Sunday, 18 August 2013

My First Sail

4 countries, 3 continents, & 2 hemispheres all in the space of three weeks.  It’s no wonder I can’t figure out which way is up… or which way to look when crossing the road as I dodge the trucks running through the port.  Planes, trains, automobiles, & ships… these past few weeks have contained a little bit of everything. 
Heathrow to Madrid to Tenerife

I stopped over in London for a few nights to catch up with friends.  After a busy few weeks preparing to leave Australia, it was nice to finally stop & pause once I got to London.  Good food, good coffee, good friends, & good conversation… it was a great few days.  The highlight was having the opportunity to see Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre…  such a stunning performance!

Then onto Tenerife, Spain where the Africa Mercy was docked.  The ship spent the summer in shipyard, where a lot of work & upgrades had been done.  The hospital has a shiny new floor, there is a new PACU (recovery), a new ward, & a new CT scanner (just to mention a couple things).  I’m sure they did lots of technical engine stuff too, & I know the chef is very happy with his fancy new coolers!!  We also have new TV’s in midships, & a few new Toyota Land Cruisers.  After a couple days in Tenerife stocking up on essential items, getting re-acquainted with the ship, & meeting both old & new friends, we (all 312 crew on board) set sail for Congo. 

My friend Hannah & I

Docked in Tenerife

Bon Voyage

First things first… pack an “at sea emergency bag”.  What on earth goes in there you might wonder?  Considering this was my first sail, I wasn’t entirely sure.  But, taking the whole “at sea emergency bag” thing very seriously, I carefully selected essential items that I would need in the unfortunate event that I had to abandon ship.  Here’s what went in my pack: thermal top, t-shirt, sweater, undies (don’t ask me how I was going to change my undies), hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, travel towel, small blanket, head lamp, 1L of water, hair ties, bobby pins, x2 pieces of rope, x6 granola bars, & gum.  I think that was it… it had to be small.

This field service (& during the sail) one of my roles is to be on the EMT (Emergency Medical Team).  The EMT includes one anaesthetist, one cardiologist, three ICU nurses, three emergency nurses, & three stretcher-bearers.  After our practice drills during the sail, I must say, we have a pretty stellar team!!  (I kept my “at sea” bag with the emergency gear… you know, just in case).

This is a drill, this is a drill, this is a drill!

My main job during the sail (hospital staff are re-assigned to other departments) was to work in the dining room, serving the meals to the rest of the crew.  It’s been fun working in a different department & seeing another aspect of ship life.  & with the ship swaying from side to side, we had a few interesting moments.  Negotiating trolleys on wheels stacked with pans of hot food while the ground under your feet moves… tricky!!  One morning we were swaying quite a bit, & the industrial size toaster slide right off the counter & flipped as it fell onto the floor.  Flames quickly ensued, but I was on the wrong side of the counter, so all I could do was shout FIRE while one of my colleagues proceeded to unplug everything, not knowing which was the toaster plug!  Drama drama drama.  We quickly flipped the toaster right side up & the flames stopped.  Crisis averted!!  Just another morning in the dining room during the sail… no big deal.  Taking the rubbish out when you’re on a sail is another interesting job.  First, you need to find three friends to help you.  Then you need to call the bridge & let them know how many bags you have (food waste only… don’t go green peace on me).  Then you go up to the bridge on the Port side & tip all the food scraps over board.  Who knew throwing food scraps into the ocean was fun?

Clearly taking my dining room job very seriously...

One of the best things about sailing (now that I’m such an expert) is trying to spot all the amazing wildlife.  Or at least it would have been the best thing, had I seen anything.  If spotting wildlife was the winter Olympics, then I was definitely representing Australia.  Seriously.  There was a whale sighting 20 minutes after we set sail from Tenerife… I saw nothing.  The next day someone spotted a sea turtle… I saw nothing (I didn’t even see the sad sea turtle that was stuck in plastic).  Later that same day it was announced from the bridge that there were dolphins at the bow, so I raced up & managed to see them playing in the wave at the front of the ship!!  More whale sightings… I still didn’t see them.  I didn’t even see the flying fish!

Arguably the most significant event on the sail would be crossing the Equator at the Prime Meridian.  It’s a rare line crossing to achieve because it’s not a normal route for ships, but it just happened to be on our way to Congo.  When you sail over this particular spot (0 degrees latitude & 0 degrees longitude) you become a Royal Diamond Shellback!  Apparently we were meant to kiss the fish, but there was no way I was puckering up for that smelly thing. 

Gimme a kiss
As you can imagine, there was plenty of downtime during the sail & I relished the opportunity to strap my hammock up on deck 7.  We attempted to workout to exercise video’s… & I say attempted because I don’t have very good balance generally, so with the ship swaying it was more funny than a workout.  But points for trying right.  We watched lots of movies, including one called Poseidon.  What else do you watch when sailing across the Atlantic except a movie about a cruise ship that sunk in the Atlantic?!  Stupid or hilarious, I’ll let you be the judge.

After twelve or so days on the ocean, & 5800 km later, we sailed into Pointe Noire, Congo on Friday, September 9th.  

This past week we have been bleaching & setting up the wards, getting deck 3 looking like a hospital again.  It's easy to tell who the nurses are, because we all smell like bleach!  You never know what your job might entail on Mercy Ships.

The patient selection day (formerly knows as screening day) will be held on Wednesday, August 28th.  This is the single biggest day of the whole field service, as we assess thousands of potential patient’s for surgery.  The admissions & out-patient tents are up, dental & eye sights are being prepared, theatres are being scrubbed, & the selection sight scoped out.  Every department is busy preparing to open the hospital, & surgeries will start in just two weeks. 

Local posters advertising Mercy Ships
In the midst of all the work, we've managed to find some time to start exploring our new home… checking out the local markets, restaurants, & beaches.  Not a bad location this Congo.  

I'm in good company when it comes to loving good coffee & granola.  I have some fellow breakfast snobs here, so we've been brewing coffee, toasting granola, & incubating yoghurt.  I'm a happy girl...


More updates will follow once we’ve done selection day & opened the hospital.

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