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13 November, 2001

How I Broke My Ankle

Yes, I really did break my ankle, and I did a really good job of it, too. There are two good things about it. The first one is that it happened before we left for the traverse. If we had been out in the field it would have been very burdensome for the rest of the team, and I am very glad that the accident didn't disrupt the expedition. The second good thing about it is that at least I can say that I fell in a crevasse and didn't just slip on the stairs or in the shower. Of course I'm stretching the truth a little by saying I fell in a crevasse, but hey, I have to make it sound like it was something that could have only happened in Antarctica to order to save face.

So what did happen? I joined a group of seven others for a trip to the ice caves. Ice caves technically are crevasses, but instead of falling or repelling from the top all the way to the bottom, we actually walked into one at the bottom. These crevasse/caves are at the boundary of where the sea ice and the glacial ice meet (see yesterday's journal). Small holes have been naturally gouged into the ice to form tunnels that you can crawl through. To get in the first cave, we had to slide downhill on our bellies through the tunnel that was really only big enough to just get through lying down. This is not for the claustrophobic person! We slid for about 10 yards to get to an opening where we could actually stand up. It was a little scary because the whole time we're crawling, I'm thinking, "How are we going to get back out of here?" Once we could stand and look around the room it was absolutely stunning. The ice was blue! I have seen pictures of this, and it really was beautiful to see it in person. Ice turns blue because all the other primary colors in the spectrum get reflected by the ice, but blue is absorbed by ice because of the arrangement of its atoms. Ice crystals like I had never seen before lined the ceiling. It truly was a winter wonderland. Getting out was as difficult as I anticipated, but I to pull myself along on my elbows. There weren't any footholds to push my feet against, so my elbows did all the work.

The next cave is where I ran into trouble. After a short crawl, there was room to stand and walk further into the cave. I was doing well, until I reached a very short hill. I started down the hill and that's where I fell. Just one small slip. The toe of my boot got caught and twisted and then I heard and felt the small crackle in my ankle and I knew I was in trouble. The fall itself wasn't a problem, it was the twisting on the way down.

Well, now the people I was with were in a dilemma on how to get me out. Luckily we weren't very far into the cave, because I couldn't put any weight on my foot. They had to pull me out under my arms, and once we got outside, they dragged me back to the vehicle on a sleeping bag. After 1 hours back to McMurdo, I was admitted to the infirmary for x-rays, which showed that I did indeed have a very bad break and would require surgery.

Since McMurdo doesn't have surgical facilities, I flew out the next afternoon to Christchurch on a C-140 (8 hour flight). My ankle was both broken and dislocated, so before the could operate, they had to push the joint back in place so that the swelling would go down. Finally, the next day they put both a pin and a plate in my ankle, sewed me up, and put a temporary cast on. I was discharged 5 days later for a 3-day recuperation at the Windsor Bed and Breakfast, and I will fly back home on the 15th, the same day the ITASE team is scheduled to fly from McMurdo to Byrd Camp to begin their traverse.

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