Palmer Station

January 9, 2019

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.

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 9.07.05 AM

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.


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…


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.


View out my window at around 12:30 am. You’ll notice it’s not that dark.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s