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Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole

Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole

4.7 20
by Jerri Nielsen, Maryanne Vollers

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Jerri Nielsen was a forty-six-year-old doctor working in Ohio when she made the decision to take a year's sabbatical at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on Antarctica, the most remote and perilous place on Earth. The "Polies," as the inhabitants are known, live in almost total darkness for six months of the year, in winter temperatures as low as 100 degrees below


Jerri Nielsen was a forty-six-year-old doctor working in Ohio when she made the decision to take a year's sabbatical at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on Antarctica, the most remote and perilous place on Earth. The "Polies," as the inhabitants are known, live in almost total darkness for six months of the year, in winter temperatures as low as 100 degrees below zero -- with no way in or out before the spring.

During the long winter of 1999, Dr. Nielsen, solely responsible for the mental and physical fitness of a team of researchers, construction workers, and support staff, discovered a lump in her breast. Consulting via E-mail with doctors in the United States, she performed a biopsy on herself, and in July began chemotherapy treatments to ensure her survival until conditions permitted her rescue in October. A daring rescue by the Air National Guard ensued, who landed, dropped off a replacement physician, and minutes later took off with Dr. Nielsen.

This is Dr. Nielsen's own account of her experience at the Pole, the sea change as she becomes "of the Ice," and her realization that she would rather be on Antarctica than anywhere else on earth. It is also a thrilling adventure of researchers and scientists embattled by a hostile environment; a penetrating exploration of the dynamics of an isolated, intensely connected community faced with adversity; and, at its core, a powerfully moving drama of love and loss, of one woman's voyage of self-discovery through an extraordinary struggle for survival.

Editorial Reviews

Most of us harbor a fear of falling ill while away from home, but Dr. Jerri Nielsen experienced perhaps the ultimate sojourner's nightmare: While on a year's sabbatical to provide medical care at Antarctica's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, she discovered a lump in her breast. That's not a development ever to be welcomed, but especially not when one is stranded in one of the most remote spots on earth. Nielsen was forced to perform her own biopsy and to self-administer chemotherapy treatments for some four months until weather conditions allowed for her to be rescued. Ice Bound recounts Nielsen's courage in the face of overwhelming corporeal and climatic adversity.
A fast-paced, engaging book. Nielsen gives a gripping account of life at the South Pole.
Chicago Sun-Times
Intelligent and insightful...Nielsen is adept at capturing the insular world of the "polies" and the mental and physical trials of residing there.
Chicago Tribune
A remarkable book...a fascinating sociological study.
New York Times Book Review
Nielsen is a hero. Ice Bound takes its place among the great Antarctic adventure stories.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nielsen, whose book is a bestseller in print, is not an actress her reading is somewhat awkward and labored. And yet listeners will be glad to feel a sense of personal contact with this extraordinary woman. A physician in her mid-40s, Nielsen decided to serve as the sole medical officer for a year at the South Pole, which meant "wintering over" during the dark months when the pole is physically inaccessible to the outside world. Nielsen's voice remains emotionally uninflected as she describes the beauties of the ice-filled landscape and the delights of working with a wonderfully creative and fun-loving crew of 41 "polies," despite the shortage of medical supplies. Nielsen also refuses to overdramatize her reading when she describes her detection of a lump in her breast, which proved to be cancerous. Listeners will hang on to every word as Nielsen relates how she performed a biopsy and administered chemotherapy to herself. They will also be glad this is unabridged, because every moment she describes, whether of pleasure or pain, is gracefully and unsentimentally limned. Simultaneous release with the Talk Miramax hardcover (Forecasts, Jan. 8). (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
To quote KLIATT's May 2001 review of the Brilliance audiobook edition: Temperatures at the South Pole register below zero even in the summer. In the winter, when they plummet as low as -100 degrees, it is so cold that airplanes cannot fly into the camp of American scientists who live there, each for a year at a time. The team of 40 that wintered there in 1999 found themselves strained to the limits of their physical and psychological resources when Dr. Jerri Nielsen, their only medically trained member, developed a hard lump in her breast. As the lump grew and a diagnosis of cancer was confirmed by a doctor in American examining biopsy pictures sent via the Internet, it became clear that she needed specialized treatment if her life was to be saved. An airplane eventually brought chemotherapy drugs and when the first sign of "spring" arrived, the Air National Guard quickly flew in, dropped off her replacement, and whisked her home...the Antarctic adventure... turned into a world-publicized nightmare...Nielsen helps the listener sense her courage, the support of a world community that gathered around her, and the harsh beauty of the Antarctic continent... Category: Biography & Personal Narrative. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Hyperion, Talk Miramax Books, 378p. illus., $14.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; Minot, ND SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Library Journal
It was splashed across every newspaper in 1999 a woman doctor in Antarctica finds a lump in her breast and after performing her own biopsy realizes that she has a particularly aggressive form of cancer. But no planes can land during the long winter months, and she must administer her own chemotherapy. That woman was Nielsen, and this is her story of her battle with cancer and the extreme conditions of the South Pole. Alone and scared, Nielsen describes the feelings that washed over her that long winter. Part adventure story, part journal of self-discovery, her book is written in an easy-flowing narrative voice. She regales us with tales of parties like the one celebrating her 47th birthday and then horrifies us as she recounts how she e-mailed her family when she found the lump. No matter what the passage, Nielsen mesmerizes readers as she carries them along for a ride of a lifetime. Recommended for all libraries. Stephanie Papa, Baltimore Cty. Circuit Court Law Lib. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this riveting first-person account, Nielsen describes her work as a doctor and her fight with breast cancer at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. An emergency-room physician in a major hospital, the author was burned out and broken by an abusive husband and bitter divorce. An advertisement for a job in Antarctica caught her attention and soon she was getting her bearings at the South Pole. In the first half of the book, the author does a wonderful job of describing the frozen world under the geodesic dome and the tribal existence of 41 people living on a frozen plateau in complete darkness and total isolation. In the second section, Nielsen describes her realization that she had breast cancer and that she must turn to the outside world for help. Through heart-wrenching e-mails, she plotted a course of action with a doctor in the United States. She taught a team of mechanics, welders, and other Polies to perform a biopsy and give her chemotherapy. When that failed, in a massive global effort, she was evacuated. An easy read with an engrossing story in an unforgiving setting, this is also a story of growth, endurance, teamwork, and survival.-Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Prince William, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Miramax Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt


Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, October 16, 1999. Today I take my last snowmobile ride in Antarctica -- from the ice-crusted dome where I have lived for eleven months, to the edge of an airfield plowed out of the drifting snow. Normally I could walk the distance in a few minutes, but I am too weak. My best friend, Big John Penney, drives me up the mountain of snow we call Heart Attack Hill to the edge of the flight line. We are bundled in our red parkas and polar boots, extreme-cold-weather gear that weighs nearly twenty pounds. I'm wrapped in so many layers of fleece and down that I can barely move. My hair was long and blond when I arrived at the Pole, but now my head is completely bald, and coddled like an egg in a soft wool hat beneath my hood. I wear goggles and a neck gaiter up to my eyes to keep my skin from freezing. It is nearly sixty degrees below zero.

Big John helps me off the machine and we stand together for a moment, staring into a solid wall of blowing snow. The winds are steady at twenty knots, causing a total whiteout over the station. Incredibly, we can hear the droning engines of a Hercules cargo plane, muffled by the weather but getting louder by the second. It is the first plane to attempt a landing at the South Pole in eight months.

"He'll never make it," says Big John. "He'll have to circle and turn back."

I can't decide if I am frightened or relieved. I am sick and quite possibly dying. There is no doubt that I have to leave here to get treatment for the cancer growing in my breast. I am the only doctor among forty-one scientists and support staff at this U.S. research station, and I've been worrying about what would happen if I became too frail to care for my patients. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people have worked for weeks to organize this extraordinary rescue flight. I feel grateful, and humbled and, at the same time, overwhelmed with grief.

In reporting my predicament, some journalists have described the South Pole as "hell on earth." Others refer to my time here as "an ordeal." They would be surprised to know how beautiful Antarctica has seemed to me, with its waves of ice in a hundred shades of blue and white, its black winter sky, its ecstatic wheel of stars. They would never understand how the lights of the Dome welcomed me from a distance, or how often I danced and sang and laughed here with my friends.

And how I was not afraid.

Here, in this lonely outpost surrounded by the staggering emptiness of the polar plateau, in a world stripped of useless noise and comforts, I found the most perfect home I have ever known. I do not want to leave.

But now as the sound of the engines grows to a roar and shifts in pitch, I strain to take a last look around. I am hoping for an opening in the storm, as much for me as for the pilot. I want to see the ice plain one more time, and lose myself in its empty horizon. But the notion passes, like waking from a dream, and within moments begins to seem unreal.

Excerpted by permission of Hyperion Books. Copyright © 2001 Dr. Jerri Nielsen.

What People are Saying About This

Diane Sawyer
Diane Sawyer, on Larry King Live
It is the most moving, most American, most profoundly inspiring story I have encounterted in so long.

Meet the Author

Dr. Jerri Nielsen lives in Ohio and is the mother of three children. She continues to practice medicine and intends to do a lot of traveling.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Ice Bound 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The description of being at the South Pole were great. She makes you feel as if you were there. It was neat to hear how they live there day to day. I thought there would be more about the breast cancer but the book does work it in very well. I enjoyed this book very much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ice Bound is an excellant book written about a doctor who went on a trip to Antarctica to help others living there. While in Antarctica she discovers she contained breast cancer.If you read the book iit will tell you the ending of an adventurous book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It must have been like being transported to another planet. What an eye opening life changing experience for Jerri in so many ways. You would certainly have to be at a turning point in your life to accept such a mission. It was inspiring to see people loved and appreciated for inner beauty and worth rather than exteranl superficial factors. The adventure Jerri found was much more than she sought. She is an incredibly strong and inspiring individual.
Guest More than 1 year ago
TREMENDOUS COURAGE! Wow, what this brave lady endured. The coldest place on Earth. She brings this to life, you feel like you are there. It was fascinating how she received her 'care' through the use of the Internet and e-mails. Modern technology certainly played the hero here. This is a very enlightening book medical-wise, learning about the type cancer she had and what it takes medically and physically to treat this awful disease. She puts everything she has into telling her story. She had the greatest team of oncologists to assist her. It is really heartwarming to see how people come together and help each other in a time of crisis. But what was even more vivid was the totally descriptive environmental situation they are all in when living at the coldest place on Earth. This is a book about character, faith, and love. This is not an action novel but it is just as suspenseful. Terrific read! I admire this fantastic lady and her courage, you will too!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was well worth its coverprice...and then some. I could not put the book down. Well written, I felt like I was there. A must-read!!! Not a book about breast cancer, but about the human spirit. You will not be disappointed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story of courage, survival, glorious friendship, and the love of family. Very well-written: it made me cry and laugh. A must-read, even for the non-avid reader, like myself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic! Gripping, exciting, a real edge-of-your seat adventure! I truly felt like I was 'there'. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a thrill! Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved every bit of it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Jerri Nielsen is a truly amazing woman and gifted writer all in one. I loved reading every pager of her account of the darkest yet most wonderful time of her life. She gives true meaning to the word courageous. A definite must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first learned about the story on Oprah and was immensely intrigued by it, and my expectations did not fall at all after reading the book. The story and the fact that it's real are profound and it is written with great detail and relaxation and you can almost feel yourself at the pole with those great people and understand the pain and happiness of Dr. Jerri Nielsen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This true story of survival is one you can't put down once you've started reading about the incredible experiences of Dr Jerri Nelson in the Antarctic. Even long after finishing the last page, your thoughts return to the story again and again. This is a MUST READ for anyone with even a mild interest in what it would be like to live at the pole, and for EVERYONE whose life has been touched by breast cancer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was outstanding. I expected to read a story about a woman battling cancer, and the added difficulties she faced being stranded in Antarctica without proper medical facilities. Boy, was I wrong. Most of the book is a fascinating science lesson, sociology lesson, survival lesson, motivational lesson, ... I could go on and on. I learned soooo much, about things I had never even thought of before. If this book was in classrooms across the country, kids would be thrilled about school again. This book could truly generate enthusiasm among school children for science. I read the book in 3 days, couldn't put it down, and kept interrupting my own children to read parts to them. Dr. Nielson, you are an inspiration, not because you are surviving cancer, although that, too. But because you re-confirmed my own enthusiasm for life, and for nudging my children to experience life and new experiences every day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Jerri's determination to beat the odds is not some re-hashed, worn out tale of survival, it is an intimate account of how a woman whose proverbial back is against the wall, pulls herself up by the bootstraps and empowers herself to live, all while trying to basically survive in a very cold, barren environment. What I liked about this book is the lesson that we are all a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for. When I finished reading this book I realized a couple of things: (1) good health is the greatest wealth we could ever hope for and (2) be grateful...if you think you've got a lot of problems, just remember that someone out there always has it a lot worse than you do. I am grateful for this story, and for Dr. Jerri sharing a bit of her strength and herself with all of us. Cris
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story of life's experiences, ups and downs, the love, the friendship, the humor, the happiness, the sadness, was a wonderful experience for me to read, and tempers my cynical nature about we humans. Apparently, we ain't ALL bad. Thank you very much Dr. Nielsen for telling this story. We all are not only what we were when we were born, but a part of each and every person we have known... and Dr. Jerri Nielsen's friends are the best one can know.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one week! This is wonderful because I usually don't have time to read the newspaper! The way the author describes the pole and her fellow 'polies' makes you feel like you're really part of their ice world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ice Bound is one of the best books I have read in years. I just couldn't put it down. It is a wonderful story of love, friendship, and problem solving. I found it very educational. As I knew nothing about the South Pole and life there, it taught me so much about that mysterious part of the world. Ice Bound was so fascinating that I immediately started back at the first of the book to read it again slowly. As a nurse I found the medical parts of the book along with the profound effects on the body and mind at the South Pole just amazing. This is a fabulous book that must be read by one and all.
Barton46 More than 1 year ago
It didn't take long to read this book, it was hard to put down. As I approached the end I began to feel cheated. So many things had yet to be resolved and there were only ten to twenty pages left. We got so much detail about when she was "on the ice" but next to nothing after. Dr. Nielsens courage is without question and her story is remarkable but I wanted to know more about what happened with her children. It felt like there was much left unsaid. It seemed like there had to be a lot more to the story about why her children would have nothing to do with her and why her parents didn't take an active role in sorting that out. As a parent and a grand-parent her children's attitude didn't make sense without a lot more to it. It also left me wanting more about the jerk of an ex husband - or was he?
Guest More than 1 year ago
One star to Dr. Jerri for telling her story and letting 'Big' gather e-mails and journals for the writer Vollmer to put together in a book. One star for the great descriptions of the South Pole and the 'Polies,' who became my friends during the story. However, as a breast cancer survivor, I think this book does a great dis-service to the many women who are facing, will face, or have faced a breast cancer diagnosis. It is not a death decree. And Dr. Nielsen proves the old adage that 'doctors are the worst patients.' Surely being diagnosed with cancer at the Pole would be worrisome, but the drama that ensues between Jerri and her Indianapolis oncologist is disturbing. I am not a medical specialist and even I knew better than to ask my oncologist 'how long do I have to live?' No one can predict odds of life and death. All of us are different and our cancers are different. I hope Jerri's attitude about 'non-treatment' if certain diagnosis decisions were made will not affect the decisions of women facing breast cancer treatment decisions. I feel she was negative, self-centered and misinformed regarding the outcome of her illness.