Life

Week four has begun.  R16/14 went as well as can be expected, after which I saw my consultant, Dr Biswas.  As ever, he was straight down the line, explaining that while this coming week may not be entirely dreadful, that weeks five and six are going to be a nightmare.

So, there’s something to look forward to.

Writing about my time working on cruise liners yesterday reminded me of one of the most incredible situations I’ve ever found myself in.  A time when I was a tiny cog in a big machine working hard to save someone’s life.

We were in the midst of a cruise to the Caribbean, and had just left Jamaica after a day in port.  That was my one and only trip to the island, which I remember mainly for the fact that each bus of passengers heading off for a day of sightseeing from the ship had an armed guard on board.

For some reason, this thrilled the passengers beyond belief.

We left port at around 6pm but, just an hour later, one of the passengers fell ill.  He had internal bleeding, and we had to get him back to land and to a hospital as soon as possible.

Not an easy task.

Another ship had already taken our berth in Jamaica, meaning we couldn’t simply turn around and off-load the patient.

So, as the evening progressed, the ship’s purser sat in the radio room, calling out to each of the tiny islands we passed if anyone had room for the ship to dock so we could land the sick man.

No-one had space.

There had been a party on the rear deck of the ship a few days earlier, and the entertainments team had spent hours tying long palm fronds to the railings to give the place a Caribbean feel.

But, as the hour grew later and the passenger became sicker, it didn’t feel like a party any more.

Of course, sometimes passengers don’t make it all the way through a cruise – particularly on some of the longer itineraries where the average age of those on board errs towards triple figures (often seemingly more).

On those sad occasions, there is space available to – ahem – accommodate the less fortunate until we arrived back in the UK.

On one cruise we lost so many that the whisper in the dining room was “Don’t eat the ice cream, we’re not sure who’s in there with it.”

But, we were determined it wasn’t going to happen this time.

As I may have mentioned before, the ship I worked on for the majority of my time at sea – MV Kareliya – was run by a Russian and Ukrainian crew, with British passengers and entertainers.

By now, crew members were lining up to donate blood to help this poor guy out.

But, that wasn’t a permanent solution.

We had to find a way to get him to hospital.

Then, in the early hours of the morning, an unexpected message came through on the radio. It was from a US aircraft carrier running manoeuvres in the area, and they’d heard our calls to local islands for help.

They were sending a helicopter.

They asked the captain to slow the ship down to a rate of 10 knots, and for the crew to clear everything off the back deck.  An emergency alert was sent out around the crew quarters and – within minutes – deckchairs, tables, parasols and just about everything else was being hauled away into the nearest bar.

All the expensive palm fronds were cut off the railings and tossed overboard.

Then we all went outside and waited.

I stood with the man’s wife (I wish I could remember his name) as the distant sound of rotor blades grew louder and louder – and then, there it was – a vast US airforce helicopter, drawing in to hover over our beck deck while the ship was still moving.

In the picture below, it’s the deck showing the two circular swimming pools…

MV Kareliya

Two airmen – both in their early 20s – winched down onto the deck and secured the passenger’s stretcher to their equipment while the ship’s doctor handed over his notes.

Then, as quickly as they had arrived, the patient was hauled up into the chopper, the airmen followed, and the aircraft banked away into the darkness.

They took the man directly to hospital in Cuba.

We spent the rest of the night celebrating with one or two (or more) vodkas out in the warm night, enjoying the bewildered looks of passengers when they got up at breakfast to secure their sun loungers for the day – only to find that they had all mysteriously disappeared!

Sadly, we later heard that the passenger didn’t make it.  He’d simply been too ill.

But, we’d tried.

And, I’d seen the best in people.  People working together to help each other just because they couldn’t sit by and not do anything.

People who cared.

What any of this has to do with my treatment, I’m not really certain…

…although, maybe I am.

I’m sure this memory hasn’t presented itself just because I wrote about my time at sea yesterday.  It’s also because – for the past few months – I’ve been looked after by some wonderful people.  Doctors, nurses, radiographers – all working as hard as possible to look after other people.

Sick, often scared people, just like me.

I’ll never be able to thank them enough.

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5 Comments


  1. Crikey… I remember that. He had fallen in the shower on the crossing over to the Caribbean and hadn’t said anything.

    I also remember the gentleman from the catamaran.. Was that Antigua? Hospitals in Banjul in The Gambia, and Malta… The kids on the dockside in Lome…. And definitely avoiding the ice-cream!

    Keep them coming Tommy. It reminds my of one of the best crews I ever worked with in 8 years, some amazing people, some like yourself that will always bring a smile to my face.

    Reply

  2. What a story Tommy, amazing to hear about people working so hard to save a life. I hope that more people try to do that every day.
    Keep pushing man, time’s going by and you’ll be on the other side of this treatment before you know it!

    Reply

  3. What a beautiful post. Since reading of your diagnosis, you have been in my prayers and I am grateful to you for sharing your story. I don’t know how much comfort it will provide but your blog has been nothing short of inspiring. I anxiously await the day when you announce you are cancer-free.

    Reply

  4. How you are finding the will top entertain and educate us I’ve no idea – but please keep going! x

    Reply

  5. I remember this, was on this cruise, too! That was quit a happening, and ooh, those poor people … We all so hoped he would make it.

    And yes, doctors and nurses, especially nurses, they care all so much …

    Reply

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