02 December 2011


Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famed Antarctic explorer, climbed in 1915 across then-unexplored South Georgia Island with two members of his shipwrecked expedition. Famished, freezing, thirsty, exhausted, and underequipped, their desperate journey was their last hope of reaching civilization (in the form of a whaling station on the other side of the ice-encrusted, mountainous island). There, they hoped to inform the outside world of their comrades who were stranded on Antarctica and needing a rescue.

In his excellent memoir, South, Shackleton recalled his perception of someone accompanying the men during their harrowing tramp:
I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, "Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us." Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels "the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech" in trying to describe things intangible.

Tonight, I was drawing a schematic of a left-to-right ventricular shunt (a type of heart defect) while working out a tough physiology problem. Staring back at me was a smiling Picasso-esque human face, accompanying me as I studied into the wee hours of the night:

I always dreamed of emulating a bold adventurer like Shackleton. Unfortunately, passing my medical school courses lacks the heroics of Shackleton's escape from the Antarctic ice and the eventual rescue of his entire expedition. At least I can dream up some parallels and pretend.