If you can make one generalisation about cruise ship passengers it is that they love their food. They will eat five course breakfasts then go back for a few snacks before sitting down for a buffet-style lunch of as much as they can fit on their tray with a dollop of ‘light’ mayonnaise on top. Then it is afternoon nibbles by the pool before getting ready for dinner. Most of the big cruise ships have multiple dining options in the evening from pizza and burgers to twelve course degustation menus. But nothing compares to the social event of dining with the captain and his senior officers.
Once a cruise we would host a table of lucky guests, usually chosen from those with most frequent cruiser points. The officers would each have a table of eight to entertain. There was no excuse for non-attendance. You could have a patient about to be intubated for cardiogenic shock down in the medical centre and you would be expected to only pop down in between the starter and the main course – and only then if you promised to return in time for dessert. Wine would flow freely and patients would trade stories. The hotel director took particular delight in matching up passengers with hosts. Ex-engineers would often be seated with the senior technical officers. The entertainments director would get the faded starlets and the doctor… the doctor would get the oldest, most frail appearing patients. Perhaps they had bribed the maitre’d in order to be close to medical assistance should the need arise. Each patient, sorry passenger, would take it in turns to tell me their medical woes, unperturbed by the lack of privacy or confidentiality the dining table held.
I should have been immediately suspicious when Mr and Mrs Stone invited me to a private lunch. We were at sea and not very busy in the medical centre so I couldn’t get out of it. Mr Stone was in his early seventies and appeared to be in good health, and with a wife forty years younger, he needed it. I should have been more suspicious when he informed me that he had already made arrangements with the chef for the starter. He had ordered me his special soup, the one that he had eaten every day for the last forty years. He claimed it was the reason for his healthy physique. As the weak and watery green broth was placed in front of me, he looked around, waiting for the waiter to depart before leaning over to ask for my medical advice.
A ‘friend’ of his was in need of a new kidney. He had developed some form of renal failure when he was in his fifties and the kidneys he had were failing. He did not want to spend the rest of his life on dialysis as it would mean no more cruising. and though he had been placed on the transplant list his ‘ friend’ didn’t hold out much hope of getting to the top of it. He had heard that one could buy second-hand organs on the black market but he didn’t know where to look. Surely I, as an accomplished and very well-travelled cruise ship physician, might have some contacts in exotic ports? I have been asked lots of random medical questions before but never had I been asked to traffic human organs. I looked pensively into my green soup before looking up at Mr Stone and informing him that I had, unfortunately, been at sea too long to know anyone in the field of organ procurement and that perhaps patience would be a better course of action. Mr Stone was about to ask me something else when the waiter appeared to take my order for the main course. After all that green cabbage water I needed something with a bit of substance to it, something meaty. I scanned the menu but couldn’t see anything I fancied. I was about to order the old standby of Caesar salad when I spotted my perfect lunch on the specials board…steak and kidney pie.