing his new base further north. Discovery Hut was never fully occupied during the Discovery Expedition, as most expeditioners elected to live aboard the ice bound ship. Ten years later when members of the Terra Nova Expedition journeyed south from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans they found Discovery Hut intact (although full of snow and ice), along with supplies left over from 1903. Discovery Hut was cleaned out and used during 1911 and 1912 as a staging and rendezvous point for Terra Nova expeditioners heading south towards the Pole from Scott's Hut at Cape Evans."

After visiting Discovery Hut, Maj. French, TSgt Green and I climbed Observation Hill (referred to generally as Ob Hill).

Again, from Wikipedia: "Robert Falcon Scott's party was found by a search party led by the surgeon Dr. Edward Atkinson. They were found dead by the members of the base camp, who took their photographic film, scientific specimens, and other materials. They had to leave Scott and his men in their tent, and later parties could not locate the campsite, since that area had been covered in snow. So Scott's party eventually ended up drifting out to sea as part of an iceberg as the ice shelf made its way to the sea.

The search party then returned to what is now known as McMurdo and climbed Observation Hill. There they erected a large wooden cross, inscribed the names of the fatal party and a short quote from the Alfred Tennyson poem "Ulysses", which reads "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

The photo below shows MacTown from the vantage point of Ob Hill.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Birthday Wishes Arrive

Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class at Forest Elementary School send me handmade birthday cards! I am proudly displaying them for all to see on the wall outside my office.

All the cards are great and I so enjoyed receiving them. Thank you to all the children in the class. One of the cards gave me an extra laugh. It is from Peter. His card reminds me of a TV show and book by the late comedian, Art Linkletter: Kids Say The Darndest Things. The picture below is of the card Peter designed.

What can I say? 

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pressure Ridges

Monday night I got to tour the pressure ridges located just beyond Scott Base. Tours of about 10 persons were taken by bus to Scott Base. We then walked up and down a defined flagged route through the pressure ridges. Click on the photo below to see a whole gallery of images taken last night.

The above photo is of me with Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, in the background.

A pressure ridge is formed when sea ice encounters the Ross Ice Shelf. The mostly immovable ice shelf acts as a backstop for the sea ice. The sea ice is compressed against the ice shelf through a variety of different forces including tidal action and the expansion of water as it freezes. The pressure upon the sea ice causes it to develop a variety of shape changes from gentle undulations to violent upheavals. These changes take place over years.

Many of the tall ice formations have veins of blue and grey running through them. The blue is from water's ability to filter out the red and infrared spectrum of light. This is said to be some of the purest ice on the planet. The pressure that forms these structures causes small bubbles of gas to become trapped within the ice. If some of this ice is chipped off and put into a glass of water, the melting ice will release these trapped pressurized gas bubbles with a cacophony of hissing, popping and spitting.

In the background of the last of these photos can be seen Scott Base, Castle Rock, and Mt. Erebus. You will notice the tiny plume of smoke trailing off to the right from the cone of Erebus, an active volcano.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend

The community celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday. Combined with Sunday, this weekend is the only two-day weekend this season. Other than this weekend, we work 6 days a week. So you can imagine the excitement around the community for this weekend.

The festivities began with a party Friday evening: Freezing Man, a parody of Burning Man. The event was held in the big gym. Partygoers were decorated with all manner of attire, costumes, body art, jewelry and hair adornments. One band after another took to the stage to amaze the audience with an incredible array of musical talents. There are about 900 persons on station now, about the population of a good sized high school. Yet we have 4 excellent bands from within our ranks.

The actual Thanksgiving Holiday feast was celebrated on Saturday. Three seatings were offered: 3 pm, 5 pm, and 7 pm. Everyone had to sign up for a seating. The medical department all signed up at 5 pm. The dining facility was transformed into a artistic display of culinary esthetics.

The diners arrived in their McMurdo finest attire. This evening's dinner and the Christmas dinner are the two times that people really dress up for a meal.

I volunteered to work in the galley from 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm to give the dining assistants a hand. This news will probably come as a shock to my wife who has yet to see me volunteer for kitchen duty. My job was carving tenderloins of beef as diners came by. Just an aside, doing dishes here is almost fun. You wear a cap, long apron, and humongous gloves. Water goes everywhere. The dishes are cleaned of food residue by hand then are sent through a long enclosed dishwasher via conveyor belt. Reminds me of a car wash. They come out the other end steaming hot, sanitized, and sparkling clean.

Sunday evening, from 6 pm to about midnight, I was to go with a group of twenty to Cape Evans and the ice caves. Cape Evans was a outpost for Robert F. Scott, the Antarctic explorer. He had a wooden hut on the Cape that today still has all the original contents, perfectly preserved. Whale blubber, penguin carcass, cans of food, and supplies all sit exactly where Scott and his team left them nearly one hundred years ago. No spoilage, no rusting, no change. When guided through his hut, one gets the impression that they must have just stepped out for a minute and will be back soon. The hut is catalogued, photographed, and monitored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) and is well described on their website.

The ice caves are natural formations. Sliding in on one's bottom, you arrive inside the cave. Light filters throught the ice giving a variety of colors from pure white to a gorgeous azure blue. Simple digital cameras such as mine are not capable of showing the dazzling display of colors and ice crystals in the caves. This is what I saw:

Friday, November 21, 2008

On A Slow Day

On a slow day in the clinic I inserted a nasopharyngeal airway into myself. Why? During our recent mass casualty incident training exercise, Barbie Brittel, PA-C explained that a NP airway could be used on an awake patient. She told us she knew a guy who demonstrated this ability on himself. We were amazed. The more I thought of it the more curious I became. So, I tried it.

Please do not try this on yourself. I am a highly trained medical professional. Likely, you are not.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Crew Swap

The medical department at McMurdo is made up of a group of fine civilians complemented by a flight surgeon (Richert), flight nurse (Sapp) and aeromedical evacuation technician (Ray) from the Air Force. Our first contingent of Air Force medical personnel arrived with Mainbody and just now returned to their base or home. These are a group of well trained professionals who brought a wealth of experience, training and knowledge to our staff. We enjoyed meeting them and getting to know them better. We shared a lot of laughs.

Now that they have returned home, we say "until we meet again" in the sincere hopes that we will indeed get to meet them again (hopefully not as a patient!).

Pictured are (left to right): Captain Tracey Sapp, USAF; Captain Greg Richert, USAF; Master Sergeant Jennifer Ray, ANG.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sea Ice Dance

The ice covering the Ross Sea is, at times, feet thick. It melts in the austral summer and goes out to sea, just to reform later. When the ice is thick it appears solid and immovable.

This video shows just how powerful are ocean tides. They lift the ice every day. Also, you might notice the periodic appearance of penguins and a seal. Click on the image of the sea ice above to be taken to the gallery showing a time lapse video showing the incredible movement, melt, and breakup of the ice. In the gallery are also two pictures of our nearby penguin friend, Oswald.

Penguin Cartoon

Matt Davidson is a guy working here at McMurdo. He has been here before and has returned for another season. Among his many other talents, he is also an accomplished cartoonist.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dinner at Scott Base

Our Radiology Technician, Air National Guard Aeromedical Evacution Technician, and I were fortunate to receive a dinner invitation to Scott Base last night. The facility is very nice and the food delicious. Our hostess, Sharron, was very gracious. Sharron is the medic on station. When her people need medical or dental care, x-rays, lab work or physical therapy Sharron brings them to us. We were able to get a couple of snapshots while visiting. One of these pictures here is of their sitting room, just of the main dining hall. It is a very nicely appointed room with a working gas fireplace and bookshelves filled with games and reading material. The person with me in the other photo is our hostess, Sharron.

Mount Erebus is visible from Scott Base. It is the southern most active volcano in the world. Inside its crater is a churning cauldron of lava. Occasionally it will spew a lava bomb. There is a website that shows live streaming video from Erebus, including the base of the cauldron where, when the conditions are right, you can see bubbling lava.

Change of Subject: When our patients come to see us, they fill out a little section of paper where they describe the reason for their visit. We get some creative answers. Some of my favorite are:
  • Sick
  • Ill
  • Under the weather
  • Hurt
  • Soar throat [sic]
  • Crud (or sometimes Krud)

I am not criticizing our patient's spelling. I just get a laugh out of the way they describe their reason for visiting the doctor. Maybe this is our fault. I wonder if it would work better to have a check box for the common symptoms. By the way, is Krud (with a capital "K") worse than regular old crud?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween on Ice

The day started with a C-17 flying in passengers and cargo. Among the cargo was mail, and among the mail was the most delightful surprise. Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class sent me Halloween cards that they made themselves. To the Class: Thank you so much for the cards! You are very creative and made great cards. I loved the animal pictures and the funny sayings inside. I also like the way some of you cut out your cards. They brightened up my day and bring smiles to everyone who visits the clinic here at McMurdo.

Last night was the annual Halloween Party at McMurdo. The party is so well known that it is hard to find an individual's blog or written account that doesn't mention it at some point. You can click here to see a gallery of photos from this year's party.

Lori and Barbie, our radiology technician and physician assistant, have drawn and colored a huge turkey. It is posted on the clinic wall next to the children's cards. The turkey is named "Mr. South Pole Tree" and he asks everyone to write on him all the things for which they are thankful. I am thankful for family, friends and the opportunity to work with a fine group of professionals in this wonderful place called "Antarctica".

I've been trying to find people who play bridge. So far, all I've found are people who want to learn to play. So, I have become the local bridge teacher. I had four students last Wednesday and hope to spread the word.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Camper Gets Frostbite

In the last entry, I mentioned the upcoming Snow Craft Training, affectionately known as "Happy Camper". I went and had a great time. Unfortunately, my fingers didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of me. More about that in a minute.

Happy Camper started with classroom education on camping in the snow environment. We discussed shelter, proper clothing, sun exposure, frostbite and other survival topics. There were 20 students in the group and two instructors. All the students showed up with their ECW and extra gloves, mittens, hats, and other protective gear.

After the classroom training we filed out to the transport vehicles (a Delta and a van) and loaded them with our personal gear and some camping equipment (stoves, and food, mostly). After a brief stop at the galley to pick up our lunch, we were off to the field. Our ride took us out onto the Ross Ice Shelf. We unloaded from the Delta and transferred the gear to a sled towed by a snow mobile. We then walked 20 minutes to a small hut where we received a briefing on how to set up, care for, and repair the camp stoves. The ones we used ran on a small cylinder of white gas (Coleman fuel) that is pressurized with a small integrated hand pump.After some more classroom training, orientation and lunch we loaded up the sled with sleeping bags and marched out into the open ice field. Once there we were taught how to set up a Scott tent, build a quinzee, pitch a mountain tent, build a wind wall of snow blocks, and use trenches as sleeping shelter.
I made a short video that shows the building of our quinzee but am prevented from uploading it because of limited bandwidth. We mounded up all the bags, covered them with a tarp, mounded snow, let it set up for a couple of hours, tunnelled into it, dragged out the bags, and voilá, it is done.

We used the snow blocks to build a wind barrier wall.

Later, our instructors departed. We had to figure out a method for firing up the camp stoves, melting snow, and then boiling water. The boiled water was used for instant coffee, tea, instant hot chocolate, or instant hot spiced apple cider. The hot water could also be used to rehydrate dehydrated meals. There were also candy bars, mixed nuts (just like us), and "gorp" - a trail mix-like conglomeration of nuts and chocolate chips. I ate just from this latter group of foods plus some hot chocolate. Almost all foodstuffs were years past their expiration date (e.g. "Best if used by: 07-05").
The view of Mount Erebus and its almost constant volcanic plume was spectacular. The wind carries the plume in a sideways drift, making the plume look like a cloud. In this shot you can also see a helicopter on a training mission.

I chose to sleep in a mountain tent. I've slept well in these in the past and hoped for the same experience this time. Alas, that was not my fate this trip. I slept fitfully, waking often. Footfalls of other campers were very loud in the snow and the almost constant sunlight was a distraction. I wore thermal wool socks on my feet and glove liners with hand warmers inside on my hands to keep everything warm at night. My feet felt great and never bothered me, but my hands often felt cold and would wake me. When I got up in the morning and got dressed, I noticed that my fingers were hurting when I tried to tie my bootlaces and didn't fit easily into my gloves. After reassembling in the hut, I removed my gloves and, to my horror, found frostbitten fingers. See the photo of my left hand.The third, fourth and fifth digits of both hands are frostbitten. You can see the color change at the last part of the fingers The pinkies are the worst on each hand. This is a classic example of first and second degree frostbite. It is also an example of how, despite taking all the precautions, it can still occur. Fortunately, after some blistering and peeling, they will heal fine. Right now, they have no sense of touch (I wouldn't feel a pin-prick) but are very painful deep inside and very tender if pressure is applied. Because of this, the entire blog entry was made with my two first fingers and thumbs in a hunt 'n peck style of keyboarding.

The rest of the morning consisted of VHF and HF radio training, simulating a search and rescue under white-out conditions, risk management discussions, and leadership education. Our return to base was uneventful and used the same vehicles.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Final Event of the Year

My compliments to the commenters on their quick assessment of the question posted yesterday. October 21, at about 11:35 pm, is the last sunset this year.

Sunrise will happen for the last time this year on October 22 at about 12:35 am. Once it rises, it will stay up until the austral fall, sometime in March.

Something else is connected with those two dates, but this time it is personal. Those dates, the 21st and 22nd, are the dates that I will be attending Snow Craft Training, affectionately known around MacTown as "Happy Camper". This two-day event teaches the priniciples of survival on the ice. My fellow campers and I will attend classroom lectures, get hands-on training on equipment, and techniques for survival on the ice. Then our instructors will drop us off on a glacier. We will put into action the skills we learned earlier. We spend the night on the ice and are picked up the next day. I understand it will be the coldest night of my life. This link is to Mary Lynn's website where she has a brief video showing her experience at Happy Camper last week. She gave me much valuable advice for getting through the experience. Thanks, Mary Lynn.

I'm doing a small scientific study aided by a member of the Air National Guard. We are checking the accuracy and correlation of the three electronic thermometers in the hospital. To do this, we borrowed a constant temperature circulating water bath from the Crary Science Lab. Each thermometer will be tested 10 times at each of four temperatures. I'll post the results in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Special Event

On October 21, 2008 something will happen in Antarctica for the last time this year. What is it?

Everyone is invited to submit their guess as a comment to this entry.

For Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class: if a person from your class is the first one to post the correct answer as a comment to this entry, I will recommend to Mrs. Shuwarger that she give the entire class a special treat. This will only be a recommendation. Mrs. Shuwarger is the final judge of whether the class actually gets the treat.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scott Of The Antarctic

Mrs. Shuwarger's Fifth Grade Class: I'm so pleased you got the bookmarks. I've heard from many of you and it was my pleasure to send them to you.

My last post had to do with our visit to Scott Base, the New Zealand base that is about 4 Km from McMurdo. I've talked about Scott Base before, in earlier posts. Scott was such a well-known and historic figure that a movie was made about his exploration of Antarctica.

My question to the class is:
Who is Robert Falcon Scott? Why do you think New Zealand's base was named in honor of him?

As long as I brought up the subject of Scott, let me share with you a quotation attributed to him in which he reflects on Antarctica, "Great God, this is an aweful place." Do you think he mean "awful" as in horrible, or "aweful" as in full-of-awe?

He also said, "Every day some new fact comes to light - some new obstacle which threatens the gravest obstruction. I suppose this is the reason which makes the game so well worth playing. " In this quote Scott puts forth the opinion that it is overcoming serious challenges successfully that makes life interesting. Have you ever tried real hard to do something and finally succeeded? How did it make you feel? Afterwards, did you feel it was worth the effort?

Below are pictures of Scott, including one when he was 13 years old.