Western Base (Queen Mary Land)
By SE Jones, MB, ChM
There was a very marked absence of serious illness during the whole period of our stay at the Base. After the Aurora left Adélie Land on January 19, 1912, for her western cruise, an epidemic of influenza broke out. It should be noted that one case occurred on the voyage south from Hobart, and then an interval of almost a month occurred before the infection spread. An interesting feature of the outbreak was the fact that the recovery of those who were convalescing, when we arrived at Queen Mary Land, was much more rapid than was the case with those whose convalescence occurred on the ship.
By the careful use of snow goggles during the summer, snow blindness was practically prevented, and such cases as occurred yielded quickly when zinc and cocaine tablets were used and the eyes obtained rest. An undoubted factor in the causation of snow blindness is the strain caused by the continual efforts at visual accommodation made necessary on dull days when the sun is obscured, and there is a complete absence of all light and shade contrast.
Although frostbites were frequent during the winter months, immediate attention to the restoration of circulation prevented the occurrence of after–effects, so that no one suffered the loss of any more tissue than the superficial epithelium. The nose, ears, fingers and toes were the parts which suffered first.
Our supplies of food were excellent in point of view of variety. Some tinned onions were responsible for several mild attacks of poisoning, but these were not used after our first experience. There was no sign of scurvy in any form.
Hoadley, on one occasion, had an unpleasant experience. He was alone in the hut sleeping one night when he awoke to find the room filled with smoke. On going outside he found that the chimney had become blocked with snow; as the fire was banked, the hut was filled with the gases from the imperfect combustion of the coal. It was three or four days before Hoadley recovered from his experience, having marked symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
On my return from the Western Depot journey I found that Wild was suffering from an attack of herpes zoster. The illness came on while he was out sledging, and he suffered severely from the pain and irritation.
Beyond a few cases of minor illness, and one or two accidents, there was nothing of serious moment to report.
Main Base (Adélie Land)
By AL McLean, MB, ChM, BA
Throughout the whole period of the expedition — from December 2, 1911, to February 26, 1914 — the health of the expedition was remarkably good. Undoubtedly Antarctica has a salubrious climate, and it is simply because one returns in a measure to the primitive that such an ideal result is obtained.
The first thing to resist is the cold, and additional clothing is the first and adequate means to such an end. No one needs to be specially inured to a rigorous climate. If he has a normal circulation he immediately reacts to a new set of temperature conditions, and in a few weeks may claim to be acclimatised. Most of the members of the expedition were Australians, so that the change of latitudes was rather abrupt but none the less stimulating and healthful.
Appetite for food had suddenly a new piquancy, hard manual work was a pleasure in a novel and wonderful environment, the intellect and imagination were quickened and the whole man embodied the mens sana in corpore sano. That is why illness was practically unknown for more than two years; and, further, it may be said with partial truth that in the high sense of physical and mental fitness he possessed for a time, lies the explanation of the proverbial desire of an explorer to return to the ice lands.
Regular monthly examinations of the blood were made from the date of leaving Hobart in December 1911 until October 1912, with an interval of about nine weeks between the first and second examinations. The haemoglobin or red colouring matter went up with a leap and then very steadily increased in amount during the winter months in Adélie Land. The blood pressure became slightly more marked, the weight increased, but as one might have expected, the resistance to ordinary civilized germs was decreased. With regard to weight, the maximum amount gained by a single individual during a period of eight weeks was almost two stones, and every one became heavier by as much as ten pounds. As clinical evidence of the loss in immunity may be quoted the epidemic of influenza to which Dr SE Jones referred. As well, it was noted that several members had attacks of boils during the voyage southward; in Adélie Land during 1912 there were two instances of acute abscesses on the fingers (whitlows) and one jaw abscess. It appears as if, with its new and unbounded energy of function, the body attempts to throw oft its waste products. Then, too, experimental observations of opsonic index pointed towards the lowering of resistance, and, by the way, it was rather a remarkable fact that after a few months in Adélie Land, staphylococcus pyogenes aureus — a common germ in civilization — could not be cultivated artificially from the throat, nose or skin, of six individuals from whom monthly bacteriological cultures were made.
Within the Hut, at a temperature which ranged from 40° to 45°F, the number of microorganisms continuously increased, if the exposure of agar plates at regular intervals (by night) gave a true indication. The organisms were staphylocci albi, bacilli, yeasts, and moulds; the latter overgrowing the plate after it had been for forty eight hours in the incubator.
Frostbites were common, but, perhaps for that reason, were not regarded seriously. No one suffered permanent harm from being frostbitten, though in several cases rather extensive blisters formed and nails and skin were lost.
Whilst the Hut was being built, minor casualties often occurred; the common remedy being to cover the injured part with a small piece of gauze surrounded by adhesive tape; for open wounds will not heal when exposed to the cold. The Greenland dogs had small accidents and ailments which often required treatment.
On sledging journeys snow blindness was an affection which sooner or later caught every one in an unguarded moment. That moment was when he ceased to use goggles if the light were at all trying to his eyes. Prevention came first, and then the ‘zinc and cocaine’ cure.
Adélie Land can only be regarded as an intolerable country in which to live, owing to the never ceasing winds. Usage and necessity helped one to regard the weather in the best possible light; for the sake of a few hours of calm which might be expected to occasionally intervene between the long spells of the blizzards. It is, therefore, with regret and some diffldence that I speak of the illness of Mr SN Jeffryes, who took up so conscientiously the duties of wireless operator during the second year (1913); but upon whom the monotony of a troglodytic winter life made itself felt. It is my hope that he is fast recovering his former vigour and enthusiasm.1
So many miles of sledging were done at both Antarctic bases in a climate which is surely without a parallel in the history of polar travelling, the ship was so often in jeopardy during her three main cruises to the south, that we feel the meagre comment should be made on our providential return to civilization with the loss of two comrades whose memory will ever be imperishable to each one of us.