Our station mechanical supervisor tells the story of a day which went wrong and the implications across our small community when someone gets injured.

Mishap on ice

Warning: contains graphic content

June 11. 2023. A day in my Antarctic experience that I’ll never forget.

It was a Sunday, and I remember it being a nice day. The sun rose about 9am, and it wasn’t overly cold. Around minus 18 or minus 20.

We had a busy week ahead, with the plan being to complete our two-day Mid-Winter fuel transfer. We wanted to get in and get some small jobs done, so the boys on Tuesday would have a few less things to do.

The task I was completing was simple. I’d done it 100 times before. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but close enough. I was loading a shipping container spreader bar back into its storage container. Done. Okay, now to fit the lid back on. My colleague Red lifted the lid with the JCB and placed it down.

This was when things took a turn. To be honest, I still don’t really know what exactly happened. The steel lid slid on the steel forklift tines and dropped. My finger was beside the lid.

I pulled my hand back straight away. My glove didn’t come with me, which was the first bad sign. I immediately cupped my hand, squeezed my left index finger, and covered everything with my other hand. There was a dull throb.

I slowly opened my right hand for a sneak peek. Now, many a time I have squished a finger, and thought. ‘Oooh, that’s not good’. This time, it really wasn’t good. I needed to get to the med bay.

Red was still in the JCB. I waved my arm around, trying to let him know what had happened, but had no luck. So I started my march to the medical bay.

Down here we are incredibly lucky to have great medical facilities and personnel. The doc was immediately on task. Pain killers were administered and assessment complete. LSA (lay surgical assistants) were called in, and my finger was wrapped and bandaged ready for guidance from Kingston.

After advice from plastic surgeons from the Royal Hobart Hospital, the decision was made to remove the crushed flesh and bone from the end of the remaining finger (the nail and tip remained snugly in my glove, pinned under the spreader bar lid). Surgery was booked for Tuesday the 13th. The technology in our theatre is incredible. There are cameras everywhere, and full guidance from Kingston.

4pm on Tuesday, and surgery is complete. Now time to relax. Or try to. My mind was still going 100 miles an hour. I wanted to be in the workshop helping my team. I felt like I had let everyone down.

I refused to show the boys how I was feeling, I wanted to put on a brave face. If they saw me with a smile, then maybe they would think I'm ok, and not worry.

The thing about being in a small community, everyone cares about everyone else. It doesn’t take long for people to put two and two together. The support I got, and the confidence it gave me is hard to express.

I’m not the type that can relax easily, sit there with a book and read. I’m much more active. I felt very lost. I felt like I had let everyone down. I felt as though the pressure the workshop was feeling was my fault, because I couldn’t be there to help. This led me to the kitchen, and no, not to eat my sorrows away. In the kitchen I felt like I was able to help, where I couldn’t in the workshop with my crew. It gave me a sense of purpose that I was lacking. I have no doubt I was nothing but a pain in the arse to Chef Claire, but the three weeks in and out of the kitchen made me feel part of the team again. I can also flip a mean roti bread now.

After five weeks or so, I was back in the workshop, albeit only to assist with one-handed tasks. If you know about workshops, there aren’t many one-handed tasks. Stocktake it was. But I felt like I was part of my team again. There were small things I could do that helped them. Slowly, slowly, I am getting closer to returning to what I want to do. Yet I still think that I let everyone down.

Now it is seven weeks since my little mishap. I am so close to being back. There is still some healing to go, but that’s nothing. This past seven weeks has really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Being an LSA is such an incredible role and task. A chippie, a plumber, a dieso and a comms tech. When it comes to a situation that is not normal to them at all, they are there ready to act. Their training well and truly shines through. The community is the biggest asset a station has. You will never see eye to eye with everyone, but when it comes to something serious, everyone is there for each other. The support you get from everyone, checking on you, making sure you can make your coffee in the morning, or cut your steak for dinner. Everyone wants to help.

I’d like to think I made the station realise what can happen. A simple task, done so many times. We are in an incredible position. We are so isolated. Yet we have the most amazing help and support around us.

Nick, Casey, Antarctica