Things can go very south very quick down here. And it’s a bit terrifying.
I’m casually getting a cup of coffee and hear “hey doc! You miss something at the clinic?!?!”
I turn around and look out the galley windows, which have direct line of sight to the clinic. There is a fire engine and one of our ambulances outside the clinic. Lights are flashing. There’s a flight coming in today. My mind starts racing.
A few years back,I’ve been told, a C-130 almost crashed on the ice. It was inbound from Christchurch when the weather turned sour. They had to keep circling and circling until the plane was running on fumes. Finally, they were able to land. The necessary personnel, xray, lab, medical, had already begun staging at the clinic for the potential Mass Casualty Incident. I’ve been told, the pilot later described it as the scariest flight of his life. This event has been hammered into my brain since I arrived.Surely each version of the story gets more fantastical, but the core of it generally remains the same. Flights are incredibly welcome -mail, freshies, change of personnel, but there is always this threat looming. We’ve discussed this possibility among the medical staff and station management during preparations of the seasonal MCI drill, of which I’m in charge.
What would we do in this scenario? Would I, given my search and rescue experience and being the physician assistant, deploy to the crash site? This would allow the physician to stay at the clinic to prepare for the casualties. Basically, horses for courses, play to our strengths to maximize survivability. The expectation is pretty grim if there is a plane crash. I’m going to have to beat feet home to get my warm gear on. It’s much colder on the ice shelf, where the runway is, than in town. Need to grab the MCI box. It’s a giant foot locker full of medical equipment that can be transported wherever it is needed: IVs, chest tubes, emergency airway gear. The whole nine yards.
But I hadn’t been paged. The flight is still a bit out, so this shouldn’t be a potential crash. It must be a patient. Someone must have been hurt preparing the runway.
The front door to the clinic is open. The patient must be rolling just rolling in. Mental checklist: we’re prepared for a critical patient. There’s an inbound flight, so if something is going to happen, today is the best day for it to happen. We can delay an outbound flight in order to stabilize a patient to medevac. Down here, medical carries a lot of weight. We’ve delayed military flights already since I’ve been here in order to evac a patient. But I haven’t been paged….
My clinic is crawling with firefighters. I hear the lilt of a Kiwi, so they’re here as well. It’s incredibly smoky. I can see through the smoke, it’s not that bad, but it’s thick. My eyes aren’t watering, but we’re almost there. It smells like burning rubber.
Two of our furnaces burned up their motors or something along those lines. The doors are open and firefighters brought a couple industrial fans to help clean out the smoke. It only took a few minutes to clear the air of the smoke. But it still stinks to holy heaven. And now it’s cold in the clinic. Like winter in Antarctica cold. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it is chilly . And it really does stink.
So I put a “closed for repairs. Page if needed” sign on the front door and walked right back out the way I came in. Didn’t even spill my coffee. And it’s still hot.
Life on the ice.