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Ice Bound

About the Book

Ice Bound

Antarctica was a place so hostile and alien to life, that life sang out, and every small breath was a triumph against nothingness. You were forced to re-create yourself again and again or risk being swallowed in the emptiness, and to do that you had to know what you were made of. The route to the Pole was, after all, an inner journey. Antarctica was a blank slate on which you could write your soul.

When she spied an advertisement in a medical journal for employment in Antarctica, Dr. Jerri Nielsen recognized it as the "geographical cure" for which she had been looking. Seeking a change from the demanding pace of an emergency room physician and the politics of the profession, and learning to cope with a painful divorce and separation from her children, she accepted the only position not yet filled as doctor for the 1999 winter season at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. With a year's sabbatical at the edge of the world, she believed she could put her life "into perspective again."

Encouraged by her close-knit family, Dr. Nielsen embarked on what was to become a life-altering experience. In the harsh climate of the South Pole, where temperatures reach as low as 100 degrees below Fahrenheit, where complete darkness reigns for six months of the year, and where each day is a test of survival, she discovered a haven among a diverse and remarkable group of "Polies."

As the only doctor at the South Pole, she was solely responsible for the physical and mental well being of a team of scientists, construction workers, and support staff. In the station's sparsely equipped medical clinic, she treated everything from frostbite to crushed bones with often-outdated medical supplies and her own ingenuity. But what she never imagined was that her own life would be jeopardized by a medical crisis. Shortly after the station closed for the winter—with no way in or out for eight and a half months—Dr. Nielsen discovered a lump in her breast and found herself in the "unique situation of being the most sick and the only healer."

Aided by a support system both inside and outside the South Pole, Dr. Nielsen performed her own biopsy and later began chemotherapy treatments after a daring mid-winter air drop by the Air National Guard brought some much—needed equipment and medicine. When she departed the South Pole several months later during a risky evacuation, she left behind the place she had come to think of as home—a place where "you find so quickly what makes life sweet."

In this remarkably vivid and detailed account, Dr. Nielsen describes life at the South Pole, where each day is a struggle for survival. She brings to life the rigid beauty of the region with it hundreds of shades of blue and white and its vast canvas of stars. She shares personal stories about the remarkable friends that she made. She unflinchingly recalls how she stared death in the face and triumphed. Ice Bound is Dr. Nielsen's extraordinary story of how she became one with the Ice.

Many of us at Pole are searchers, many are travelers, and many have come, as I did, to destroy demons and to find answers. We also came to see how much we could count on ourselves and our abilities, alone. More often, we have found and conquered demons, thoughts, weaknesses, questioning of the self, that we did not before know existed. And in doing so, we have learned that those things that plagued us in the world were not important, or had gone to rest years ago.... The changes in my perspective, of the life that I have had and of the life that I aspire to, must be affected deeply by facing death, here, in this sensory deprivation tank. I will therefore never know what changes were from living at Pole and what changes came from my close look at mortality. I am only so grateful that I had the chance to wonder.

— Dr. Jerri Nielsen, August 31, 1999, in a letter to family and friends

Ice Bound
by Dr. Jerri Nielsen

  • Publication Date: January 16, 2002
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax
  • ISBN-10: 0786886994
  • ISBN-13: 9780786886999