Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

Emergency Leave

It has been awhile since I last posted to our adventure blog.  I am posting from the ICU during a visit with T.J.’s dad.  We arrived back in Los Angeles seven days ago after hearing that T.J.’s dad, Gary, suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage (brain bleed).   T.J. shared the story of his Antarctic arrival in a prior post.

Like T.J., I was unable to sleep the night prior to his expected landing on the ice runway.  Mostly because I would finally see my husband after two months of being apart, but also because my twin sister was in the hospital in labor.  My pager went off at 530 AM with the news that I had a healthy niece.  I skipped breakfast so I could get to my computer to see photos and call home.  I spent a lot of time on the computer Friday morning looking for more baby photos.  Shortly after T.J.’s expected take off from Christchurch, I had an urgent message on facebook, from a family friend, to call home.  T.J.’s dad was in the ER with a brain bleed and would be admitted to the ICU for monitoring.  Despite the severity of his illness, everyone sounded optimistic.  Throughout my past two months in Antarctica, I have felt well connected to home; telephone, email and facebook always had a familiar face at the other end.  After hanging up the phone on Friday, I realized how far away I really was.  And, I was going to have to break the news to T.J.

By noon, I had received a call describing Gary’s worsening condition.  By this point, I knew I had to meet T.J. at the plane so he could decide what to do.  A friend arranged for a private shuttle to pick T.J. up when he arrived and  we returned to McMurdo clinic to call home.  We checked in frequently with friends and family as we tried to get T.J. checked in, find his room and move his luggage.  It was a whirlwind tour of McMurdo.  By evening, we knew we had to get T.J. home.  I never thought I would be able to join him.

Within two hours of making the decision, clinic staff, Denver Medical, Raytheon HR, NSF and I am sure many others arranged our flight off the ice and back to LA.  We were able to take a military C-130 ski plane from McMurdo to Christchurch, NZ.  If you recall my nice airbus arrival, picture the opposite.  Instead of a 4 hour flight in first class, we spent eight hours in an extremely loud jet, sitting in uncomfortable sling seats.  We were unable to talk over the noise and spent the 8 hours napping, reading and thinking.  Despite being uncomfortable, we were excited to be one step closer to home.  Raytheon (my employer) and NSF put us up in a hotel in Christchurch for the night.  We took the next flight available to Los Angeles, where the coach seats felt like luxury compared to the C-130.  If you would have told me on Friday morning (US Thursday) that I would be with Gary four days later, I would never have believed you.  We are still shocked at the number of people who came together to support us and Gary during this difficult time.

Gary remains in the ICU.  His recovery has been complicated by an infection of the shunt that was placed to drain CSF fluid that built up in his brain after the bleed.  We watched a gradual decline over the past four days as they were unable to control the infection with antibiotics alone.  He had his shunt replaced today and we are optimistic that the infection will resolve now that the infected tubing has been removed.  As Gary put it during one of his more lucid times, “we are guardedly optimistic.”

My two weeks of emergency family leave will end next Friday.  T.J. and I have decided that I should return to McMurdo.  He will hopefully follow in a couple of weeks if Gary’s condition improves.  I leave LA on Tuesday night and should arrive back at McMurdo next Friday (US Thursday).

We would like to extend a huge Thank You to everyone who helped get us home so quickly when we felt so far away.  And to everyone who is covering for us so we can spend time with family.  Thank you!

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