Jan. 23, 2003, Gazette
|Icebergs rise hundreds of metres above
the Antarctic Ocean.
Icebergs which tower hundreds of metres
high, colonies with up to 200,000 penguins and endless daylight were
just some of the appeal of a recent three-week trip to Antarctica for
Dr. Tia Renouf, Family Medicine, as ships doctor aboard the Akademik
Ioffe. It was also her honeymoon with Peter Knauss who happily helped
carry her doctors bag and enjoy the scenery.
The trip began with a long flight to Santiago, Chile, then across the
Andes into Buenos Aires and on to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in
South America. There they met up with the Russian research vessel which
was to be home for the next three weeks.
|Dr. Tia Renouf, camping out in the light of
the Antarctic summer on Christmas night about midnight at Neko Harbour.
The first challenge was getting across
the Drake Passage, the body of water from Cape Horn to the Antarctic
Peninsula, reputed to be the roughest ocean in the world. I expected
to be very busy with seasickness and people falling down, but actually
all our crossings were quite calm, said Dr. Renouf.
The excitement began when the ship reached what is known as the Antarctic
convergence, a body of water where the northern flowing currents coming
around Antarctica meet the southern flowing currents from the Indian,
Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It gets very foggy at the
convergence both the water and air temperatures drop quite suddenly
and you start to see penguins and icebergs, Its like stepping
on the outside of a looking glass.
|Penguins at Baileys Head on Deception
During Dr. Renoufs stint as ships
doctor, the Akademik Ioffe made two journeys between Argentina and Antarctica.
Although it sometimes serves as a research vessel, both these trips
were for tourists, with Americans and Europeans aboard the first trip
and a large contingent of Swedes on the second.
At Palmer Station, one of the many research stations in Antarctica,
Dr. Renouf had the chance to talk to an American doctor stationed there.
Dr. Kirstin van Konynenburg had arrived about six months earlier, at
the tail end of winter, and said she found after six months of darkness
people were very edgy. I asked her what she thought would be the
most important characteristics of a doctor to work in a place like that
and she said that generalists like family physicians and emergency doctors
are best. Physicians who deal with people all the time can be good trouble
shooters: people living on these research stations need some to confide
in, and generalists with an independent spirit and an interest in nature
are best suited to the job.
|Crab eater seal.
Dr. Renouf added that a doctor in such
a remote area must also be competent enough in their clinical assessments
to make hard decisions. Its a matter of knowing when youve
done what you can and resisting the temptation to send people off for
more tests. These are the skills of remote and rural medicine, the same
kind of skills youd need in coastal Labrador.
Working in such a remote location, Dr. van Konynenburg uses the same
kind of telemedicine techniques that Memorial University pioneered,
including digitized X-Rays.
|Group of elephant seals.
Although skilled in emergency medicine,
Dr. Renouf found the trips uneventful. Twice a day wed lower
zodiacs to go on explorations and Id carry my big, waterproof
doctors bag which weighed about 50 pounds. I never had to use
it, but if someone did get sick youd really be put to the test.
In addition to the unique scenery and wildlife, Dr. Renouf enjoyed the
politically unique situation of Antarctica. A number of countries
have scientific stations there and conventions have been drawn up and
treaties signed to say no one owns it. Its a place dedicated to
science and peaceful purposes. Since 1988, two international conventions
have been signed to protect the Antarctic from commercial mineral exploitation.