If the medical paperwork wasn't so hard ...

Submitted by anelles on Thu, 10/20/2016 - 15:51

... we would already know, who will be part of this year's team.

Team on ice

The Antarctic program obviously would like to make sure that no one gets sick in Antarctica since medical facilities are very limited and no one needs additional stress of having to evacuate someone from the ice. And yes, if you have been following last year's deployment, Antarctica is hard on you. The 24 hour sun is getting to your biorhythm, the physical work of walking and digging in the snow has muscles aching that you were unaware even existed and sleeping in a tent and living on camping food just tops off the experience. So we do appreciate that every one of our team-members had to go through a physical evaluation that is probably only trumped by the program for astronauts.

Our colleagues from the Polar medical center really want to make sure that risk is at absolute minimum. After having gone through the drawing of about 4 liters of blood to check for every possible contamination with illnesses and evaluating all minerals and blood parameters of the alphabet, you would think you are halfway there. Not quite. You will need to get a physical exam, your teeth checked out, an EKG and various other items depending on the age of the participant. In principal a smooth process. Well, that is the theory.

Some anecdotes from this year:

A tuberculosis skin test is considered positive, once a reaction of 15 mm or more is measured. For one of us, an extra careful nurse wrote "10 mm, negative", which lead to a longer story about trying to exclude latent tuberculosis in a healthy male American in his mid twenties. In the end, no TB to be found, which means that at least one of us is now ready to go. Downside: we were really looking forward to publishing this extremely exciting medical case.

International vaccine records put the system to a test. New this year: everyone has to prove that they are vaccinated or are immune to MMR - mumps, measles and rubella. Unfortunately, a Russian, Swedish or German vaccination record, will not say that, but for example Mumps, Masern and Röteln or even worse, will only state that you have been vaccinated with something called BCG. In the international confusion of acronyms this is a hard one.

Overall, international standards in medicine really do not seem to exist. So a full urine sample is not necessarily the same in different countries. Since many test are only described by their identification number, trouble cannot easily be avoided. Also, dental x-rays do not come in the same format in every country. While the US format needs three bite-wing x-rays to get all teeth, European doctors manage with two. So, figuring out that the prints did not get lost on the mail, but have not been there in the first place, another hurdle. And to round international confusion off: EKG traces come with different axes and grids. Someone really needs to look at this -- well that said, science has managed to loose a Mars probe due to a meter vs. miles conversion, so I guess this might be unavoidable.

What could possibly be avoidable is that there are two options to hand in medical records. Via actual paper mail (sloooow) or via Fax. For the younger generation is it quite miraculous that a technology that was first commercialized in the 1960s still seems to be the gold standard. If image quality had improved in the same rate as voice quality over the phone, it would probably be alright, but -- not being an expert on faxing -- this does not seem to be the case. So apart from putting the medial staff to a test with faxing over international records, they also have to work through half-readable transmissions. On a side-note A4 pare to Letter format fax is probably also not helping. Our apologies.

In any case, we are keeping our fingers crossed that the team can leave as planned next week Thursday.

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