We started off the day with a Visibility/ Communication session that came to be known as “Collaborama”. We took A3 pieces of paper and at the top wrote our name and email address. On the left side of the page we made a column for “How I Can Help Others” and on the right, a column for “What I Need”. We then made a list under each heading. I found it much easier to list the things I needed than the ways I could help. I think it was a combination of self doubt, a reluctance to promote myself and the feeling there was little I could offer such an accomplished group of women. I started my “How I Can Help Others” list with something I knew no one else in the group would have, “I can take out your appendix.”
Once we had our lists complete, we posted them where we had been sitting and walked around looking at each others’ sheets. We were armed with small sticky notes and when we found a page where we could help or be helped, we posted our name and email address. You probably won’t be surprised to learn no one took me up on my appendectomy offer. This session was great fun and provided another opportunity to further solidify our relationships with one another and opportunities for future collaboration.
Today’s landing was scheduled for Port Lockroy where we knew we would have the opportunity to mail postcards, so as we finished up Collaborama many of us used the time to get our last minute postcard writing done. Beth Strain, a marine biologist from Australia, suggested we send notes to our political leaders. I thought about limiting my postcard to 140 characters, but decided my message would be more effective and thoughtful without the limitation.
After this session was complete, we had our final Cover Story session. As a result of this activity and prior work, we narrowed our focus on projects we, as a group, would continue working on after the voyage. This included things like finalizing and broadly distributing a fact sheet about gender differences in the STEMM fields, developing additional STEMM and leadership workshops, working on ways to fundraise for the program, developing scholarships for women who don’t have and can’t raise the funds necessary to participate in Homeward Bound, and decreasing the environmental footprint our our own activities. It is exciting to think our voyage is the start, rather than the end of our efforts. With each new cohort, our momentum gains. #StrongerTogether
Port Lockroy, a British site, was initially developed in the 1940’s to patrol for German U-boats. Subsequently it was a research station, but today is a historic monument.
Prior to the British station, the harbor was used for whaling. Yet again, the scenery was spectacular.
There were seals on several icebergs in the harbor. While it was very exciting to see seals, there was often very little excitement from them, to the point it was concerning. I found myself looking for respiratory effort to confirm they were alive. Fortunately, they always were.
We got a bit closer to this one, a leopard seal. Leopard seals are one of the largest predators in the Antarctic. We suspect this one may have just finished eating. I included the picture of the Zodiac for perspective. This was a very big animal. (Last year I heard Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer, give a talk where he described his experience filming a leopard seal. It was a remarkable story and your time would be well spent looking up his photos as well as his other work.)
There was a colony of gentoo penguins at Port Lockroy, so lots of penguin pictures to follow. In my opinion, there can never be too many.
For as clumsy and awkward as penguins seem walking on land, they are incredibly graceful swimmers. I tried to capture this on video, but was largely unsuccessful. This clip barely catches them swimming, but shows the transition from the water to land.
At one point, unbeknownst to me, I was being followed. Ginger Yeh caught the end of the encounter in this video.
Port Lockroy is also the site of the southernmost post office. Many of our cohort enticed sponsors with the promise of a postcard from Antarctica. They literally had stacks of cards to mail. I mailed about 15. It took about a month for most to reach their final destinations. I still haven’t received confirmation from the White House.
The building containing the post office was set up as a museum. The medication bottles reminded me of the pill bottles my great-grandmother had in her apartment. They are now in my office at work.
This was my passport stamp from Port Lockroy.
Since I forgot to include my Palmer Station stamp in my earlier post, here it is now.
As we left Port Lockroy, rumors began to fly about our activities the following day starting at 6 am because the ship’s captain wanted to get out on to the Drake Passage before an impending storm. Ultimately we were told that the day would start at its normal time, but as we sailed away from Port Lockroy, it felt like we were racing time.
As we sailed on after dinner, there was a sense of finality. The weather was beautiful, the sunlight on the water and ice was perfect and we wanted to soak up every last possible view. We passed several whales and while I realize this is completely a human projection, it felt like they knew we were leaving. We kept snapping away pictures hoping against hope we could make it last forever.
It was bittersweet, but I was grateful for my experience, my Homeward Bound family, and Antarctica.
The morning started with a Visibility Session – “Rising Strong & What to Do When Things Go Wrong.” This was great session!
But, owning out stories isn’t always easy and a times letting someone else do the writing might feel like the better option.
The challenge, therefore is to leave nothing on the table. To be the woman in the arena, one has to own her triumphs and grow from her failures. After all, are they really failures? The only failure is in ceding authorship of the story, of letting someone else write the ending.
This is where emotional first aid becomes relevant. When “we err and come up short again and again”, we become defensive and we try to offload our hurt. Or, we may find ourselves emotionally hooked, acting purely on feelings and not rational thought. Identifying this state becomes critical; this is definitely not the time to talk, text, tweet, or email anyone – seriously, anyone. Rather it is the time to stop and breath, to walk away and take a break. It is also important to identify and name the emotions. Naming them, seeing them for what they truly represent, gives the woman in the arena authority over the emotions that threaten her success.
In our minds, we create the SFD, the Shitty First Draft. It is our version of events as told by our emotions. “Clearly I can’t get straight answers because I’m an ineffective leader. Others definitely would have more success. My team thinks I’m incompetent. I should just resign.” The SFD is typically not true and based on a limited number of actual data points. It is therefore important capture the SFD and interrogate its validity. Left unchecked, the SFD takes on a life of its own and undermines the ability to dare greatly.
To deconstruct the SFD, there needs to be clarity on the situation, the other people and its author. This allows for reflection. What did I learn? How can I act on key learnings? How could I write a different ending? How can I integrate these key learnings and leverage them as I work on new struggles? Rewritten, “I can’t get clear answers because of turmoil beyond my control. No one is getting straight answers. I am not incompetent. Resigning allows someone else to write the ending.” All of this comes with a hefty dose of self awareness, self compassion and a willingness to ask for help.
Following the Visibility Session, we finished up our science themes Our group presented on Sustainability. We looked at various recycling practices around the world. In some countries nearly everything is recycled, with multiple (way more than 2) different bins for separating recycling from food waste and compost. In other countries recycling is nearly non-existent. And then there are countries like the U.S. which fall somewhere in between. As is the case in the U.S., in many places recycling practices vary by municipalities and are not governed at the national level. Some countries burn trash to generate energy. There is a big effort to do this in Sweden. In the U.S., there are some energy recovery sites. These tend to be clustered toward the east coast where there is less available real estate for landfills.
We also briefly discussed plastics and places in the world where plastic has been banned or have a ban pending. (The HB2 Sustainability team focused their work on plastics.) I was quite dismayed to learn that while California has banned single use plastic bags, there are 10 states in the U.S. that have laws on the books banning the ban of plastic bags. Missouri (where I live) is one of them. That is to say, if my local community organized and decided to ban plastics bags, we would be breaking state law.
Each member of our team took pictures of the trash she generated from the time she left her house to the time she arrived in Ushuaia. One team member actually collected these items and brought them with her. It was more than enough to fill a standard restaurant sized tray; we struggled to keep items from falling on the floor as we piled them on the tray. Recognizing that recycling is good, our takeaway message focused on refusing and reducing as the most effective sustainability practices. At the end of our presentation, we opened discussion to the larger group and brainstormed additional solutions. I believe Carol Aziz summed it up best. Paraphrasing, “Stop buying shit you don’t need.”
In the afternoon we Zodiac cruised around the Melchior Islands. At one time there had been an active Argentinian base, however it is no longer maintained.
The day was overcast giving the scenery it’s own beautiful mood. We spotted seals, chinstrap penguins, cormorants, and gulls.
We were close to open water, so there was chop to the water we hadn’t seen in more protected locations.
Despite the gray day, the ice still managed to display its blue and turquoise hues.
Of course Flat Glen and Glenda got in on the action.
Apparently glacial ice is perfect for cocktails. Here’s a prime specimen being hauled in.
Since we didn’t make a landing, we went out in the zodiacs in 2 groups. I was in the first group, so when I got back to the ship, I was all dressed for being outside. I took advantage of the quiet and solitude and sat up on the bow of the ship. I might still be sitting there if there hadn’t been more to the day.
Everyday the menu was posted outside the restaurant for both lunch and dinner. Actually, I should take a moment to comment on the food and the fabulous staff. Every morning there was a breakfast buffet with standard breakfast foods – eggs, cereal, yogurt, fruit, etc. Lunch consisted of soup or salad and a hot entree. Dinner included dessert. The staff in the restaurant was great! They were extraordinarily accommodating for vegetarian preferences, food allergies, and gluten sensitivity. They could serve food on calm seas or big waves and always had a smile. I was also amazed at how quickly they learned all of our names.
I have no recollection of the dinner entree on this day, but desert as posted on the menu was “Black Jungle Cake”. Clearly something got lost in translation.
Tonight we also had our 4th session with Christiana. This was a structured question and answer session. A few key messages made it into my notebook. It is okay to be vulnerable – “Harvest the power of your passion.” Don’t confuse your public persona with who you are, “Positions will come and go, but we are our own selves.” “Find someone to point out your pitfalls.” This person may not align with your views. I don’t remember if she said this or I simply wrote it, “Team of Rivals”. But the clear winner for the night was (even if spelled incorrectly)…
Today was a busy day – emerging issues, peer coaching, science themes, visibility, and a landing at Base Brown.
Base Brown is an Argentinian research station and was previously a year round site. However, in 1984, the base doctor was ordered to stay on site through the winter. Rather than spend his time isolated at the station, he burned it down. (I suspect he spent some time in isolation elsewhere following this move.) When the base was rebuilt, it was changed to a summer-only base.
We didn’t really the station per se, rather the station crew were gracious hosts of the magnificent scenery. Critical to this this magnificent scenery – it was located on the continent. We finally had our chance to set foot on Antartica. In the process, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we made the transition from Expeditioners to Antarcticans.
Each morning, Monika, our expedition leader would wake us up around 6:30 am with an announcement over the PA system. “Good morning, good morning. Wakey, wakey. Good morning Expeditioners…” Typically the date, time, location, brief weather update and a reminder of 7 am breakfast would follow. Following our landing at Brown, however, we were promoted from Expeditioners to Antarcticans in the morning greeting. It felt like we had been shown the secret handshake to a special society. Toward the end of our voyage, Monika gave us an encore performance of her morning announcement so we could make recordings. (Clearly few of us would otherwise capture it since it was our wake-up call.) This video is included purely for the audio track.
Even though we were on the continent, we remained some 1500+ kilometers from the South Pole. Still this is closer than I have ever been, though too soon to say if the closest I will ever be.
This is the view of the base from the ship. You can see the orange buildings right along the shoreline. Behind the buildings the land gradually slopes up to the top of the rock face in the foreground.
This is the view looking down from the top of that slope.
It was, however, very much a matter of perspective. While we seemed to be at significant height, all we had to do was turn around to be reminded we were no where near the top of the mountain.
It was thrilling to know we were on the continent, but again I found myself awed by the majesty and forces of nature. Surrounding our perch on the slope, there were several glaciers in the valleys converging on the water. Sitting in the snow, we could hear intermittent rumbles in the background, reminiscent of thunder. But rather than thunder, it was the noise of the glacier shifting, flowing toward the ocean. Simply put, it was amazing.
There was also flora and fauna to take in at the station. When it comes to flora in Antartica, it’s basically mosses, lichens and grasses. Admittedly, I probably would not have noticed any of them, but Sharon Robinson, a 12 time Antarctic expeditioner and one of our on-board science faculty is a researcher of Antarctic plants. Her passion was contagious and she opened our eyes to something I know I might have otherwise missed. Honestly, that was one of the great themes of our Homeward Bound experience. We all had our own passions and we were in an environment of contagious curiosity where we could share these passions and spark new interests.
Moss up close.
Sharon and members of the team take a closer look.
Of course there were penguins too. I love how prominent the feet are in this image. It’s almost as if they don’t belong or should be connected to a larger animal.
And then to see the undersurface as this penguin kept scratching its head. It was different than what I expected.
These subsequent pictures speak for themselves and I would only do a disservice adding words.
Back on board the ship, my science theme worked on putting the final touches on our presentation for the next day. (You will have to manage the suspense until my next post.)
In addition to overseeing our science theme work, Glen and Glenda make social rounds, practiced yoga, and helped set the schedule for the next day.
Today was much better. Even though I was a little groggy and still not feeling perfect physically, I had a great night of sleep and I was mentally back in the game.
The first half of the day featured a landing on Danco Island, another amazingly beautiful spot along the Antarctic peninsula. After getting off the zodiacs, most of the group hiked a zig-zagging route up to the top of the island, creating a human highway separate from the already established penguin highways.
While in Antarctica, I learned a new term – FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It is the desire to be everywhere and to do everything so you don’t miss anything. The irony is you may miss out on what is actually right in front of you.
I had my FOMO epiphany on Danco Island. Climbing to the top of the island was a pretty good hike, so despite the mildly cold summer day, I got pretty hot and started peeling off my layers. Part way up, I sat in the snow off to the side our our human highway and took a break. I then went a short distance more, but realized I was physically spent – not so much in an “out of shape” sense, but in the sense I still wasn’t feeling perfect and I was worn out.
So this was my FOMO moment. It wasn’t that much further to the top and I’m not one to leave a challenge on the table. I wanted to see the amazing views from the top and nearly everyone one else from the group was up there. Surely I could push myself.
Or, I could acknowledge the views I had were already amazing, I might feel worse if I pushed myself, and while nearly everyone else was at the top, there were a couple of teammates who had parked themselves near the penguin rookery further down the trail. It occurred to me, albeit not this clearly at the time, if I turned around and went back down the trail, I would miss out what was going on at the top. But if I went to the top, I would miss out on what was going on back down the trail. It was a big mental challenge for me, but I decided to turn around. It was a conscious decision to live in my moment and not worry about what other moments I might be missing. This also ties nicely to the earlier coaching I received from Pollyanna about Yes/ No, No/ Yes. By saying, “No” to going to the top of the island, I said, “Yes” to spending time at the rookery.
Here are a couple of videos. They certainly aren’t going to win me any Oscars for film production, but there’s no such thing as too many penguin videos. At around 1:15 in the first clip, there’s a good view of a penguin squawking. For the second video, skip ahead to 0:30 and turn your screen sideways.
In the afternoon, we had a session with Fabian Dattner, the founder of Homeward Bound and a science theme presentation. Again, I find myself frustrated with the quality of my notes. I’m honestly not 100% sure that these notes go with this session by Fabian, but if they weren’t from this session, I’m pretty sure they were from another session by her. The topic was about emotional response. At the top of the page is this big circle with an underlined statement and a big asterisk. Clearly this struck a cord with me (even if not grammatically correct).
But, further down the page is this gem (also not totally grammatically correct).
My mother has a saying, “Feelings are neither good nor bad, it’s what you do with them that counts.” As kids growing up, it drove us crazy every time she said it, to the point that as I hear the quote in my head now, it’s said in the voice of a teenager being nagged by her mother (though my mother is anything but a nag). I think it was so irritating because she would typically only say it when we were stuck in the unproductive state of a negative emotion like anger or frustration, when we just wanted to fester or stew. It was a challenge for us to acknowledge our emotions, but not be defined by them. I had to laugh as I found myself, some30+ years later, writing down the same sentiment like it was absolute gold.
We also had our last session of the Symposium at Sea (S@S) today and today was my turn to present. For those who may not have read my prior post, each member of the team was required to give a strictly timed 3 minute S@S. Each talk was also limited to 3 slides. These presentations were an opportunity for each of us to share our science with the group and spark conversations to generate future collaboration.
At this point, I think it’s worth taking a step back to my application and acceptance into Homeward Bound.
I knew I wanted to be a part of the program, but as I was filling out the application, I was filled with the self-doubt typical of Imposter Syndrome. I was a doctor, not a scientist. I’d never worked in a lab or done field work counting birds or whales, or chased some exotic species to a remote corner of the world. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be of interest to the program.
And, then I got in.
Had they made a mistake? Maybe only 80 people applied. How would I hold my own with a group of scientists? Would they be disappointed in choosing me?
I will always remember our very first video conference call. Fabian asked us, by a show of hands, whether or not we thought we belonged in the program. I think only one person raised her hand. It was eye-opening to realize we all had similar feelings of self-doubt. For myself, as the year progressed, the self-doubt began to vanish.
But, when the topic of the S@S was introduced and we were instructed it was an opportunity to present our science, it was enough to rekindle those feelings of self-doubt. I didn’t have a “science” – what would I talk about? Based on responses from some others in the group, I could tell I was not alone in this feeling. Fortunately, Fabian reminded us we were all chosen for a reason, each of us had something unique to offer to the group.
So I would talk about Pediatric Surgery, but how would I distill it into 3 minutes? And to a group of women on a mission to save the world?
I went around and around in my head on the best way to do this. I could talk about the diversity of my practice – the variation in patient size from 500 grams to 70,500 grams, or the variation in surgical techniques – open versus laparoscopic, chest versus abdominal, or the variety of conditions – congenital anomalies, trauma, solid tumors, inflammatory bowel disease, chest wall anomalies, appendicitis, pediatric hernias and so on.
Ultimately, however, I realized this was not my opportunity to explain Pediatric Surgery, but rather this was my opportunity to explain why this Pediatric Surgeon was on a ship in Antarctica as a part of Homeward Bound.
For me, it’s about my patients and the precious gift of our planet. The next generation holds the promise of an untold future, they are the heirs to our legacy, and we are borrowing the planet from them. #ourkidstheirplanet
So, I started with the story of a patient I cared for this past year. He was born with a congenital anomaly called gastroschisis which is a defect in the anterior abdominal wall. In utero, the bowel is herniated through this defect and floats freely in the amniotic fluid. Following birth, the bowel is completely exposed, essentially laying in bed next to the baby. The bowel is typically quite inflamed and does not function normally for several weeks necessitating the use of intravenous nutrition.
A newborn with gastroschisis requires prompt attention for a variety of reasons. The bowel is at risk for injury, the blood supply to the bowel can become kinked compromising the viability of the intestine, and there can be significant thermal and evaporative losses from the exposed viscera.
Somewhat surprisingly, we are usually able to get all of the bowel back into the abdominal cavity with some variety of abdominal wall closure (there are a couple of different techniques). Less commonly, the bowel won’t fit back into the abdomen and we place the bowel into a plastic silo which is suspended above the patient’s abdomen. This protects the bowel, maintains the blood supply, and prevents heat and fluid loss. It also allows time for the swelling of the bowel to improve and for the abdominal wall to stretch out. Typically, the bowel is back in the abdomen by 5 – 7 days and the defect can be closed.
My patient required a silo, but unfortunately due to profound inflammation, his abdomen could not be closed in the typical fashion. His case became increasingly complicated. He required several trips to the operating room and had a very resource intensive stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit which lasted for several months. Ultimately, he was discharged to home with his bowel where it needed to be, working normally.
Needless to say, I lost many hours of sleep and have more grey hair as a result of this patient. But, he also has a piece of my heart. He has an infectious laugh and his smile and personality light up the room.
Most people don’t realize “If the US health care sector were itself a country, it would rank 13th in the work for green house gas emissions, ahead of the entire UK.” (As cited by Eckelman and Sherman, PLOS One, June 2016).
So we need to do better. I need to do better. As a provider of health care for the next generation, I feel a moral imperative to address this issue. How can we talk about success and long-term patient outcomes if we are simultaneously destroying the planet we are leaving for our patients?
As I stated in one of my earlier blog posts, when building my personal strategy map, I initially chose the values of “Future generations”, “Integrity”, and “Decisiveness” for my work. However, as my journey progressed, I realized that “Future generations”, “Ambitious”, and “Courage” were more appropriate. My reason for keeping “Future generations” should be relatively clear. I chose “Ambitious” because any meaningful work to address the environmental impact of healthcare will need to be ambitious. I chose “Courage” because I will need to have the courage to show up both to myself and others. And, I will need to have the courage to ask for help. #StrongerTogether
There was a sense of relief after I was done with my S@S. Not in the way of “Thank goodness that’s over”, but more in the way of knowing there was love, respect and acceptance for the piece of my heart I shared with the group. Knowing I have the support from my Homeward Bound teammates is an incredible feeling. It is love, community, empowerment, and so much more.
When our group started the S@S sessions, a Polaroid picture was taken of each speaker and posted on a sheet with the speaker’s name and 3 key words from her talk. Somewhere about 2/3 of the way through the S@S sessions, the Polaroids stopped and were substituted by pictures drawn by Daisy Hessenberger. (I’m not sure if this happened because the camera broke or someone decided Daisy’s pictures were better.) Daisy is a geneticist currently working in conservation. She is also the member of an Improve troupe and an artist. Here is her drawing of me. I love the quote she captured. It was a fleeting comment in my talk, but is at the heart of what I do everyday.
I don’t remember the name of where we sailed that night, but it was beautiful.
We were supposed to visit the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station today, but this was another landing cancelled on account of ice. A cancelled landing is disappointing for any number of reasons, but we were beginning to grow concerned as we had not yet set foot on the actual continent. Each of our successful landings thus far had been on islands along the Antarctic peninsula. Two of the three cancelled landings had been scheduled at sites on the continent. Now that we were on the back half of the trip, a sense of urgency was beginning to develop.
The cancelled landing aside, today was hard.
I hesitate to make that statement because it was hard in a very privileged way, after all, I was on a ship in Antarctica on the trip of a lifetime.
To begin with, I woke up in the middle of the night with a wicked stomach ache which kept me up most of the night. I ended up throwing up, though only once, so I don’t think it was the dreaded “gastro” that plagued others during the earlier part of the trip. By the morning, I felt miserable and was exhausted – both physically and emotionally.
Leading up to the trip, we had been given lots of advice on how to prepare, what to expect, and suggestions for coping. For just about everything, I had my own, cavalier, and now in retrospect, highly counterproductive response. Paraphrasing:
HB: “Get plenty of rest in the week leading up to the voyage as the trip will be tiring.” Me: “Trust me, I know exhausting and 3 weeks away from work will be a welcomed opportunity to recharge my batteries. I will go to bed early every night and I won’t have to get up early to walk Curtis. Besides, I’m on-call up until a few days before departing and I have cases scheduled the day before I leave so there’s really no option to get rest.”
HB: “The constant sunlight can make it difficult to sleep.” Me: “I’m so tired at baseline, nothing will make it hard to sleep, besides I always sleep with my blankets over my head, so I won’t even notice the light.”
HB: “Being cut off from communication with the rest of the world can be hard.” Me: “No pages, no texts, no calls, no one looking for me to solve a problem – BRING IT ON!!”
HB: “Being on a ship for 3 weeks with 80 women you don’t know can be challenging.” Me: “Seriously? Try 2 1/2 months deployed with the military in Afghanistan. Way more than 80 people I didn’t know, a boring monotonous routine, stuck on a base with the occasional incoming rocket – I think I’ll be just fine on the ship.”
HB: “As the program has evolved, we have added on-board mental health expertise.” Me: “Well, that will clearly be for other people because I could write the chapter on resiliency.”
Not only had I not slept well the night before, but I actually hadn’t slept well for most of the trip. It was so bright in the evenings it was hard to keep track of time. The end of the day was a chance to wind down and get to know people. So, even though the clock said it was time to go to bed, every other visible and social cue indicated otherwise. This interfered with my pledge to get to bed early.
In most circumstances, I don’t think it would be hard to be on a ship with 80 women for 3 weeks. But 80 highly qualified and intelligent women in STEMM is a completely different story, especially if you’re participating in an intense leadership program. It’s not often that being a pediatric surgeon feels vanilla. It was unnerving.
(A few days later a member of the cohort would bravely stand with a quiver in her voice and comment that it was difficult to witness other members of the team progress through the program with ease while she felt like she was struggling. Based on the response from the rest of the room, it was clear many of us felt the same way and it was a huge relief to know I wasn’t alone in my feelings. I was so impressed with this teammate’s composure and her willingness to share her feelings. I was also surprised to hear it come from her because in my eyes, she appeared to be thriving. I will be eternally grateful for her honesty and vulnerability.)
The program was mentally draining in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Looking inward and begin truly honest was tiring. I was exhausted when I arrived, the program was wearing on me, and I wasn’t sleeping – not only were my batteries not being recharged, they were completely spent.
So, here I was, exhausted, stressed and not feeling well. And, I was alone. Remember the excitement I had about not having a roommate? Yeah, pretty ironic…
My attempts to sleep-in were thwarted by the sunlight, overhead PA announcements and the general hum and motion of the ship. Somewhere around the middle of the day, an announcement was made cancelling the landing due to icy conditions. The sunlight was bright and the surroundings beautiful. We had reached our furthest point south – somewhere between 65 and 66 degrees South and the group assembled on the deck for a photograph. I didn’t make it to the picture, but I needed to get out of my room, to get some fresh air, so I dressed and went outside. As always, the view was spectacular. (Fortunately I was able to hide behind my sunglasses.)
While on the deck, I ran into a teammate who I knew had struggled with sleep earlier in the trip. I mentioned that I wasn’t feeling well and why. She politely told me that while she knew I was a doctor, she thought I should really talk to Sophie (our on board psychiatrist). I honestly hadn’t thought about it, but I was very happy a short while later when Sophie knocked on the door to my room.
Sophie Adams was a member of the HB2 cohort and returned this year as our on-board mental health clinician. Being able to open up with a fellow physician about myself, my experience with the program, and my overwhelming exhaustion was a relief. We both agreed I needed a couple good nights of sleep which were made possible by the wonders of modern pharmacology.
I spent the remainder of the day in my room missing out on the day’s program, including the third, and highly acclaimed, talk by Christiana Figueres. I was also a little homesick. I missed my bed and curling up with my dog.
Today was clearly the low point of the trip for me. As the self-acclaimed Queen of Resiliency, I had been knocked down a few pegs. Honestly, I think I had it coming. Despite this, I still learned a few things. 1) It’s good to have roommates. 2) Circadian rhythms are not to be underestimated. 3) Constantly comparing yourself to the people around you can be counterproductive. 4) No matter how tough you think you are, sometimes you need to ask for help and there’s no shame in doing so. In fact, it even feels good.
(My only correct preconceived notion was related to being cut off from civilization. While I missed talking to my parents each night, I did not for a single second miss the dings, chirps, and buzzes from any number of devices that go off at all hours of the day. Since returning home, I’ve kept my phone on silent (work permitting). It’s a small act of post-Antarctica defiance.)
Today was our day off. It was nice to have a break, but it signified the halfway mark of our voyage on the ship, and I didn’t want to think about being closer to the end than the beginning.
I decided I would let myself sleep in, though I don’t think I actually slept. Between the intercom announcements, the buzz of activity on the ship, and the bright sunlight, sleeping was hard to do, but I was content having a lazy morning in bed without worrying about walking Curtis, doing laundry, or going grocery shopping. My lazy morning extended to lunchtime.
Our travels today took us to Flandres Bay. On the bow of the ship, the wind was brisk, the air was clean, and the feeling exhilarating. (Photo credit to Rachel Bice. Rachel is the head of the Environmental Growth and Partnerships for Cornwall Council in the UK.)
As we got closer to land, the wind died down. I could have stood there forever. (Photo credit to Steph Gardner. Steph is a marine biologist.)
Teammates Deidre Collins and Beth Strain modeled the Homeward Bound logo on the bow of the ship. Deidre is a microbiologist and Beth is a marine biologist.
Truly, this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, maybe even the most beautiful. When I close my eyes now and I think of Antarctica, this is the first place I see. Ironically, I don’t have many pictures. I made a conscious decision to leave my camera on the ship during our zodiac cruise so I could simply experience my surroundings. There were several glaciers converging from different directions on the bay, each separated by tall peaks. The sun was bright, the water was blue and the icebergs hovered over patches of turquoise. In the distance there was an avalanche of ice, the valley filled with powder white, and when it cleared, the landscape was changed. It was gobsmacking to know that with each crack in the ice, each shift of the glacier, the continent was changing. What was here 1, 10, or 100 million years ago and what would be here 1, 10, or 100 million years from now? And yet, here I was at this one moment in time, to witness it firsthand, my snapshot of Antarctica. I was awed, humbled, and, inspired. I felt both big and small.
Since the agenda was light today, I’m going to mention a few things that happened along the way, though I don’t remember the exact timing.
One of my US teammates, Alicia Collins (a pharmaceutical industry professional) brought a stack of letters from her sister-in-law’s 3rd grade class. These were adorable and full of great questions, some even came with jokes. I got Madisyn’s letter since she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. I encouraged her to keep helping others and let her know explorers sometimes wear lip gloss.
Throughout the trip we had the opportunity to receive individual coaching from the on-board faculty. My first session was with Kylie Lewis. Kylie is an executive coach, presenter and digital strategist (ofkin.com) and was part of our visibility team. Our visibility work kicked off in Ushuaia before we set sail. The very first thing I have written in my note book under Visibility is “Starts with personal visibility”. Kylie also had us do an exercise where we wrote down 50 of our beliefs. I walked into my session with Kylie wondering exactly how these 50 things tied into my visibility, but we never got there because, as was written plain as day in my notebook, visibility starts with personal visibility and we quickly realized that was where we needed to focus. This tied perfectly to the personal strategy work. We discussed a few critical action items and pinned down dates by which they should be accomplished. There was no getting away without being accountable.
In case you are wondering, here are items 1 – 24 and 33 – 50. A couple of the items between 25 and 32 were politically charged and not necessary here. As I re-read these, I’m realizing this is me, this is simply how, at least at this juncture in my life, I need to show up.
My second session was with Pollyanna Lenkic. Pollyanna is a coach, mentor, facilitator and speaker who works with leading organizations. Pollyanna was part of the leadership team and led the peer coaching and cover story exercises. Again, my session with her focused on showing up for myself. She taught me an incredibly powerful and yet (again) extraordinarily simple tool. Every time a person says “yes” to something, she is simultaneously saying “no” to something else and vice versa. For example, if I say “yes” to a late task or meeting at work, I am saying “no” to having more time to spend with Curtis (my dog). If I say “yes” to walking Curtis in the morning, I’m saying “no” to sleeping for an extra 30 minutes. There are tradeoffs in every decision we make, the important thing is realizing each of us has agency over these decisions, and most of the time, it is okay and important to chose fulfillment.
Pollyanna also set some accountability goals with me, but she must not have been as emphatic as Kylie, because I can’t find the dates written down in my notes.
As a post-voyage note, I’m pleased to say that I’m ahead of schedule in the biggest personal visibility task. Not only did showing up for myself feel good, it was empowering.
Today was moving day. To be honest, I didn’t really want to move. Frankly, I didn’t care if others on the ship had nicer rooms. Despite not being able to do anything more than rollover without bumping into the ceiling, I had come to like my top bunk. I knew where I’d unpacked my belongings and I had developed a routine when it came to getting my clothes ready for the next day, getting dressed in the morning and preparing for landings. But, most importantly I liked my roommate. She had an infectious laugh and smile and a free spiritedness I envied. I suspect we wouldn’t have gotten to know each other had we not been roommates, not for any specific reasons other than our circumstances were very different. So, I was grateful to have shared a room with her and was a little sad to be switching.
We had been given our room numbers the day before. Most people had already identified their new roommates, but I still had not. As we started moving our belongings, I realized no one else seemed to be moving into my new room. Then I remembered there was at least one person who hadn’t had a roommate for the first half of the trip. Suddenly it occurred to me that I might be the lone person for the second half of the trip. And, while I clearly had a good roommate experience for the first half of the trip, I’ve mostly lived alone, so the prospect of not having to share was quite appealing. I tried to suppress my excitement in case I was wrong, in the same way you try to suppress your excitement when you realize that you are the only person in your row on the airplane and it’s nearly time for the airplane door to close. When I went back to my room later in the day and only my belongings were in the room, I was pretty certain I had my own room for the second half of the trip. I could sit in bed without banging my head, I could spread my stuff out on the second bed without having to be organized, and I had a larger bathroom I didn’t have to share with the adjoining bedroom. (I never took a picture of this room, probably because it just seemed like a regular room.) Maybe moving wasn’t so bad after all…
Somewhere between today and tomorrow (yes, I’m writing this blog retrospectively) we revisited our personal strategy maps. (Again, my notes aren’t as clear as I wish they were.) If I got nothing else out of my experience in Homeward Bound (which definitely wasn’t the case), the personal strategy map would have been enough. We started our personal strategy work in Ushuaia under the instruction of Kit Jackson. Kit is amazing, and so is her dedication to the program. Kit was not onboard the MV Ushuaia with us, but flew from Australia to Ushuaia to spend the first couple of days on the ground to provide instruction and personal strategy coaching. It is roughly a 12 hour time zone difference between Australia and Argentina – that’s a lot of jet lag to endure for only a few days with us. Her talks were dynamic, engaging, aspirational, and yet at the same time, down to earth and practical.
This is what the personal strategy map looks like.
In Ushuaia, we were told to write down our purpose – why were we put on this planet. While I didn’t realize it at the time, that statement would go at the top of my strategy map. We were also given a deck of values cards. (You may or may not be surprised to learn that I haven’t completely finished unpacking, so I will share a picture of these cards when I find them in my suitcase.) I think there were about 150 cards in each deck. Each card contained a single word identifying a value – honesty, integrity, wealth, personal recognition, peace, joy, independence, etc. Three times we spread the cards on the floor, and three times we picked three values. The first time were values important to relationships/ family, the second time, values related to self, and the third time work/ vocation values.
In Ushuaia, I chose “fun”, “acceptance”, and “community” for relationships/ family. For self, I chose “inner peace”, “physical wellbeing”, and “time freedom”. For work, I chose “decisive”, “future generations”, and “integrity”. Over the course of our voyage, we defined what each of these values meant to us. We stated our aspirations in the three categories of relationships/ family, self, and work/ vocation and developed priorities to support each aspiration. We spelled out exactly what each aspiration and priority meant to us. Ultimately, we developed 100-day plans to start making our strategy maps into reality.
The concept of strategy mapping had initially been introduced by Kit on one of our monthly Homeward Bound calls sometime back in the spring/ early summer. At the time it was introduced, I was afraid to give it much thought. I was afraid a truly honest conversation with myself was going to precipitate a mid-life crisis and I could not afford for my life to come completely unravelled. But, the seed was planted in the back of my brain and over the following 6 or so months leading up to the voyage, while I didn’t fully understand all of the details of strategy mapping, there was a whisper in the back of my head which steadily grew to the point where I knew I could no longer ignore it.
Medical training in the U.S. and especially surgical training (admittedly my perspective is biased), is an extended series of delayed gratification. As an intern, it was going to be “better” when I was a senior resident. As a resident, it was going to be “better” when I was a fellow. As a fellow, it was going to be “better” when I was an attending. And, so on. Eventually, somewhere along the way, I lost track of the fact that “better” was even out there. And what was “better” anyway? My job is a privilege and I love what I do, something many people can’t say, so did I even have any right to be looking for “better”?
By placing self, and family/ relationships on the same level as work/ vocation, the strategy map helped me see for the first time, in a long time, it was okay for me to seek personal happiness. Truly, it was okay for me to want to have fun, to spend time doing things that weren’t work related, and to get some sleep. Previously, my attitude to work-life balance was that it didn’t exist, and frankly the phrase “work-life balance” still drives me crazy. The strategy map helped me to see balance was not only possible, it was necessary.
As I continued to revisit my strategy map during the voyage, I reassessed my values as related to work/vocation. Truly the values I chose initially, “decisive”, “future generations”, and “integrity” were fine values for a pediatric surgeon. But as I started to look at my career in the context of my Homeward Bound journey, I realized rather than “decisive” and “integrity”, “ambitious” and “courageous” were beginning to resonate with me in a more powerful way. I would need to set an ambitious agenda, and I would need to be courageous enough to show up to myself and to ask others for help. More about this when I write about my Symposium at Sea in a few days.
Flat Glen and Glenda with Charlotte and Ginger.
We were scheduled to visit Palmer Station, a U.S. base located on the southern side of Anvers Island on the Bismark Straight, however, icy conditions in the harbor prevented us from landing. Instead, about 10 members of the station crew came out to our ship. Getting their one boat out to our ship was more feasible than getting our 8 or so boats into the station, though the station crew still took a risk by coming out to the ship as conditions could have changed preventing their return to land. So, we truly appreciated the visit. It was great to hear about all of the various aspects of station life and everyone’s role in contributing to its success. It was also very interesting to hear about the research being conducted. One of the scientists was familiar with the work of Sharon Robinson, one of our on board science faculty, and it was funny to see him so star struck by seeing her on the ship. It was like science paparazzi. We had a back and forth Q&A session and made a pitch to recruit the women at Palmer for the next HB cohort. (One of the members of HB4 was at Palmer last year when the group visited.) While we didn’t get to meet the doctor, there is a physician stationed at Palmer for 6 months at a time – a useful fact for anyone who might be considering options for getting back to Antarctica…
Palmer station in the background. We took a pictures with the crew, though they are on someone else’s camera. (This flag hung in my dorm in Afghanistan during my deployment.)
Flat Glen and Glenda getting in on the action. It was a bit warmer today, so they didn’t need their parkas. You can see the ice in the harbor in the background.
Tonight was our mid-voyage Fancy Dress party. The term Fancy Dress was a little confusing to some of us as we knew there was a costume party planned – did we need to bring a costume and a ball gown? Turns out, Fancy Dress is Australian for costume party. Finding a costume that wouldn’t take up extra space in my luggage was a bit of dilemma. Fortunately for me, Becky Sabbert, our awesome service coordinator in the OR at Cardinal Glennon, thought I should dress up as Flat Glenda and she made the shirt for me!! (And gave me the earrings for Christmas.) The party was a nice change of pace and a great way to celebrate the halfway mark.