“I’m going to Antarctica. For the winter.” – this basically only gets one of two responses.
- [puzzled and/or blank stare]….the fuck is wrong with you?
- [super excited face] I’MSOJEALOUSTHATSAMAZING!!!!
There have been a small few who strayed from those two, chiefly my immediate family, who were resigned to this inevitability a long time ago, so are pretty excited for me. But 1 and 2 are generally the reaction I get. The folks who fall under category 1 are also the only ones who ask “why.” Those hearty category 2 people don’t, because they already know.
Heading to Antarctica is something that was first put into my head way back in the days of undergrad. It’s been rattling around the back of my noodle ever since. Throughout the years, I’ve applied for various positions in an attempt just to get down there. I applied as a barkeep. No interview. I applied as a janitor – mind you, I have janitorial experience AND was a certified EMT- no interview. Then a friend went down for a summer. Which lead to a winter-over at the South Pole. He said to me once:
“Go to Antarctica. Have the adventure of a lifetime. Go to Antarctica IN WINTER and have the adventure of everyone’s lifetime”
That cemented it. Towards the end of my Physician Assistant training I applied again. I was working trauma and was still up from the night before when I put my application in. I got a call about 15 minutes later. We chatted and things looked good. They liked my mountain rescue experience. My EMS experience. My adventurous life resume. But licensing ultimately held me up. Sitting my boards was just too close to deployment. So I took a “regular” job. About a month later, Antarctica called to offer me a winter spot. I had already accepted a position and couldn’t bail. It broke my heart to turn it down. But my name was out there. It was only a matter of time.
Towards the end of my hospital contract, about two years later, we started talking again. How would I feel about being the sole medical provider at the South Pole? Scare shitless frankly, but if that’s what it takes I’ll suck it up. So the interviews got arranged. Conversations were had. It went well. Ultimately, my two years of experience counted against me. No job.
How do you feel about going to McMurdo with another provider, an ER doc? Oh, and by the way, it’ll be for the winter…..
I’m in. How can you say no to that? If you’re category 2, you can’t. So here I am. Two week-long rotations left at my “regular” job. I’m working through all the mounds of pre-deployment paperwork. Ordering a years worth of contact lenses. Dental exam. Physical exam (including a full abdominal ultrasound). Getting things checked off. Going to sell my truck. Give up my apartment. My permanent address is going to be my sister’s place. Again. Cancel my cell phone. Cancel my internet. Not quite going dark, but pretty god damn close.
I’m moving to Antarctica. For the winter.
Answers to the questions everyone wants to know:
- The winter is mostly maintenance staff. Prepping for the far busier summer. Not a lot of science happening. There will be about 150 people at the station (McMurdo) in winter, 2000 in summer. Me and a doc. Whatever walks through the door of our 4(?) bed clinic is ours to deal with. Evacuation to New Zealand is a possibility, but could be anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the weather.
- Dorms. I’ll be living in a damn dorm again.
- Cafeteria style. Looks pretty nice actually. I’ve been told we will be fed well. I’ll miss the fresh veggies and fruits.
- Two minute showers, twice a week
- Email and internet, but no Skype or facetime. Phone calls, charged as long distance emanating in Denver. I didn’t know long distance was even still a thing
- Case of beer OR a bottle of hooch OR two bottles of wine per week allotment
- -30F. Occasionally with 150+mph winds. On those days no one is allowed out of whatever building they happen to be in.
- Eating penguins is strictly verboten.
- Really nice looking gym. Volleyball/basketball court, sauna (I think), indoor climbing gym. Music rooms. Library.
- 4 months of total darkness. 9 months-ish total
- I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get back. Not looking that far ahead. Probably Seattle.
- This will be my 6th continent. Haven’t been to Africa yet.