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The Ship's Quack and a Dose of Clap.

Updated: May 3, 2021


Any ship with less than 100 people on board does not carry a doctor as I was to find out when I joined Canadian Pacific Ships for a trip or two on cargo ships as purser/chief steward.


I had decided that having left cruise ships l would like to do a short spell on a cargo ship before I went ashore to start my own business. The purpose was twofold. First of all to see a few places that l would not get to see on passenger ships and secondly to wean me from the hurly-burly, work hard, play hard life onboard Princess Ships.


The problem with cargo ships for me was that there was simply not enough work to do, I could finish most of my monthly paperwork in a couple of days, which left you with a lot of free time to fill, especially as there was not much social life either.


But I now had my new career as a ship's medical man. I had no idea on joining the ship that this task would fall in my lap. The ship had a small hospital area with two beds just in case anyone had to be isolated.





Technically it was the Ship’s Master that was to take on the role of medic but the Old Men that l sailed with were not interested in the slightest. The first hint that l had about my new role was having joined the ship and taken on the stores there were all these boxes of medical supplies dumped in my office. I tried to pass these onto the Master but he told me to unpack them in the dispensary cupboard and check all the existing stock for anything out of date


He then plonked the “Ship’s Master’s Medical Guide” on my desk and told me to get on with it.







There was no internet in those days so this book was the main source of reference for anything and everything medical on the ship. Believe me, once you read any of it, everybody did have anything and everything.




Well, most of the time it was fairly simple things like dishing out Beechams Powders and magic pills to ease the aches and pains of the Indian Seamen. The officers on the whole had more sense than to ask for any help and thankfully none of the officer’s wives that were traveling needed anything more than Paracetamol.


My first major test was when the first officer bought a sailor to see me that had a nasty rash. After consultation with “Ship’s Master’s Medical Guide,” the first officer and I decided that we had a case of scabies on our hands. The sailor in question was not the cleanest of men, he shared a cabin with a young sailor who was meticulously clean but unfortunately for him he had been infected also. All the bedding and soft furnishings had to be stripped from the cabin and sterilized. Treating the sailors was rather embarrassing for them and for myself. The treatment was to coat the guy in a white lotion.

This was administered with a large paintbrush obtained from the deck stores.


On another occasion, I had to accompany a sailor to see the doctor in Jubail, Saudi Arabia.

At the time Jubail was little more than an ancient town with a highway leading into the desert. The population in 1977 was 33,000 Now it is the major industrial city of the world with a population of 685,000. The hospital facilities in 1977 were medieval, to say the least, we were kept waiting in a long queue outside in the midday sun. By the time we got to see the doctor, I was almost in need of medical attention.


My worst experience was when one of the sailors got his finger caught between a capstan and a wire rope. I had to stitch the wound. Unfortunately the finger became badly infected and the sailor was repatriated to the next port of call.


In serious cases of illness on ships with no doctor, there is International medical advice available over the ship's radio. They will make arrangements for the transfer, if necessary, of a patient to a ship with a doctor on board or if the distance allows it, to evacuate the patient for hospitalization. Thankfully I never had to use this service.




Of course, you can imagine what the main problem was with sailors, especially after a trip ashore.


Yes, you guessed it, a dose of Clap and this usually resulted in a shot of penicillin in the buttock.





Oriana's Doctor Geoff Gaylan - Hostess Suzanne Jones - Yours Truly

With a group of Aussie passengers back in 1974


Cruise ships are a whole different game with normally a Doctor, Baby Doc, and at least a couple of nursing sisters on board. Most of their time is spent giving seasickness jabs or in the case of one doctor, I worked with performing the dying swan in the onboard production of the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake.


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5 opmerkingen


John Martin
John Martin
25 aug. 2023

On one of P&O's Gas Ships on the spot market we were instructed to sail 'mid-point Pacific' at most economical speed from San Diego 'for orders'. The Chief Engineer rekoned that this was 2 days at 12 knots and one day drifting. Two weeks 'in' and a couple of greasers had a disagreement which involved broken bottles. I managed to stitch or 'butterfly close' most lacerations but was concerned about one chest wound that I think had partly punctured a lung. I requested a medi-vac which entailed having to make for Hawaii at best speed to be met by a coastguard 'chopper'. It was pleasing to have the feed-back that I had made the right decision.

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John Martin
John Martin
03 mei 2021

Blue Funnel and Glen Line had Nurse/Pursers, a leftover from when their ships carried passengers. In Elder Dempster it was only the mail boats that carried a 'medical practitioner'. For the rest of the fleet, medical supervision was in the hands of the Catering Officer (as Chief Stewards became known). When the fleets amalgamated to become Ocean Fleets they had the good sense to 'train' these aspiring medics. I was lucky enough to benefit from such a course. This involved one week in the company of another candidate and a company Nurse/Purser who organised the week. Three days in A&E at a local Liverpool hospital to cover basics in advanced first aid - BUT we were able to practice on…

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John Martin
John Martin
03 mei 2021
Reageren op

In another life....i.e. some years later when working on overnight cruise ferries all Pursers and Assistant Pursers were required to undertake a two week Ship Captains Medical Guide course as there was no doctor on board, even though we were carrying up to 1200 passengers and nearly 100 crew....renewed every four years. Defribrillator training was seperate.

This time there was no practicing on patients, only observations. Was amazed that even nurses with four years training were not allowed to suture. Only doctors and Nurse Practitioners.

We had to be able to identify the life indicators if we were to call for a medivac. Only the on duty A&E consultant at the Hull Royal Infirmary, with whom we had a hotline…


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Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
03 mei 2021

Thank you for sharing ypur experience. Are all ships doctor's surgeons ?


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hbonning
hbonning
03 mei 2021

I recall late 1960's on ORSOVA from Fiji to Hawaii, the ship was diverted to assist an American freighter with a crewman with severe appendicitis. Both ships were several days from port and our medical staff, Doctor, Junior Doctor and two nursing sisters spent a day santitising the surgery in preparation for an operation. We met the freighter in the middle of nowhere and the casualty was transferred to ORSOVA by one of our life boats, brought on board and had a successful appendectomy the same day. We kept him on board and discharged him to a hospital in Hawaii. As far as we knew, he had a full recovery.

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