The VeLveT Ice team departs tomorrow, flying from Boston to Los Angeles to Auckland and finally Christchurch. After a couple days in Christchurch, it will be time to deploy to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Once we’re on the ice, resources are limited. Personal snacks, batteries, music, need to be carried along with us. Wifi and phone calls are minimal (sorry, Mom!), and medical infrastructure is scarce.
This is not a trip I'm used to taking. I hadn't thought about logistics resulting from being an ocean away from the nearest hospital. "Wisdom teeth? Don't bring them." "Appendix? Maybe take it out." (I didn't have to). There's no Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping coming to McMurdo. Packages can take over a month to make it to the WAIS Divide camp. And don't count on CVS being around the corner.
Field campaigns in Antarctica require a lot of preparation. Scientists heading to Antarctica will work with the U.S. Antarctic Program to be physically qualified and assigned travel itineraries. The Physical Qualification (PQ) packet involves blood tests, EKGs, physicals, dentist appointments, and more. Completing the packet practically became an extra class for me last term! Anny and I both had our wisdom teeth removed to rid ourselves of any risk of infection. In October, during my field camp with Dartmouth’s Earth Science department, I ran around Moab and Jackson Hole to find health clinics that would give me tuberculosis skin tests or measles and mumps immunization tests.
I had turned in my PQ paperwork before leaving for field camp, but found out several weeks later that my tuberculosis test would be out of date by the time I deployed for Antarctica. Moab was the next place our class would stay for more than three days (which is the amount of time it takes to get the TB test results). So, I spent our first morning in Moab, before going out into the field, in search of a health center that would take care of it for me.
My phone was broken, so I couldn’t call in ahead of time. Instead I walked 15 minutes to the Moab hospital, where they told me they do not do TB tests. “You should go to the free health clinic down the road,” They suggested. I set off and walked for several minutes until I came across the Free Health clinic. It was 8:25 am, and they didn’t open until 9 am. I sat in the lobby reading their magazines, and searching for a crossword puzzle that wasn’t already filled in. 9 o’clock came around, and I asked the woman at the front desk about a TB test. “I’m not sure we do those,” she told me. “Let me call the Health Department and see if they can.” She called and found out that they would do TB skin tests from 3:00-4:30 that afternoon. I was supposed to be out in the field then.
I ended my tour of the Moab health care system and made my way back to our hotel to let my professor know. We hurried through our afternoon project, measuring the gravity field across Moab, and I was dropped off at the Health Department just in the nick of time! (Shout out to the women at the Health Department. They were endlessly friendly and patient. They helped me out weeks later when I found out the results I sent to Polar Medical Operations were in the wrong format and not specific enough. The nurse hand wrote a custom one for me).
Medical prep is finally complete, and now it's packing time! I’ve been pulling together my duffel bag for the trip over the past week, thinking about what we will need for the month and a half of relentless winds and below-freezing temperatures ahead. Long underwear, fleeces, hats and gloves, and a small mountain of wool socks are strewn across my bedroom floor. In Christchurch, we will be issued most of the heavy duty gear and layers, including the quintessential red down parka, called “Big Red,” which everyone wears on the ice. We will be given sleeping bags, fleeces, gloves, wind pants, and more long underwear as well. There are also fun things to pack! Like games, books, crafts, and little Christmas gifts for one another. Dreams of a white Christmas will definitely come true in Antartica.
Stay tuned for our forthcoming adventures!