On September 18th, after receiving offers for both the summer and winter Antarctic seasons I was told to “hold onto my hat as things were going to move FAST.” No truer words have been spoken. Less than a week later I landed in Denver, Colorado…and within two days had completed all the necessary appointments, paperwork, and exams to PQ for the winter at Pole.
For all of you who know what this means, it was as crazy as you can imagine. PQ stands for “Physically Qualify”, or passing the thorough medical evaluation required to deploy to Antarctica. The main stations (Palmer, McMurdo, and Pole) have small clinics with doctors and physician assistants, but their equipment and supplies are limited and it’s a long way to higher care. Medical evacuation can be a tricky business at best. In the summer months McMurdo is about a 3 hour flight from Pole, and from there it’s another 6 hour flight to Christchurch, New Zealand…And this is the best case scenario where a plane is waiting on the ground at Pole and the weather is fair at all locations. During the winter season there is a 7-8 month window where flights in and out of Pole are all but impossible.
The PQ process is a process for summer contracts, and even more involved for winter. Usually it’s a good idea to start the process 4-6 months before you deploy. With the last minute hiring I had under 3 weeks.
The first stop was at the doctors office where I had a full physical examination, blood drawn and urine collected for lab analysis and lipid tests (required to fast for 12hrs prior), a TB test, vision test, and immunization history fully reviewed. The second stop was the dentist where I had a dental exam, bitewing x-rays, and a cleaning. Between and after these appointments I kept hydrated and swung by two drug testing facilities for each of my contracts.
The next day I had a 645am appointment for the chest x-ray and gallbladder ultrasound. The x-ray was straight forward, but the ultrasound ended up being close to an hour spent laying on the table while the technician smeared warm goo across my full abdomen taking images of all my internal organs. Kind of interesting. Apparently the gallbladder shrinks to produce bile even to digest water, so no food or water is allowed for 8 hours prior to the exam – they need a good look at the full organ to check for gall stones.
Later that morning we took the Psych exam, a 2hr “scantron” test followed by a brief interview with a psychologist. Then it was a matter of completing the release forms, the 5-page medical history packet, and getting my TB test read 48-72hrs after administration.
Several tests are done every 5 years so I did not have to redo the 12 lead EKG and full dental panorama x-ray. After being poked, prodded, palpated, bled, screened, scraped, x-rayed, immunized, analyzed, and generally examined I was finally able to fax off my huge packet of paperwork and received word 10 days later that I was PQ’d for summer at least…