Today we reach Qaanaaq, a picturesque town lying on a mountainside in Murchison Sound. The residents were moved here from Thule without further ado or a reasonable compensation in May, 1953. The local US-military base here was expanded during the cold war and the residents were forced to leave their homes.
Many small and larger ice bergs drift in the bay by the town. There is no harbor. We must look for a suitable spot to anchor – not too shallow so that we do not run aground at low tide and not too deep so that we will not come into contact with ice bergs have run aground further out due to their depth. The anchor watch around the clock must be especially alert.
Qaanaaq has 6oo inhabitants among them hunters and fishermen. Sled dogs lie all around on chains. Besides the supermarket there is a church and a museum with carefully arranged exhibits of Inuit art from different centuries classified after the waves of immigration. There are also remnants from different expeditions – from Robert Peary as well.
We are especially interested during our stay in the medical care of the public in this remote area. We visit the local hospital where Dr. Karl Vitt, a surgeon from Flensburg is working at the moment. He is the only doctor responsible for about 2.000 residents living in an area of 660.000 square kilometers. The neighboring towns are supplied by a medicine storage facility. Dr. Vitt is responsible for all sorts of potential medical challenges. He looks after pregnant women, newborns, children, preventive medical check-ups, vaccination programs, all kinds of injuries, infection, heart disease, asthma attacks up to mental health problems. He has seven staff members at his side. There is no anesthetist or anesthetist nurse. In the hospital there is an operating room, a resuscitation unit for newborns, an ECG, an ultrasound unit, an x-ray machine as well as a lab. The hospital is supported by a well-organized network of specialists in Denmark, who, through telemedicine, can analyze EKG- or x-ray results in a very short time and can, for example, help to decide if it is necessary to have a patient moved to another facility.
Even with an interpreter, it is not always easy to communicate with a patient – there are so many different dialects. Dr. Vitt has learned by and by to interpret the nonverbal gesticulating messages sent by a patient. Body language is in some cases very clear and diagnosis specific. Patients, who need an operation, are normally flown to the capital, Nuuk. Pregnant women are sent a few weeks before they are due to Ilulissat. But there are always cases where a baby arrives early and wants to see the light of day in Qaanaaq. Dr. Vitt has learned the technique of a Caesarean section in the Charity Hospital in Berlin. Without an anesthetist, however, he is responsible for the anesthesia, the operation and for the newborn at the same time. There are no mid-wives here. A dentist comes by sporadically. Health care is free of charge for everyone in Greenland. Dr. Vitt finds working in such a remote area very interesting and asks himself every morning just what he can expect in the coming day.
We are glad that we are all healthy on board – no one has been sea sick since the last crossing from Iceland. Even far away from any medical aid, we are well equipped for emergencies on board and have been prepared through regular training sessions – with the DGzRS ( the German society for the rescue of castaways) and a further first aid training in April with the DRF and the professional fire brigade in Hamburg. Before we depart, we invite Dr. Vitt on board and he tells the crew about the specific aspects of his work here. Then we lift anchor and sail on to our next destination.