A highlight of this summers expedition was sharing time with Dr. Fred Roots, our greatest living polar explorer. At 94, Fred is hopping in and out of zodiacs, listening and teaching while hiking over tundra and boulders, setting an inspiring pace that speaks of a life well lived.
From 1949-1952, at age 26-29, Fred was senior geologist with the first international research expedition to Antarctica, the famous Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition, which produced early evidence that climate change was truly global in scale. On our expedition, Fred shared with me a remarkable story, the day he surgically removed the eye of a friend and colleague while on expedition in Antarctica.
Fred’s eyes lit up as he remembered his geological exploration of the southern continent, and the flake of stone that had pierced his friend’s cornea as they chipped away samples of Antarctic rock. Immediately blinded, his friend’s eye became infected over 11 days, before the infection was thankfully relieved with the help of several generous doses of iodine, the only antiseptic they had available to them.
They had no expedition doctor, and relied on Morse code for contact with a medical officer in Sweden, who advised them of the need to surgically remove the injured eye. With alcohol as an analgesic, geological tools for surgical instruments, and a colleague holding the eye open, Fred performed a field enucleation, surgically removing the eye and placed it in a jar. It was surprisingly large, he told us, the size of ping-pong ball. I mentioned that even doctors often feel nervous, or even unexepectedly nauseous before performing a new procedure, and asked if he’d felt that way. “I don’t remember feeling that way at all,” Fred said, “We had no choice. It simply had to be done.”