This week has seen the refuelling and resupply of Casey, as well as the arrival of the incoming winterers and the farewell of the outgoing crew. We get a perspective of the activities from one of our summer doctors.

Resupply — from a medical perspective

Historically, resupply has been the time when most injuries and illnesses have occurred down here in Antarctica.

There are several reasons for that. The number of people on station can easily double with both incoming and outgoing expeditioners and the Aurora Australis crew all on station simultaneously. For many of the incoming expeditioners it’s their first time on the continent and often they haven’t had much exposure to snow and ice, so slips and falls are quite frequent. Then there is a lot of cargo to load and unload which exposes the ship’s crew and helping hands to crush injuries, cuts and bruises.

On the plus side, however, is the fact that at least two doctors are present to manage these problems. During winter the medical practitioner is on his or her own, which adds a lot of pressure. Imagine a case that needs urgent treatment. Most of us are neither surgeon nor anaesthetist, but in this case you have to be both, and at the same time, maybe dealing with an unstable patient. So having another doctor relieves a lot of stress, reduces potential fatigue and gives the opportunity to have a second opinion on-site. Of course, we have access to a range of specialists for a second opinion and advice around the clock — help is literally only a phone call away. But when it comes down to actually doing something, it’s up to the doctor on station.

That is one of the reasons why Casey has two doctors over summer, as opposed to the other stations. In case of an emergency one of the doctors from Casey can be flown to another station for assistance in cases of a serious nature, which prevents leaving the station without their own doctor. The other reason is that one of the doctors is usually involved in monitoring flights in and out of Wilkins.

Dr Sheri Newman, the winter doctor, and Dr Nick Lerch, one of the summer doctors who arrived on station early November via McMurdo (the American Antarctic station on the Ross ice shelf), prepared the station surgery for this event. They were joined by Dr Gerry Bulger, who took over from Sheri when she went back to Hobart on the ship. She put a lot of effort into decluttering and reorganising the medical facility and handover was made so much easier for both of the summer doctors.

January is set to be a quiet month until direct flights from Hobart to Wilkins (the ice runway 70km south east of Casey) resume nearing the end of the month. On the first flight the winter doctor, Dr Chad Sanders, will join the medical team for a three week handover, before the summer doctors take the last flight of the season back to Hobart. The three weeks will be dedicated to preparing Dr Chad for his job, making sure that he is able to handle all emergencies and problems that will possibly arise during the winter period.

Yesterday saw the Aurora Australis leave the Casey shores bound for Australia. Thankfully, we had no major incidents during this resupply, due to careful organisation, good management of people and resources and a high standard of safety procedures.

Fingers crossed, this will continue throughout the rest of the summer season and the winter!