Discovering the ship hospital

After nearly two weeks of cruise, Krister, Oden’s doctor, has started appearing on the bridge where I spend most of my time. He finally had some (relatively) spare time –he was busy sorting the medicines before, in preparation for this cruise and the one after us. So I asked him if he could give me a tour of the hospital…

Krister in front of one of the three medicine cabinets

Krister in front of one of the three medicine cabinets

Entering the main drug cabinet

Entering the main drug cabinet

Bear in mind that we are in the Arctic, several days of sailing away from land, hospitals and pharmacies. So the ship sjukavdelning (that’s the official Swedish name) is prepared for anything. The three (!) drug cabinets contain more or less anything you could need, from ibuprofen to ketamin to send you to sleep for surgery, from insulin to the morning-after pill. Krister says that he is regularly teased for that one, but argues that after all, it hardly takes any room to store it, so why not if it can help? We are in a cold environment also, so in the same room you can find all sorts of blankets and heating devices, including this old Norwegian personal heater:

We don’t even know when that was made

We don’t even know when that was made

Talking of old fashioned equipment, meet the dentistry kit! Oden used to be a military ship, and when it became a research vessel in 1991 part of the equipment –including most of the medical one– was given by the Ministry of Defence to Oden. But some of this equipment looks more like a remnant from WWII. In the dark green solid dentistry suitcase, we found old sterile pliers that are very similar to what modern dentists use, but also stuff that were not very obvious. Using the Swedish label and what was written in French on it, we eventually understood that the mysterious tube with no “use by” date contained temporary filling that used to be rubber (don’t worry, Krister has plenty of new ones).

Opening the dentist suitcase was like travelling back in time

Opening the dentist suitcase was like travelling back in time

“Temporary” is a key word for this hospital. This is not a place where you get your injury fixed. As we left several fuel caches on the way north, we can reach Thule by helicopter in about 6h. So if you break something and/or need surgery, Krister will deliver the first aid to you to maintain you in a relatively stable state, then grab several bottles of oxygen and pockets of fluids, his very expensive machine that goes “ping” (25 000€ because it is US Air Force approved!) and jump in the helicopter with you to send you to hospital on land. The only thing that he does not mind mending is a broken finger, and I suspect it is more likely because in real life, he is a hand specialist.

He does moral support as well: if you are turning crazy, you can come in THE chair in his office and cry as much as you need, or call home on his satellite phone. However, don’t expect to be welcome if one day that you are bored you decide to come and talk to him about this slight pain in your shoulder that has been annoying you for 3 years – he is not your regular GP. But he is very friendly, and if you ask politely, you too can visit his hospital (well, if you’re on board with us, that is).

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