Other Pages of Interest

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ice Bound - Dr. Jerri Nielsen

I love to read and generally I read most while I am traveling or on vacation. Since I am on vacation now, I thought it was a perfect time to introduce my first book review to the blog. I have never claimed to be a writer, but here is my humble opinion on a book that I have recently finished.

I read Ice Bound at the recommendation of my mom, who got the book from my brother Chris as a Christmas gift. You may remember from my Return From Antarctica post, Chris worked as a firefighter in Antarctica for 6 months so I can only assume that is what attracted him to this book. Most people that I have talked to have heard the story of the woman who diagnosed her own breast cancer while living at the South Pole, though very few people know much about the details of this ordeal or how the story ends. This book is the full story, as told by Dr. Jerri Neilsen, the doctor herself.

I found Ice Bound to have an interesting insight into the people and world of Antarctica, which is truly a unique culture all its own. Jerri Neilsen realizes that she's due for a life change when her marriage goes bad, her divorce goes even worse, she looses her children and her sanity. She works as an ER doctor that flutters from nameless patient to nameless patient administering the health care that is expected of her as a doctor, but stops short of the compassionate personal touch she craves as a human being. She is fed up with the red tape that she is forced to work through everyday and when she reads an advertisement for a doctor at the South Pole, the opportunity is too good to pass up. The famous story begins while she is the only doctor among the 40+ "winter-over" individuals at the South Pole and she discovers a lump in one of her breasts. This story follows her personal pain as she suspects/realizes that she has breast cancer, the steps her company follows to help her through the process and the devastation of the only doctor in a closed population not being able to function to the level expected.

The author's pain and fear in this situation were enough to grab anyone. She struggles with the responsibility of being the only medical professional in a closed environment and needing skilled medical attention for herself. At times the author gets unrealistically deep into her love for the continent, the people, the job and the isolation, to the point where I feel she may recall her experiences with rose colored glasses as opposed to how things actually were, but that may just be my cynical side.

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of time she dedicated to the people in Antarctica; the reasons someone chooses to leave their life behind and the connections that you make with people when put in a daily life-or-death situations. I appreciated the authors candor when describing her personal life, and although I don't totally understand her situation, I can sympathize with her feeling of hopelessness both with her broken family and her medical situation. More than anything, this book hit home for me because the many of the qualities that I see in my brother Chris were highlighted in this story. As with most guys, it is difficult to get a full and clear understanding of the people, relationships, trials, hardships and difficulties they encounter, especially when they are sent to an isolated world where email and an occasional phone conversation are the only connection you have. This is one area that Dr. Nielsen spends a significant amount of time. She describes in detail her reasons for leaving, and the reasons she loved her experience despite its complications. In this I can see the similarity in her feelings to the descriptions that Chris gave me about his experience, with a less emotional voice. I feel like I know a little more about my middle brother and his reasons for going to Antarctica, in addition to understanding his reasons for wanting to return at the end of this year.

I was captivated by the remarkable story of a woman and her battle for survival, and know now that I do NOT want my brother to spend a year isolated at the South Pole, but was surprised at the clarity this book brought to my understanding of the reasons someone chooses such an extreme lifestyle. I recommend this book, knowing full well that my level of personal connection may have skewed my opinion. I recommend it to the general population anyway.


  1. I am not an avid reader, however, sometimes something catches my attention and I just have to read. "Icebound" by Dr. Nielsen is just such a book and were she still alive today I would certainly make the trek to hear her speak. Her story is one of adventure and heroism, but it's her ability to have written the words so I too could actually feel the darkness, the get- togethers, and the extreme cold. It is with great regret that I learn of her eventual end, but I guess we all have an end somewhere, sometime. If there is a beyond, and I believe there is something, I hope to meet her in person. Thank you for inspiring me.

    Art Miller
    Mount Pearl, NL, Canada

  2. Art, I'm so glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did. Her insight sheds light on a whole culture of people that is largely unknown.