Along with the brigg, another part of the cruise ship people are endlessly fascinated with is the hospital. Every modern cruise ship sails with a team of doctors and nurses ready to leap into action when the worst happens. Thankfully, this is very rare and the team of highly qualified medical professionals spend the majority their time dishing out cough syrup and seasick tablets. This is the reason that most doctors and nurses don’t last long onboard the high seas, their work is very tedious.
The reason for this is insurance. It is a requirement of sail that everyone must have adequate medical cover and this process weans out anyone likely to need complex medical interventions. If there is any reason to suspect somebody is likely to keel over, they are immediately taken ashore to a local hospital, often the ships will divert to make this happen. Although depending where in the world the ship is, the hospitals in question can have wildly varying standards, not that the cruise lines care, they just want the ill person gone.
The medical centres themselves are very impressive. They can deliver babies, perform blood transfusions, and even sustain people in a coma. Many medical staff told me the facilities are better than the ones in the hospital they worked in ashore.
One myth that needs busting is that of the cruise ship helipad. A lot of cruise liners seem to have a helipad painted onto the deck somewhere at the back of the ship. These are not real. Unlike a navy ship, cruise liners can’t cope with the weight of a helicopter. However, in a real emergency, it is possible to air lift a very ill person from a ship onto an aircraft hovering above the ship. Obviously, this is fraught with danger and would be an option of last resort.
In my twelve years, I can only remember one helicopter evacuation (or ‘helivac’ as we call them). The ship’s captain was very worried about the helicopter crashing into the ship so we had to close all the balconies and move everyone inside. It also led to one of my favourite complaints of all time “it was extremely disrespectful of you to schedule the helicopter during our dinner time”. These are so rare because if it is close to land, the ship will sail back to port, if it is too far from land, the helicopter can’t get there. Let’s not think too much about the cost…
But what if the worst happens? Do we have a mortuary? The answer to this frequently asked question is yes. There is a unlabelled door on the main crew throughfare that will hold a small number of deceased people. On the majority of vessels that I sailed on, it took three. The old joke was, if everyone was offered free ice cream, we must be looking for a space for person four. However, this simply doesn’t happen.
It is totally normal for gossip to go round that 2 or 8 or 27 or 7531 people have passed away in the three hours since we left port but it is incredibly unusual for anyone to meet their maker at sea. An interesting point to note is that the body of the deceased is given to the next port we visit. Depending on where that is, there may be a substantial fee to release it to the family so insurance is very important.
For those of us lucky enough to come from countries with free (or subsidised) healthcare, the prices charged by cruise ship medical centres can come as a major shock. Depending on the voyage, the doctors can take more revenue than the hairdressers or photographers. So here are some tips:
- If you suffer from motion sickness, take tablets before you start vomiting
- Don’t leave your prescription medication at home
- Can it wait? Out of hours calls will double the fee
- Don’t visit the doctor for insect bites, just buy the lotion from the shops
- For goodness sake: GET TRAVEL INSURANCE