Doctor Jacques Richon doing an evacuation exercise - © International Polar Foundation

in News

Station doctor: an exercise in controlled paranoia

We caught up with Jacques Richon, the Swiss doctor working at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica during the first half of the season. He gives us his take on how his mission in Antarctica differs from his normal job back home.

In Antarctica, a doctor is alone and has to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. His first duty upon arrival is to check everything: sterilise every instrument, check dates on pills and drugs and replace what needs to be replaced, etc. These activities occupy him for a good couple of weeks.

What is really different as well is the small space available in the station and the absence of a supporting medical team. It is a very different environment compared to what doctors are used to in hospitals. I constantly do simulations to know how to handle various emergencies. I train various people at the station so they can help me in the vent of emergency. Our cook now knows how to prepare a perfusion, prepare emergency treatments and knows where everything is so he can bring me anything I might need while I concentrate on the patient.

I "rehearse" with a remote team in Switzerland I am constantly in touch with. We test our capabilities to exchange medical files (pictures, electrocardiograms, etc.). We need to be ready if an emergency arises. I also work constantly on emergency procedures in case we need to evacuate someone to Cape Town. It is not always easy for a plane to arrive immediately. If bad weather kicks in, it can take a few days and I have to be prepared for that as well.

Everything is not doom and gloom, though. Most people here have already been to Antarctica, they are professionals and know the risks and how to behave inside and outside the station. My job begins well before the season by making sure everybody is in good physical shape. We cannot allow anyone with cardiac problems or chronic illnesses like diabetes. Everybody is screened beforehand and goes through pretty rigorous medical check before the season.

This year, I am leaving at Christmas and will be replaced by another Swiss man, Yves Groebly. He is an experienced doctor with whom I have already worked. My last few days will be dedicated to making sure he knows everything he should know before I head home.

Author: Jacques Richon

Picture: Doctor Jacques Richon doing an evacuation exercise - © International Polar Foundation

Related Items

All related items

Use the links hereunder to browse related items sorted by type.