Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

A Day of Mixed Emotions – November 18/19

I woke up a little after midnight with a stomach ache and a little nausea.  I was in my hotel room in Christchurch, New Zealand, and scheduled to fly down to Antarctica in a few hours.  I couldn’t be sick – Jessie was waiting for me.  I pulled the garbage can from the bathroom next to my bed and prayed that it was just the lasagna from dinner.

When I woke again at 6AM, I was feeling good.  Crisis averted – I would see Jessie in about 8 hours.

Just like Jessie, I was lucky enough to fly down to Antarctica in a commercial jet.  First class seats and big windows.  The first 4 hours passed uneventfully, and then the views began.  Sea ice of all different types.  Glaciers flowing from rocky peaks. Snow-capped volcanoes.  I was seeing Antarctica. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

I would rush from the left side of the plane to the right side to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.  And most everybody else on the flight was doing the same.  We took pictures in the cockpit of the plane – just like we were 7 years old again.

While everyone on the plane was excited, I had to have been the most excited. Not only was I setting foot on Antarctica for the first time, I was seeing my wife for the first time in two months!

As I deboarded the plane,  I saw Jessie.  I broke into a big smile and started waving.  Trying to not trip in my big FDX boots, I rushed over to give her a big hug and kiss.  It was wonderful seeing her again. And in Antarctica no less.

I thought nothing of getting whisked into a private shuttle while the others boarded Ivan the Terrabus.  But after sitting down next to Jessie, I could tell something was wrong.

Jessie broke into tears, telling me that my dad was in the hospital with a brain bleed.  I didn’t know what to feel.  I was still ecstatic from seeing Jessie and Antarctica, but my dad was in the hospital.

Jessie and a colleague of hers brought me up to the medical building.  Only a few minutes after arriving, we were on the phone with one of the doctors in Newport Beach.  The report sounded encouraging. Dad was still quite cognizant and was being monitored hourly to make sure his mental state didn’t deteriorate.

The next few hours were a bit of whirl wind.  I was talking with my supervisor, getting checked in at McMurdo, discussing flight options back to New Zealand, and who knows what else.  In an hour or two, I was on the phone with my sister Austyn who had arrived from the Bay area.  The report on my dad was now much less rosy and his mental state was beginning to deteriorate.  My hope for his speedy recover and my staying in Antarctica was over.  It was time to start figuring out how to get off continent.

I will let Jessie tell the story of how the military, the National Science Foundation and Raytheon helped us get back both quickly and easily. But I wanted to say how thankful I am for all of the different people who helped us, many of whom I don’t even know about.

We are both now in Newport Beach and able to help watch over my dad in the ICU.  He has shown improvement since a shunt was placed, and we are cautiously optimistic that he will make a full recovery.  He will in the ICU for a while longer to make sure no vascular spasms and re-bleeding occur.

Jessie will be headed back to Antarctica early next week. I hopefully will be able to return a little after that.

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3 responses

  1. mom

    you have me in tears. My heartfelt wishes for your Dad’s full and quick recovery……

    November 25, 2010 at 7:36 AM

  2. Kristin

    Very best wishes. I am sending positive thoughts south 🙂

    November 25, 2010 at 8:08 AM

  3. Oh TJ I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I hope everything works out for the best. We are sending good thoughts your way. Take care.

    Sean

    November 25, 2010 at 9:35 AM

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