The Call of the Great Nothingness
We caught up with Yves Groebli on his birthday to get his impressions about being a doctor at a research station in Antarctica for the first time.
A Medical Challenge
I am a classically trained surgeon. I have known Jacques Richon since I worked together with him in Geneva 30 years ago. Since then, we have stayed in touch with each other. Being 65, I recently retired 6 months early, so when Jacques contacted me to replace him as the doctor at Princess Elisabeth for the end of this season, I jumped on the opportunity.
What is interesting here medically speaking is that you are pretty much on your own, without being able to rely on heavy medical equipment, complementary exams and a whole medical team to assist you. You also have to be prepared to face a wide variety of pathologies, ranging from small things like colds or back pain to light surgery, dentistry or - God forbid - reanimation and heavy surgery.
Having a long career behind you helps you deal with any eventuality. It also helps you have a good network of colleagues to contact via Skype if you need help or to advise with something quite specific.
First Antarctic Impressions
Being a pilot myself, I must say flying in mythical planes like an Ilyushin and a DC3 Turbo really was a great experience for me and something I certainly remember as part of my experience in Antarctica.
What struck me the most after being at Princess Elisabeth for a couple of weeks is how tightly knit the team is. It really feels like a welcoming extended family and it helped me to not feel lonely at all. Everyone here is very competent in their fields and you can see that they are used to working together. It's like a well oiled machine.
The only frustrating thing is that, being the doctor, I have to be on call and cannot always participate to the work the team does as much as I would like to. That being said, I have other duties and can still help them by taking care of their health.
Of course, Antarctica itself and its landscapes are fabulous. Simple things like looking out the window or seeing the sun set become experiences in and of themselves. In fact, for my 65th birthday, I have decided to give myself a little treat. Tonight, I will be sleeping outside the station in a small tent, to really get the full Antarctic experience!
Picture: Yves Groebli in the kitchen - © Alain Hubert / International Polar Foundation