All ashore

The off-road wheelchair
The off-road wheelchair

One of the biggest perks of working on a cruise ship is waking up somewhere new every morning without having to unpack your bags. You can sail to most parts of the world with cruises to far-off, exotic, places as well as cruises to popular holiday destinations such as Alaska, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean islands. The Caribbean provides an escape from a cold winter for many and a number of companies have capitalized on this by buying up small island getaways. The company I worked for owned a large beach property that we would visit once a week so that passengers could lie on the beach, drink mojitos and play beach volleyball.

With just a few fixed umbrellas it is a large operation to cater for 3000 passengers. As soon as the ship has moored a small army moves tones of sausages, burgers and small pubs worth of alcohol ashore. Barbecues are fired up and the gradual exodus of passengers begins.

The nearest hospital is a plane flight away so the medical team set up an advanced shore party. We have a dedicated hut with fridge and a small basic first aid kit but we bring the majority of supplies from onboard. We are there for slips and trips, essentially triaging patients as to whether they need to go back on board for more extensive treatment or whether they just need a band-aid. Much of the day is spent that way, keeping out of the sun and going for the occasional dip. Every now and then, however, a real emergency occurs.

I knew something serious was going on five minutes before the passenger presented to us. I could hear her hysterical screaming and it wasn’t long before a middle-aged American lady made her way along the boardwalk clutching her ear, a small crowd of children in tow. Evidently she had had a sangria or two and fallen asleep on the beach only to be woken by a strange sound in her ear. A local hermit crab had abandoned its old shell and it thought that her ear canal would make a perfect new home. Children were laughing and pointing as they saw it poke its little claws into the sun, only to scuttle back inside as soon as their shadows fell over it. Drowning out aquatic creatures doesn’t work and olive oil just seemed to annoy it and make it try to bury itself deeper into the hapless victims skull. In the end it was a matter of patience, waiting for it to come out just that little step further then making sure it did not feel my shadow before flicking it off into the deep blue.

The combination of multicolored alcoholic beverages, unlimited burgers and the warm tropical sun meant that many people suffered for heat stroke or worse. We had a specially design beach wheelchair with fat boy wheels to get across the sand but we would see most of these sun victims the next day. There would be a small queue outside of the medical centre with severe burns – pallid white (protected) flesh contrasting with their lobster red feet.

Some found shore party to be an arduous task but for most of us it was an opportunity to stretch our legs. Other than Princess Cays we would have to provide services on Devils Island and a number of small islands in New Caledonia. There, we would load up with vinegar for the sea lice and as many of our near expired medications as possible. With very little access to proper health care the locals would often see us for treatment of their chronically infected wounds, relying on the different ships that would stop there each week.

There are not may jobs where you can be paid to sip mocktails, dip your toes in the warm water, and watch the world go by.

Dr. Andrew Tagg left the shipboard life in 2009 to settle down and lose weight.  He is currently an advanced trainee in EM working in Melbourne’s western suburbs.  He still has the uniform. Contact him via Twitter @andrewjtagg

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