A Day in the Life of a Ship's Doctor - by Dr. Philip Samuel
Get up. Work starts at 08:30. Quickly glance out through the porthole to see the sea racing by. The sea is calm so probably no one will get seasick today. I only got seasick on my very first day at sea. After that never again. No matter how rough the seas were. I understand the term ‘sealegs’ a bit better now.
I’m glad to have slept through the night seeing that I was on call. The nurses are very capable, luckily, so I seldom get called unnecessarily at night.
I decide to skip breakfast in the officer’s mess because I got up too late. At least I have some fruit that my cabin steward brings me every day, so that should suffice for now. I’ll also make my morning coffee in the medical centre’s kitchen.
After a quick shower (the cabin has its own bathroom – usually no bath, that’s for senior doc’s cabin) I get into uniform. I won’t be caught dead in these clothes at home but all officers have to wear it and it actually looks quite good.
With three stripes on your shoulder you rank quite high. Senior doctor has three and a half and the captain has four stripes. So that’s why you get a very decent size cabin with double bed, sofa, fridge, TV and porthole.
I leave the cabin for the few seconds walk to the medical centre. This is the shortest I have ever had to travel to get to work. I also know that my cabin will be cleaned, my laundry taken away and my bed made by the time I get back. It is fantastic to have a cabin steward and they make your life so much easier. It is almost the end of the month so I must remember to get some cash to give him his tip.
Very little payment onboard happens in cash. I have my own account number that I use to buy everything with. From drinks at the bars to gifts in the duty free shops on board. Then at the end of the month I get a bill from the Crew office that I have to pay. If you are a conservative drinker and buyer, your monthly expenses are extremely small, especially if you compare it with a normal month back home.
In the medical centre I have a very decent office with examining table and desk and PC. All the equipment such as oto- and ophtalmoscopes, stethoscopes and thermometers are there. I didn’t even bring my SAMF or Oxford handbook. The medical centre have loads of textbooks on all subjects and my PC has internet connection anyway, so looking something up is very easy.
My waiting room already have a few people waiting. Being junior doctor on board, my main responsibility is the health of the crew members on board. So during my clinic times every day, I have to see to all the crew members that attend. The senior doctor is responsible for the passengers that attend the clinic. Of course, when I am on call at night, I have to see everyone that needs medical attention, including passengers.
Generally I tend to see GP type complaints from the crew and quite frequently accidents that involve fractures, sprains, lacerations or burns. The odd malaria case also presents due to the demographics of some of the crew members.
It is a walk in clinic so crew members tend to arrive all the time until we close after an hour and a half. Some days the clinic is very busy. Other days not. It really differs from day to day.
After clinic, there is admin that needs doing. There are always emails to write and respond to on the companies network, and dental and medical appointments to be made for crew members that you might feel need to be referred.
After clinic I go with the nurses for lunch in the officers mess. Senior doc will join us later when he’s finished his admin.
That is to say if we don’t have a patient admitted that needs looking after. Seeing that the passengers are mostly elderly people, this can happen quite frequently. Luckily the medical centre is very well equipped to deal with most emergencies. From digital xrays to thrombolytics to emergency resuscitations, we can normally deal with any emergency that comes our way. The very last resort being a helicopter evacuation from the ship if someone is in dire need of surgery.
After lunch I go up to the crew deck on the top of the ship to have a look around. It is strange to see only ocean in all directions. The ship is a floating village in the middle of the sea.
I return to my cabin for a rest. Usually on ships the afternoons tend to be quiet because the nights are usually more busy for everyone and most people don’t get to bed until after 24:00. If you were on call and had a busy night, then this is the best time to get some rest.
Next clinic is from 16:30 until 18:00. Saw a couple of crew members with sore throats, one with abdominal pain, an engineer with a foreign body in his eye after using a metal grinder, a dancer with a sprained ankle and a waitress with ?appendicitis. She is admitted and might need to be disembarked tomorrow when we land ashore.
After this I try to get to the gym. The ships usually have a very good health spa and gym on board. It also has a crew gym, that is not as good as the passenger gym. But seeing that you are a three stripe officer, you are allowed to use the passenger gym.
Later I get into my formal wear tuxedo to go out to watch a show in the theatre.
You always have to be in uniform when you enter areas that is mainly for the passengers. And at night it is either formal or semiformal wear.
I make sure I have my bleep with me, because I still can get called for an emergency or a resuscitation, even when I am not on call. We are only 2 doctors and 4 nurses so everyone has to be able to respond when needed.
After the show I stop in the officers bar for a quick drink and a chat before heading off to bed. Tomorrow we are in St. Thomas and the day is going to be much different than today. I’m planning to get off after my morning clinic to do some snorkelling at Koki Beach. There must always be at least one doctor and nurse on the ship at all times, so when I get off, senior doc will stay on board. And vice versa.
Back in my cabin, I read a bit before going to sleep. The book I got from the onboard library.
I realise life at sea is what you make it and it can be an amazingly fascinating experience.
It will remain one of the most interesting and unique experiences I have ever had.