Jerri Nielsen and Maryanne Vollers - Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole

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Ice Bound - Story of the South Pole doctor with breast cancer.

Dec 25, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting story.

Cons:Too much talking and not enough story telling.

The Bottom Line: This was an amazing adventure, but the book is not great.


Back in 1999, a doctor made headlines when she discovered that she had breast cancer. Doctors get sick all the time just like other people, but this doctor was stranded at the south pole during the arctic winter. No one could go in to help. She couldn’t get out to get surgery. This was a story that captured the world for a few months during her time on the ice and then after she landed back stateside.

Now, Dr. Jerri Nielsen shares her story in Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole. This is a narrative laced with emails and some poems from the time period when Nielsen was not sure if she would live or die. The format is not great, but the story is strong enough to override the sometimes tedious set-up and chronic references to how being on the ice is like being in another world and how the group bonded, bonded, bonded.

Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live in or even visit the coldest place on the planet. Some folks were there to do research to perhaps help humankind. Others, seemed to be lost and searching for something. Nielsen was in the “lost” category. Her kids had moved in with their father, and that left Nielson “out in the cold,” so she decided to venture off for an adventure at the pole. Even if I loved snow and ice, I can’t imagine putting that distance (with no chance for visitation) between myself and my kids.

Life on the ice is very strange. Everyone lives in an underground building in very close quarters. They must wear the same couple of outfits the entire year and can only shower two times per week for 2 minutes each time. This makes me think that hell must be cold rather than hot, because I would sure living like that and especially the shower limit part.

Since there is nothing much to do other than work, everyone must come up with ideas to keep the group motivated. Playing Bingo with Fruit Loops to mark the cards, roasting a pig, and having various drinking parties becomes the focus.

This ordeal is like being a soldier in battle according to Nielson who sprinkles her story with all kinds of nicknames for the people and for the life they live. They are all “Polies.” Her best friend is “Big.” She is “Doc.” You start to get the feeling that you’re an outsider looking in, and Nielson keeps telling you that is the case, so you can easily tune out on this book.

Without the cancer mystery and the questions about whether Neilson has the disease or not, whether it is spreading or not, and if she’ll make it out of the South Pole or not, this book would be pretty dull. You want to care about Nielson, but she is pretty distant in her writing style. Even when she includes her personal emails, they often end with “Fondly, Doc.” Fond seems to be her biggest emotion though it’s pretty obvious that she had a thing for “Big John.” Since Big John was married, the love line did not go anywhere at least in the telling of the story.

This would make a good “Reader’s Digest” mini novella, but it’s not really book material as presented. Take out the constant references to how wonderful life is on the ice and how great the people are who opt to live on the ice, and you don’t have much left.


Recommend this product? Yes

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