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Medical officer plays his part well

Like Dr. McCoy in “Star Trek,” medical officer Peter Lee cures what ails the Arctic simulation crew.
/ Source: Mars Society

One thing that a space crew, even a simulated one, can’t help discussing, is “Star Trek,” in all its versions and generations.

InsertArt(1958321)THERE IS Captain James T. Kirk, Captain Jean Luc Picard, Captain Kathryn Janeway and others. They command missions, settle crew misunderstandings, serve as interplanetary mediators, go where no one has gone before, set examples for the rest of us. They face enemies, see ships explode, explore new planets.

The captain, of course, commands a ship and a crew. We know and love these symbols of international and inter-galaxy cooperation. One crew member who is essential to the success of the missions, but who often stays in the background, is the ship’s doctor.


He — or she — is not in every scene, or even in every episode. But when the captain needs a voice of reason, a calm presence in the face of crisis, a place to send the sick and injured, the captain turns to the ship’s doctor.

First there was “Bones,” or Dr. McCoy, in the original series. He was feisty. “I’m a doctor, not a brick mason,” he announced on one occasion. Bones was sometimes serious, sometimes comic, often ironic. After him came Dr. Beverly Crusher of Picard’s Enterprise, a longtime friend of the captain’s, a source of strength for him, and the calming healer of many a crew member and alien. Like McCoy, she was on many an away team and moved about the ship at will. By the Voyager series, however, the doctor was reduced to a hologram, limited for the most part to his medical clinic, like Bones, a source of humor and good sense.

Our crew has a medical officer, too. This morning our away team of Steve McDaniel, Jan Osburg, and Digby Tarvin (as Ghost Rider) left our medical officer, Peter Lee, at the Hab with three ailing crew members. Ella Carlsson has been hurt since before our mission began, an injured shoulder curtailing her activities. She can do many things, but some of the heavier work has been left to others, and she has been a real trooper in accepting the limits her injury and her commander have put upon her. Peter has been involved in overseeing her recovery throughout our mission and checks on her daily.

But today Peter had two other patients to care for — yesterday afternoon, Jody Tinsley revealed that he’d felt lethargic all day (a fact that several of us had noted because he was quieter than usual), and had a sore throat, something we hadn’t known. And this morning, I awoke with the same sore throat and lethargy. Jody had been slated to lead today’s extravehicular activity, but he was encouraged to stay in and rest and let Steve go in his stead. I was put on light duty and gratefully accepted the opportunity to take an extra nap or two.

This was all fine until early afternoon when the subject of our fetching water came up. The all-terrain vehicle trailer was full of rocks (but that’s another story) and needed to be unloaded to accommodate the water jugs. Jody commented that he would like to get out and move a bit, and that he would suit up and go do it. “No, you don’t,” our usually quiet Peter said firmly. “You are going to stay in and rest.”

“Ooohhhhhh!” I exclaimed. “Medical officer telling the XO what to do!” (Jody is the crew’s Executive Officer, second in command). “Unless Medical Officer trumps XO?” I suggested.

“Medical officer trumps everybody,” said Peter, smiling. “The medical officer can ground the commander.”


“Hmmmmm.” I looked at him with new respect. Our Bones did a good job today, teasing us, checking our temperatures, seeing that we had plenty of fluids, taking on extra duties so that we could rest more. With a light day and Peter’s care, Jody and I both feel better. Peter himself suited up later in the day and not only unloaded the rocks from ATV trailer, but he also went with Digby (back from EVA) to bring up the water from the Lowell Canal, bring it in, and hand it up to the loft. Though I have enjoyed always being on EVAs with Peter and working with him in the Hab, I now have a new appreciation for his role as medical officer.

Today, whether we were in the Hab/medical clinic all day or out on EVA, we have had to adjust to some new developments here on Devon Island. Last night, as Digby and I fueled the generator, we saw clouds on the edge of the horizon: “Perhaps those clouds will mean cooler weather,” we said to ourselves. And about 5 o’clock this morning I looked out and saw, for the first time, fog. It hung over the edges of the crater and beyond us to the north until midday, a reminder that we are surrounded by water, even if we can’t see it from here.


Unless we are looking over maps, it’s easy to forget that we are on an island. From the Hab, all we normally see is land, the Haughton Crater the most important landmark, dipping off right beside us to the south. We look across it every day, watching the light play across it as the sun moves around us. The water runoff from the melting snow on the slopes makes dark streaks across the crater floor.

InsertArt(1958322)Off in the distance, we can see the ledge of the opposite side, about 16 miles away. Thus far, our EVA explorations have been to the north, away from the crater, so it stands as a place of mystery to us.

And mysterious it seems now, as I look out the main Hab window. This imposing landmark has almost disappeared in the fog, back again, and heavier as the day has waned. Digby and I were right last night — sure enough, it is cooler today. As I look out at the outside thermometer, it is 36 degrees. Devon Island, our Mars, once again reminds us that we are in a strange and wonderful land.

© 2003 April Childress. Licensed by the author to