APLIS POSTCARD #11
22 March 2007
Greetings from APLIS, adrift in the Arctic Ocean.
So far, I’ve talked a lot about submarine testing and operations. It’s time now to talk about some of the unique things we need to think about when we set up a camp and the specialists we bring with us.
For this camp, we have a full-time Navy Undersea Medical Officer on-site. We’ll actually have two of them, but they’re in the process of trading off. Tomorrow, we’ll be bidding farewell to LCDR Gerard DeMers who has been here for 10 days. To explain what’s gone through his mind during his time at APLIS, I’ll let Doc DeMers explain things himself:
First and foremost we are far from hospitals which can take care of serious life threatening medical emergencies. To treat injuries that are encountered out here, two medical officers, ‘docs,’ are assigned to cover for the month. Several APLIS personnel are also medically trained including a nurse, two emergency medical technicians, and a couple of people certified in basic life support.
Each participant in the ice camp fills out health screening forms. These help to identify potential medical conditions which would be difficult to treat up here. People who take medications routinely are asked to bring extra supplies. Since prevention is so important to safety, everyone receives training on what to expect and how to prepare for this mission. Proper clothing, avoiding wildlife (bears or foxes), and sanitation are some of the focus areas.
Survival is a Challenge in the Cold, Hostile Arctic
There are several medical considerations for cold weather operations like the APLIS project. Cold exposure can cause a number of problems including frost bite (where fingers, toes, and extremities may freeze) to hypothermia (where core body temperatures may drop dangerously low). Hypothermia can occur fairly rapidly in temperatures experienced at the camp and even faster if someone falls into freezing waters. The body turns up its metabolism in these conditions and requires more water and calories to deal with the cold. Prior medical conditions may become difficult to manage. We encourage hydration and eating well-balanced meals and looking after our ‘shipmates’ while up here. The cooks are really good and nobody has a problem eating…
Some of the less glamorous duties that we have are sanitation inspections which include kitchen, ‘hooches,’ and toilets. We also check carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in them to make sure they are operating properly. The hooches are heated by oil stoves. If the stoves malfunction they possibly can give off toxic fumes.
This experience has been truly unique and it was a privilege to serve all the members of this exercise. I will miss everyone here.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about another, very special group here at APLIS - the cooks.
Arctic Submarine Laboratory