August 28, 2009
Early this morning, we followed the Louis to the furthest north point of our journey - 84° 13.7 N, about 645 kilometers (348 miles) from the North Pole. There was a great deal of MYI (multi-year ice), which got thicker as we headed east. Both ships got stuck several times. Maybe next trip I'll make it all the way to the pole.
With about 130 people on board for 6 weeks during this expedition, the crew of the Healy has to be prepared for just about anything - and that includes people getting sick. This ship has the largest and best equipped Sick Bay in the entire Coast Guard. Most other ships have spaces that are much less than 1/2 the size. The reason for this is simple. The Healy travels to some of the most isolated spots in the world, and should an emergency arise, even a Medivac helicopter would probably do little good. Although at times, we are as close as 350 kilometers (210 miles) from the coast of Canada, that is just the distance we are from land, not from an actual town with a medical facility. Barrow, the closest town to us, has been as far as 1575 kilometers (850 miles) away. Even if the ship could cruise through thin ice at 10 knots per hour, a medical team on board must be able to handle emergencies much sooner.
Sick Bay is staffed by Lt. Jason Appleberry, a licensed Physicians Assistant and HS2 (Health Services Specialist) John Wendelschaefer. Both men have extensive training and experience. While working his way up through the ranks, Lt. Appleberry earned a Masters degree from the University of Nebraska (compliments of the Coast Guard). HS2 Wendelschaefer has an Emergency Medical Technician background, as well as training in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and is also continuing his education through the Coast Guard.
While at sea, the job of these men is varied. There are Sick Call hours every day from 8 - 9 am, plus they can be reached by pager at any time. Should an emergency arise, their job is to stabilize a patient until more extensive medical attention can be arranged. For emergencies, they have a variety of equipment at their disposal, including several types of heart monitoring machines, breathing and ventilation support equipment, and one of the only portable, digital X-ray machines in the Coast Guard.
Probably the largest part of the medical team's job is preventive medicine. They help keep vaccinations up to date for the Crew when in port. They have instituted hand sanitizer stations in the mess and conduct regular galley inspections. There is a contingency plan for flu, especially with the potential for an H1N1 Influenza outbreak, and a stock of anti-viral medications on-hand. They also perform regular drinking water sampling and testing, both for bromine (used instead of chlorine for purification) and for the presence of coliform bacteria. In addition, they conduct regular training in first-aid, personal hygiene, and emergency procedures for the Crew. We are truly in good hands aboard the Healy.