By Jerri Nielsen
Hyperion Books 2001
It was the summer of 1998. Jerri Nielsen was a 45 year old ER doctor in Ohio. Her marriage had broken up, and she had lost custody of her children to their father [an abusive & controlling man who thought nothing of telling lies to gain control]. Now Jerri wanted a new life. She spotted an advertisement for doctors in the US Antarctica Program, so Jerri sent in her resume. Within a week, Jerri was invited to Denver Colorado for an interview.
The Antarctica, I was informed, was the highest, driest, coldest, windiest and emptiest place on earth. The south Pole itself was almost 2 miles above sea level (9300 feet) which meant that hypoxia and altitude sickness were common illnesses. And because the sun disappeared for 6 months of the year, for those 6 months, the pole was "closed" - no planes could get in or out at all. You were effectively stranded there. All supplies were delivered during the summer, and if you ran out during the winter, you either made it yourself, or you just managed without it. This was what Jerri had to look forward to. She accepted the position and the challenge, and after a few weeks of training, she eventually found herself arriving at the South Pole in late October 1998. Summer in the Antarctica happens over the long daylight period - October to February.
Jerri records the details of daily life during the summer, how she settled in, and how she felt after the Pole was closed in February of 1999. In MArch Jerri discovered a small lump in her breast. She did nothing for a while, hoping it would go away, and knowing that being "effectively locked down" there wasnt much that could be done. By May the lump had grown larger. So in June of 1999, Jerri told the bosses and the management back in Denver. Fortunately the internet was available, and contact was fairly easy through email - although always subject to satellite availablity.
Jerri was hooked up with a breast cancer specialist in Indiana, USA. There were discussions on how to pull Jerri out, or even if she could be pulled out. Eventually, the decision wwas made to drop medical supplies, (along with fresh food, and other supplies) at the Pole. No such winter flight had ever been attempted before. On July 10, 1999 a Hercules plane flew to the South Pole and dropped 6 large packages, and then flew back to New Zealand.
Jerri got the chemotherapy she needed to start treating herself. It worked for a while, the tumour shrank. Jerri started losing her hair. In September when the tumour started growing again, the decision was made to send another plane to extract her. The Pole was not due to reopen to flights until October 25. On October 16, 1999 Jerri was extracted back to New Zealand.
By now she was dizzy, weak, and tired. A result of the body not breathing very well (due to being at such high altitudes for an extended peiod of time) along with the chemotherapy, was wearing her down. Once she arrived in New Zealand she was able to recover quickly, because she was finally breathing rich oxygenated air since Christchurch is at sea level. Jerri was hustled onto another plane and was finally able to undergo more radical chemotherapy, surgery and radiation back in Indiana.
Many of the emails she sent and received during her year ON ICE are reproduced in the book. Some of them make for very funny reading. Others are where she questions herself, the cancer and what the odds of her survival are.
After she returned to USA, she was treated, had surgery and was declared cancer free in January 2000. Whether Jerri is still alive, I dont know for sure. The latest I saw any mention of her online was dated 2003. She was living in North Carolina.
This is a very good book for knowing the DETAILS of what it's like to live at the South pole. I know I could not survive there.