Heads, clouds and northwards
Hello from a cold and today, sunny, Qikiqtarjuaq. Our enforced stay here has been a pretty big cloud but with some glints of a silver lining. It’s my first blog post for a while since I’ve been banned from any extended time staring at a screen, in case my head explodes. I do want to thank all for their patient and supportive messages, via email, social media, phone and so on. It makes a great deal of difference when you’re feeling like death and with a huge swirl of frustrated thoughts to have people impart both common sense and kind messages from afar.
One luxury we do have, of sorts, since we amended our distance aims (check out previous blogs to check out our reports on the snow surfaces and why we did this) is time to make sensible progress. There is no hectic rush since we have the entire Arctic season to travel and we have a plethora of supplies. This is lucky since ‘slowly slowly’ has been the consistent advice from every medical advisor.
I want to cover three things really – a quick update on my medical plan of action, a brief insight into that silver lining, and most importantly the road ahead for the team.
You may be wondering why I am still in Qikiqtarjuaq and not long-since flown south or back on the route north. We’ve had cumulatively hours of consultation with both the few medical staff here, with two of our expedition doctors, Benno’s mother and in particular my friend Dr Alex Kumar, and thereafter with the medical team from my insurers. It took around twenty-four hours from the moment I, inexplicably, managed to trip on a line in the dark outside our tent and knock myself unconscious, through making the decision to withdraw, to getting medical attention. A judgment was made at that point that an emergency bleed on my brain was unlikely and so an immediate medevac by air was not necessary. You then enter a window of days or even weeks when the symptoms are severe enough to require medication and make a flight on a pressurised aircraft dangerous, but not bad enough to need immediate removal to a large hospital. I am currently in that window. It seems counter-intuitive at first, given the assumption that sooner is always better, but all doctors concur that a scan, most likely an MRI, at this stage is needed to assess the extent and type of brain injury, but that I need to have much-reduced symptoms first. The hope is for an uncomplicated brain bruise that simply needs time and rest to fix. In the meantime, I’m on the biff-train for the first time in around five years. Some of you might recognise that term and empathise with the sheer irritation that comes with it. Benno and Jamie, having done a sterling job on the ice bringing me round and back to Qik, are hitting the balance of making sure that tasks are being done with the increased participation I can manage each day.
So, the plan is currently that, as the doctor says, there is no plan. I need to be med-free and stable before moving me south and that is likely to be further south than hoped, since Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital, doesn’t have an MRI machine. Ottawa, most likely.
The time here has allowed us to, with the continued good humour and hospitality of our RCMP friends, tweak our kit and systems yet more, and to learn more about the area and community. For me in particular, I’ve found it fascinating given the comparison to my five months living in the Thule region of Greenland last year. The differences in outlook and lesser use of traditional skills here are marked, examples being in how to travel and how to hunt. The love for sweet foods, coffee and cigarettes are unchanged. I’ll not delve in with too much depth on this here as it will be the backbone of my upcoming book on modern Inuit culture.
So, that leaves us with the exciting bit, the road ahead. The team needs to get back out on the ice as soon as reasonable. We cannot afford to stagnate, lose motivation or waste the weeks of good, extreme low temperatures which keep sledging surfaces acceptable. (Not good though, as the thick powder and jagged ice persists). How that team looks is now in the lap not of the gods, but of the outcome of the scan and how zombie-like I feel. It’s so hard to be objective about it – you desperately want to get going, so ignore symptoms a little, and how do you measure fatigue and a headache anyway?
The team must ski on and reach the northern coast of Baffin Island as a mandatory goal – I would be devastated to have to support that from afar, providing forecasts and advice remotely, but with positive thoughts the hope is to feel strong and able to continue soon after the enforced 21 day rest period. We were skiing so strongly and working so well together in some pretty testing early conditions – 40mph+ wind, zero vis, -40deg temps and low light – that those twenty kilometre days deserve their eventual prize. With that, I’ll sign off and promise you more news as and when we have it. Jamie’s off to build an igluvijaq – what you’d refer to as an igloo and is the standard temporary snow house famed from this region of the Arctic.