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How we stay healthy

Surgery at Rothera

What sort of bad illnesses do you get?

We are very healthy in the Antarctic. We have good clothing and goggles so we don't get the main known Antarctic ailments, snowblindness and frostbite. Most of the team are relatively young (say average age 35) so we don't have the diseases of old age. So what goes wrong! In the dark of winter - three months darkness at Halley - people get moody and "blue" and want to see the Sun. It is cold outside and with bad weather you are indoors a lot.

People also get sprains from overdoing the skiing or snowboarding. People may even break their legs playing football. The station is generally very healthy. It must be admitted that rom time to time people drink too much alcohol and feel a little ill. This wears off though. Many years ago we had a doctor who arranged for his team mates to carry out an appendix operation on him. Just as in the event at the South Pole today, there have been more doctors getting ill in the Antarctic than any other profession.

What kind of protection do you wear on your face to stop it getting frostbite at the Antarctic?

If you keep your back to the wind you can keep your face relatively warm. If you have to face into the wind you need a balaclava that covers essentially all your face, including the ears and if possible the nose. You will need snow goggles over your eyes to protect you from "snow blindness" and also for the effects of the damaging Ultra-Violet radiation that you get now that the ozone layer has thinned over the Antarctic in the spring and early summer. Then above all, you will have a hooded windproof jacket that stops the cold air getting to the back of your neck.

Have you ever had frostbite? If so, how do you avoid it?

Frostbite is a consequence of your skin literally freezing. To avoid it you must keep your skin warm. This requires good protection for the vulnerable areas of face, hands and feet - and you must be healthy and well fed too. Modern fabrics and modern clothing are better than in Scott's day and we have sufficient fuel to keep our clothing dry. Drying gloves, socks, footwear is extremely important if you want to avoid frost bite. You can see the clothing worn by polar explorers of Scott's day, and for what they did it was rather inadequate.

I have never had frostbite in the Antarctic. But I got a frost-nipped cheek in the Cairngorms of Scotland in the excessively cold winter of 1962-3. My face was not wrapped up enough. Also my clothing was wet, damp and frozen and wetness accelerates the flow of heat away from the body.

Do you ever catch a cold?

Yes and I don't know why we get colds. Even in a tent miles from nowhere you can go down with a cold. Some say colds come from Outer Space!

Did the cold conditions make you ill or any serious injuries?

Antarctica is very very clean, and we do not tend to suffer from colds, flu or such like. Even hay fever goes away. We do have to look after our teeth, partly because the food is very rich in energy and sugar, and the cold makes you "suck your teeth" in winter. We have a very thorough check-up before we go. Accidents do happen, and so sometimes we have to cope with a broken arm, but the doctor on the base is trained for this.

We have had fatalities in the past, and these we learn from, but now the Antarctic is, in most ways, safer than the UK: we have no traffic accidents, and we are all well trained to cope with the environment.

My main problem is coming home again, and I have to "catch up" on months of flu and colds, getting the whole lot in 1 week!