6 February 2007
Antarctica – An Exciting Day
Today things got a little “exciting” as we had a potentially serious injury. I can’t share details but the member was medically evacuated to Christchurch NZ. It was the first urgent evacuation I have participated in and it went fairly smoothly. It is helpful that we had a plane available to fly the injured person out. Imagine if this were mid-winter when there are no planes flying.
Once the temperature at the South Pole reaches -50° F the C130’s can’t reliably fly. They do fly in temperatures at altitude that are even lower but starting engines at that temperature can be damaging to the engines. The final “pull-out” date for the South Pole is not absolute but will come soon. Since traveling to other parts of Antarctica is the primary mission for the Air National Guard here the planes leave McMurdo shortly after closing the South Pole. “Closing” is a relative term. There are still personnel who remain there through the winter. They are hardy souls who have gone through a battery of psychological and medical tests to be sure they can tolerate the austere conditions.
At the South Pole temperatures in winter can be lower than -120° F with winds exceeding 60 mph. Even now the temperature there is 40 – 50 degrees colder than here at McMurdo. Until last week there was no physician selected to remain at the South Pole for the winter but at the last minute, the physician who is already at the Pole has agreed to remain through the winter as well. In addition to the cold and wind, there is no sunlight at the South Pole for months. The sun sets in March and does not rise again until September. That would have serious consequences for someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
We are an isolated community here. When one person here comes down with even a cold it can run through the population like fire. While it is summer we can send people away but in winter they are stuck here and have to deal with any outbreaks. Everyone is briefed repeatedly about hand-washing and hygiene and still, they can have bouts of “Antarctic Crud.” So far I have felt great.
Freighter unloading operations are continuing and all the containers that were on the deck have been off-loaded. They move them into the center of “town” near the dormitories (orange fencing denotes “off limits”) on flatbed trucks some of which date back to the Korean War. They are systematically unloaded with forklifts and personnel from each shop or building take charge of their year’s worth of supplies. Almost everyone gets involved. If you are not you must stay away from the unloading areas to avoid injuries like the one recently mentioned. This supply issue is one more example of how different things are here. We have become accustomed to the Wal-mart mentality. Anything you need is at the store so get it when you need it. We don’t need to stockpile, therefore we don’t need to plan ahead. While this is good for Wal-mart it is inefficient and costly for us. There are some good lessons to be learned here even in something as basic as supply and storage.by