Welcome to my blog! Well here I am, somewhere in the friendly skies of The Great Pacific Northwest, heading to a world far far away…at least in this world but far far away!
Allow me to introduce myself to those who’ve just stumbled across my blog (please watch your step!). My name is Michelle Tepper. I’m an avid adventurist who works as an Emergency Department Physician Assistant to pay the bills and for a little extra REI spending money. To explain the title of my blog, there is a poem written by Linda Ellis titled “The Dash.” I’ll post a link below, but basically we live on this great Earth only a short while, when we die our tombstone has our birth day and the day we die and there is a little dash between them that represents, basically our whole life, who we are, what we’ve done, etc. I hope to elaborate more on this topic in a future post but essentially this is just a tiny segment of my great, wonderful, exciting dash that I want to share with you as I’m heading to the vast wilderness of Antarctica (“the deep Antarctic”) to be the only Medical Provider for a field camp that supports scientists doing all sorts of research about well… I’m pretty sure ice.
I’ve quit my job, packed most all of my stuff up and put it in storage, rented out my house, dropped off my dog at my friend’s house (shed a few tears in the process), and gathered all my wool long underwear and socks, a couple pairs of gloves, balaclavas and a puffy coat or two and I’m off to the frigid tundra down under.
OK so it wasn’t all that easy and you’re probably wondering how all this happened. Well let’s go back a few years when I was off on a different adventure. Again I had quit my job and decided to travel a little between gigs, so I went down to South America for a month. I was in Ecuador for 2 week volunteering with Timmy Global Heath providing health care to villages way out in the Amazon Basin. I was in the sweltering heat and humidity of Misahuaili, Ecuador with spotty internet access when I came across a strange email about a PA position in Antarctica. I’m always getting emails about jobs in Alaska, but Antarctica? That was not even on my radar. From there I went down to Patagonia, just me and a giant backpack to find my way to Torres del Paine to hike the “W trek” because someone I once knew said it was a beautiful place. It sure was, probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been (next to the Pacific Northwest of course!). I arrived in Punta Arenas (southern most airport in South America, in Chile) where many people depart for Antarctica by boat. I met a couple scientists and photographers who had just returned from Antarctica and I was like “this must be an omen!” So I responded to the email only to find they were fully staffed but to stay in touch for future openings. A couple years went by and the opportunity arose again and so I started the interview process. It was for a field camp position, in the middle of nowhere, like not at a base with a heated dorm and cafeteria like I had seen in the documentaries (I was doing my research). Nope this was like tents, and snow, lots of snow, as far as the eye can see. They were asking me for my references before I had the chance to get any details about this gig. Meanwhile at the same time I was being offered a position in a local ER, like 3 miles from my house and I had to make a decision. I took the local ER position.
Anytime I heard someone mention Antarctica (“hey Michelle, what ever happened with that Antarctica thing?’) I got this knot in my gut like Regret just jabbed me in the stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with my decision at the time, I totally LOVED the ER position I took, it really had practically all the things I had liked from all my other jobs wrapped into one and I loved the whole crew I worked with (gonna miss you guys!). Nope…it was that seed of adventure being planted again.
So this past summer I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc (a trail that passed through France, Italy, Switzerland and back to France around the giant mountain in the Alps, “Mont Blanc”). When I came back it was still early in the summer season of hiking and camping in the Pacific North West so when I wasn’t in the ER I was of course out camping or hiking. I had just finished a stretch of ER shifts and was on the Ferry out to the San Juan Islands for a weekend of hanging around the campfire with friends and pups, when I got this email that basically said…
The Center for Polar Medical Operations is actively recruiting for a mid-level to serve as the sole provider to the West Antarctic Ice Shelf field camp for this October. This position will be responsible for the day-to-day health of up to 50 people actively engaged in research in the deep Antarctic. While the clinical load is light, the potential for illness or injury is always present so we are looking for the ideal candidate who is a self-starter, capable of independent decision making and is willing to go it alone for the first couple of hours… The camp is self sustaining so everyone chips in to maintain it. That might involve shoveling snow, washing dishes or other general activities around camp.
This is a true test of your mettle but the rewards are astounding. The season runs from October 2016-Feb 2017. If you have a background in wilderness medicine, SAR, mountaineering or love camping and have at least three years of family/emergency/acute care experience, this may be the job for you.
Hello!!!! Do I love camping? Hell yeah! Do I have Emergency Medicine experience? Yup! Was I ready to do this in the middle of a desolate continent? Ummm…. One of my co workers, a doc that worked down in Antarctica at the main bases for a few seasons put it in words I understood. He told me this is a place in this world where only a small handful of people will ever step foot. There is was, I was sold. Those were words a true adventurist couldn’t pass up.
So here I am, my first of four flights that will get me “down to the ice”. Seattle to LAX, LAX to Sydney, Sydney to Christchurch, NZ. I’ll be in NZ for two days to get “oriented”, have my computer scanned for viruses and pick up my assigned “Extreme Cold Weather Gear” at the Antarctic Center there. Then I’ll board a military plane to Mc Murdo Station where I’ll get some more orientation (like dig a ditch or build and igloo and sleep in it overnight!), Ill gather my medical gear and board another flight out to WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) field camp where I will be for three months.
I’m excited, a smidge nervous about how cold it will be, and a little sad to be leaving Seattle. I wrapped up my comfortable life there, had a big going away party thanks to the most amazing friends a girl could ask for (which included a giant shot luge in my kitchen!).
So stay tuned to hear about it all, from trying on my giant, warm, red parka in New Zealand to going to the bathroom in an unheated outhouse for three months. I’ll let you know how I stay warm, how I stay bus and what part I take in the day to day camp stuff. It’s all new to me and I can’t wait to share it with all of you as I won’t be updating my Facebook status for the next four months.
Please feel free to comment on the posts, ask questions about life on the ice, whatevs. I have a secret Gnome stateside who will be posting for me and will update me about the comments.
Link to The Dash poem By Linda Ellis