Monday, September 1, 2008

Last week sucked

Man, this last week has been just . . . blarg. I don't even know how to begin this post, I've been just too busy to actually write, and now there's so much to say that it's hard to find the motivation. So this post is just going to be a lot of boring text. I have taken pictures aplenty, as has just about everyone else on station, but the task of actually sorting through them all and figuring out which ones best convey a story is a bit daunting right now. As it is, this whole thing is one long, rambly mess. There's just so much that's happened and I don't know how to break it up to make it more readable.

Last I actually wrote, we had a fishing line stuck in the ice off the pier, and the LMG had just done a port call via a zodiac boat pulled across the ice. It left to do some fishing, and we continued the task of trying to figure out what to do about that line stuck under the ice. I think the LMG did that funky port call thing two Thursdays ago, on the 21st.

So, over the weekend, after many more meetings, head-scratching, calling Denver, etc, the word from on high was passed down; "Get that damn line out any way you can"

Monday the 25th:

A plan was devised. It involved a hell of a lot of manual labor and a comically large chainsaw. Basically, we were going to cut a channel through the ice and pull the line up through it (it was actually way more complicated then that, and involved threading some retaining lines under the ice, with some buoys and weights and this whole complicated system that no one understood, so I won't get into it). We'd have two or three people out on the ice at a time, one with a chainsaw cutting a channel, and two people with breaker bars/persuaders to bust up the ice enough that the line could be pulled up through the slush. One person would stay on shore manning the radio and safety lines. We were to work around the clock in shifts of two hours each.

As with any plan, anything that could go wrong, did. Mostly this involved the chainsaw(s) acting up and being very flakey and unreliable, tools being lost through the ice, and general exhaustion. When out on the ice, we were wearing immersion suits, which are basically loose-fitting drysuits, you can be submerged in the water up to your neck and still stay dry (at least, that's the idea). Which is good, because when you step on a crack and fall through the ice (which happened to everyone at least a couple times), you can just pull yourself back out and go back to work. And really, the cracks were pretty narrow, most of the time you'd just suddenly sink down to your hip with one leg, rarely would you go through with both legs, and even then there was enough slush in the water to prevent you from going more then chest-deep.

But the suits are bulky, and hard to work in. And when you're busting ice out there, you're generating a huge amount of heat, which just gets trapped by the suits. You'd end up taking off as many layers as you could, and in some cases leaving the suit unzipped. There's only four of these suits on station, and with people sweating in them around the clock, they were . . . pretty rank, to say the least.

Tuesday the 26th:


We'd worked thought the night, and we were making slow, but steady progress. I was on the 6-8 shift (meaning I worked 6pm-8pm, then 6am-8am, in addition to the regular workday). But I didn't get a full nights sleep, because at 4:30am . . .

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

The fire alarms went off. I don't think I've ever gotten dressed that quickly. In less then 30 seconds, we did get an announcement over the PA system that it was a false alarm; someone's toast had gotten stuck in the toaster and set off the smoke detectors in the kitchen (seriously). But my room mate Sean is the station electrician, so he and I were the ones that had to run down to the fire panels and silence the alarms. So by the time we got everything sorted, it was 5:15 or so . . . and I had to be out on the ice at 6am. So hell with going back to sleep, I just went to work.

By the time I came out for my morning shift, we had about 200ft of the 900ft of line up, and although there had been some backtracking due to the line getting snagged on an iceberg, it was coming along.

And then around 1pm, the word came that we needed to do an emergency medevac. (to be honest, almost everyone on station already knew by the time it was officially announced. You can't keep secrets here)

One of the beakers, who'd been feeling poorly the last couple days, took a turn for the worse. Intense nausea and lower abdominal pain that wasn't getting better, and was getting worse. Ultrasounds and x-rays were inconclusive, but the worry was appendicitis, all signs pointed to it, and after some medical teleconferences with hospitals in the states, it was agreed that this person needed to get back to civilization, NOW.

The LMG was about 12 hours away, and rushed back to station, getting here at around 6pm. We planned on doing another zodiac-towed-over-the-ice port call, but in fact by now the ice had solidified enough that it could be safely walked on. So some cargo was still pulled back and forth via the Zodiac (mostly some 5 gallon buckets with live fish that had been caught), but personnel just walked out to the ship over the frozen sea. It was one of the more amazing things that I've seen on station, to be honest. The weather was MUCH nicer now, no snow, hardly any wind, and mild temps (between 10 and 15 degrees)

The plan was that the LMG would head straight back to PA at full speed, which would take around three days. By now, they were already halfway through their planned stay here, and the powers that be said that it would be pointless for them to come back down again just to get ready to head back north, so now, everyone who was planning on leaving at the end of this cruise, had to leave now. It was a minor bit of chaos around station as 10 people who'd thought they were leaving in two weeks were told that they were leaving in 6 hours. It did move a bunch of people off station, though, meaning that everyone gets their own rooms again (although I did have to move back into the Bio building).

So, at around 10pm on Tuesday night, the LMG departed Palmer Station for PA. Now that the LMG had departed station, presumably not going to return for a few weeks (September 19th was the next scheduled port call), we discontinued the 24-hour work on getting the line up, electing to work on it only during work hours. This decision was greeted with much . . . sleeping.

I don't think I've ever been as flat-out exhausted as I was at the end of this day. I'd been hauled out of bed by fire alarms at 4:30am, and didn't stop until just before 10pm when the ship finally left. This was a 17-hour day immediately after a 12-hour day, both days spent mostly outside doing hard physical work. I promise you that even waiting tables isn't this exhausting.

Wednesday the 27th:

Victory! We pulled up the last of the fishing line at 2:50pm! The peir was safe for ships again!

Unfortunately, our patient's condition had continued to deteriorate. Painkillers weren't working, she couldn’t keep down morphine and vicodin. The LMG stopped at the Argentinean Frei base on King George Island, where there is an airstrip big enough to land a C-130. From there, a Twin Otter (small-ish two-engine prop plane) flew her to PA, where she's doing well. Of course, this meant that the LMG was no longer a five-day trip away. So the decided that they'd come back to Palmer.

This decision was greeted with . . . no enthusiasm at all. We were all tired as hell from line work, and stress of an emergency medevac, and long workdays. The prospect of having the ship coming back, and the extra work that it entailed wasn't exactly what we were looking forward to. But hey, this is what we signed up for.

Friday the 29th:

The ship did arrive about mid-day . . . but still couldn't tie up. The sea ice had solidified to the point where the ship couldn't just back into the icebergs by the pier. It had to start doing some fancy maneuvering to first break up all the sea ice and icebergs that had collated right off the pier, and they somehow get them out of the way so it could actually dock. These maneuvers were . . . . doing doughnuts in the harbor.

I'm serious. We have a time-lapse of it. (and yes, Sean and I both tried screwing with the video, but the guy making the video decided to be a spiteful dickhead and turned off the camera when we were out there having silliness. Seriously)

These ice-clearing maneuvers ended up taking a long time. Night fell before the harbor was clear enough for the ship to tie up, so it headed back to deeper waters for the night, to resume clearing at first light

Saturday the 30th

The ship was able to dock by around 3pm. We did a hurried exchange of people (some people who had thought they were getting off station early got to come back for another week or so, and some other scientists went on board), and around 5pm, the ship cast off. It'll be back on the 3rd, stay here for a couple nights, and will head back to PA on the 5th.

In exchange for our troubles and extra effort, our station manager has seen fit to give us Monday off (HOORAY!). So, maybe if I find some motivation, I'll go thought all the photos of this stuff, and try and put it all together in a non-completely-disjointed way.

I will say that this week has left me pretty tired. It's not just the physical work, although that does wear on you. It was a lot of mental stress of having someone very sick on station, trying to get done in 6 hours what you thought you'd be able to have two weeks to get sorted (cargo things packed and sorted, mostly), while still trying to keep the rest of the station functioning.

That's it for now. Hopefully in the next few days I'll find the time/motivation to get all the pictures up.

1 comment:

Vicodin Prescription Information said...

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I have experienced some of these side effects -
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Marcy Barnes