Médecins Sans Frontières, Antarctica: Sleeping with one eye open

Attached is a photo of me asleep back home in the UK in December, quietly guarded by Mishi, my once husky puppy now monster, who had come and lay beside me. She kept one eye open … on the intruder, my partner Kathy holding a camera. She licked my face to alert me.

Between a rock and a hard place

Down here on the ice, my sleep has been erratic through the dark hours – but mainly due to having to live around others time zones on the base.  Irrespective of when you want to go to sleep, some of the nighttime and overnight measurements for research mean that you have to put others to bed and they call through in the morning when they wake up, waking you up. But more so, as the station doctor, you are always on-call – 24 hours a day. Its not easy, but like juggling, you get better at it and it is certainly a test of character. I keep smiling.

My circadian rhythm has become an ‘average’ of the crew, swinging erratically between the French Astronomer (last to bed; last up) and Plumber (first to bed; first up).

Frostbite and a lick to the face

However I count myself lucky… having been woken up one night last week for a case of frostbite… I found my support network to be great. By the next morning I had received emailed telemedicine support and advice reassuring me in my treatment plan from the British Antarctic Survey’s Medical Unit as well as the French and Italian units. It seems my back is covered – someone is always sleeping with one eye open, watching over me – and it feels good. And a knock at the door or email is better than a lick on the face.

Bear with a sore head

After getting back to sleep at close to 4am, the fire alarm sounded at 10am. Another 6 hours sleep … how lucky am I! 6 is better than 4… in cricket and in sleep. After a short grumpy period, it was business as usual.

Paracetamol – the world’s emergency departments’ favourite placebo

Over the past 4-5 months and since commencing our period of isolation, there have been over 60 consultations for accidents, injuries and illnesses on the base.. some hilarious, some not so. And for a mistake in last year’s order of medication for the base, we have less Paracetamol than would be available in a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) outpost in rural Africa and in fact are nearly out, with 4-5 months left to go.

Oh well, too bad. In line with our crew motto… Keep Calm and Carry On!  My advice to the next crew, DC9, bring your own Paracetamol.

To the pharmacy … “Red Wine, Shiraz, 1 Glass, PO BD”

Despite not being able to offer paracetamol for the expected pain on reheating frostbite injuries… I can prescribe alcohol!  Who’d have known alcohol is a treatment for Frostbite! It’s lucky we have our own wine cellar here…. we’ll never leave this ship even when its sinking… we’ll enjoy a fine Medoc rouge as we drown an icy Titanic death.

Airway, Breathing, Circulation… Disappear quickly

In Anaesthetics, I was taught and warned to keep things simple. Despite holding Jedi Powers that other doctors blush around, we don’t like to use our lightsabers in public and instead utilise a simple ABC approach when checking for signs of life. If you ever come to Intensive Care, thats when you’ll see we Jedi’s fighting the dark side.

Someone doesn’t show up for lunch at Concordia station… better swing by his room and check he is still breathing. He answers ‘yes’. I think to myself, ‘Airway is patent’… so therefore must be breathing and must have a heart rate… Another life saved. Job done.

I may apply to MSF when I get home…

 

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