Saturday, 6 April 2013

Observations on shiplife

Living on a ship has unique challenges and solutions.  It has all the aspects of a metal building, combined with those of vehicle.  Add in the fact that all supplies are obtained either from containers that are ordered ahead of time and then take weeks to months to travel the world, finally sitting in the hot sun for days to weeks until they can be cleared by customs.  If they are needed immediately, supplies are bought locally which results in a wide variety of qualities and prices to choose from... if you're lucky.
On the up side, the ship is crewed by creative people ready and willing to deal with the large variety of challenges we face.  For instance, what happens when we run out of chocolate...
Hmmm, perhaps that was a bad place to start, we just cry and deal with it until the next container comes.   When we run out of Ensure though, we make our own!  Ensure is a supplement to replace meals for patients that are unable to eat for a period of time.  With so many facial surgeries on board, there are a lot of patients that take a break from any chewing, and so are started on liquids.  Did you know milk, peanut butter, multivitamins, fiber and sugar can be blended together to make a tasty replacement for ensure?  Just don't use chunky peanut butter, it doesn't go down tubes so well!  Just sayin'!
What about when the toilet won't flush.  Normally you'd go for the plunger as the first line defense.  Not here.  All of our toilets (and plumbing) are on a vacuum system.  This means that you hit a button, the vacuum switches on, a horribly loud vacuum starts up, and WHOOSH, the toilet is flushed.  If the button doesn't work... sometimes you wait a minute and it works again (only so many vacuums can go at the same time).  Otherwise, you try running some water in your sink, and see if the vacuum in your area is functioning.  If not, it's time to leave a work request for the plumber.
Sometimes the toilets don't flush on the ward.  This means trying to get our patients, who think we have the height of technology, believe that we need to wait to get things fixed.  Not used to flushing toilets, they just might continue to use them until things get... um... full.
Or what about air conditioning.  It's all set to be best for "everyone", and so if you are closer to an air conditioning room, you get a colder room, or if you are higher in the ship it's warmer (more sunshine), unless you're on deck 2 in which case you feel the heat coming from the engine rooms.  Being in a metal box in Africa means if there is any interruption in air conditioning, we all feel it.  When it's out, the heat becomes moist and suffocating, turning floors and walls slick with condensation and reminding us just how hot it is here.  The other day when we had an interruption in air conditioning, my patients started complaining.  I reminded them that they were used to the African heat, and this shouldn't be a problem for them.  To my amusement, the response was "On the ship we are supposed to be in America, when we go outside then we will be in Africa again!"  They like the air conditioning.  It's really the lack of air flow that makes it a problem.  So I got fans for the ward until things resolved and everyone was much happier.
One fascinating side (for me at least) is how we have all been conditioned to a number of things, like Pavlov's dog.  For starters, we have set meal times.  You can't get dining room food outside of these times, so it's easiest to eat at these times.  I didn't think I was that conditioned, until yesterday as I was busy with something else and noticing that I was HUNGRY(empty gut churning hungry), but thought it was far too early for supper.  Then I looked at my watch and realized that it was time for supper.  Conditioned.  Another thing that we all respond to without question is the overhead announcements.  The dining room is normally loud with conversation, but all it takes is the overhead tones that precede an announcement and all conversation stops... you could hear a pin drop!
There is also the fact that we are on a ship, and not always stable.  There is a constant vibration due to the generators that means the lab has trouble finding accurate scales for tiny measurements.  There is the way the ship moves when a random wave hits that leaves you thinking you have a poor sense of balance.  Or the way that the captain chooses to balance the fuel and water in the tanks that often leaves us at a slight tilt.  Which occasionally gets changed as we refuel and then we're all confused by things rolling in the opposite direction from "normal."   Terms like "gangway," "crew mess," "galley," "purser," "crew," "cabin," "berth," "aft/stern/forward/starboard/port," "bridge," "bunkering," "deck," "list," and "porthole" all become part of normal language.  Some kids that grow up on the ship don't realize that you can have a "bed" in a "room" instead of a berth in a cabin.
I could go on... but for now, I must say I'm just thankful to be able to spend downtime on the top deck, watching the sunset with good friends.

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