Cruise ship provides medical care

Everyone has memorable experiences which stick in the brain and shiver the spine. For me, one was standing with my father, at midnight on a cold winter night, in a deserted Red Square during the Cold War.

Another was at sea, crouching on the vibrating flight deck of the USS Nimitz while jet fighters thundered off into the blue yonder.

But a more recently, I experienced that feeling as I walked alongside the Queen Elizabeth 2 as she lay to port, waiting for me to climb her gangplank. The sight of that gracious lady in full splendour in the sunshine was unforgettable.

Designed for storms
My wife and I could not resist the opportunity to experience the ambiance of this great ship while she was still afloat, so we decided to join the ship’s cruise to Madeira, Canary Islands, Agadir, Malaga and Lisbon.

The QE2 wasn’t built as a cruise ship. She was designed as a transoceanic liner to weather stormy seas on North Atlantic crossings. Unlike cruise ships, she has a deeper draft to cut through high seas.

Moreover, although 70,000 tons in weight, her super-structure is aluminum, making it lighter above wer and less top-heavy.

We were happy to know these facts when we encountered a Force 9 gale (the maximum is 12!) for 36 hours on the return trip. The Queen did roll and pitch, and 30-foot waves slammed against her sides. But the captain assured us the Queen was handling the seas in her usual composed and commanding way. There was no need to worry. 

Deck walks for exercise
Cruising on the Queen has its advantages in terms of staying fit and healthy. First of all, a walk around the boat deck five times covers a mile. So exercise is not only possible, but interesting. And there’s a well-equipped exercise room on board.

The chance of wasting precious vacation days suffering from Montezuma’s revenge is practically nil. Sanitation of food, water and facilities receives top priority. One evening I had a first-hand look at how well trained the staff are in this regard.

We were enjoying drinks on the sun deck as we sailed out of Malaga, Spain. One of the passengers decided she wanted more ice in her drink. Standing near the bar, she reached into the bartender’s ice bucket. An alert bartender quickly grabbed her arm. She was told politely but firmly that this was simply not done on the Queen. He then provided her ice with tongs.

Next page: Medical crises on board

Large medical facility
The QE2 also has a modern and large medical facility. On several occasions, other vessels have requested medical help from the Queen while at sea. Should a coronary attack strike a passenger, he or she receives speedier care than if it had happened ashore.

A well-trained physician is at the patient’s side in minutes. Treatment is readily available to dissolve the clot, and cardiac enzyme tests can be done in just 10 minutes to determine the extent of the attack.

As you might expect, most of the passengers are middle-aged or elderly. In a moment of whimsy, I concluded there were three types of passengers: those without canes, those with one cane and those with two!

Common medical crises
The most common emergency at sea is not a heart attack or stroke but a bleeding peptic ulcer. Why? Because so many seniors are now taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat arthritic pain. Unfortunately, these drugs are also notorious for causing severe and sometimes fatal hemorrhage. To handle this acute emergency in the mid-Atlantic, the Queen’s crew act as blood donors.

Diabetic passengers are notorious for causing hair-raising moments for the ship’s surgeon. Not because diabetic diets are not available on board, but because the cuisine is so tempting. Many diabetics overeat and their blood sugar levels get out of control.

One woman discovered her husband lying unconscious on the cabin floor. He had become confused after excessive partying and had injected too much insulin at the wrong time.
Carry medical history
Whether you’re travelling on the QE2 or any other ship, don’t forget this advice:

  • If you have a medical problem and are taking medication, document this in writing.
Preferably, obtain a letter from your doctor outlining your treatment. This information can be life saving.

One wiry 92-year-old female passenger on a world cruise stumbled and fractured her hip. She was placed in traction and two days later transferred ashore in South America where an orthopedic surgeon pinned her hip. Undaunted, she flew to Colombo 10 days later to rejoin the ship.

Ultimately, she suffered a stroke on board but still walked off the ship in New York. The following year, while on another world cruise, the same passenger fractured her arm and was treated in Capetown. Officers were startled, however, to see her walking up the gangplank again the following year at age 94.