October 20, 2017

Day 16 – The Perfect Storm

Monday October 16 – Arrival in Saint John, New Brunswick. During the night we have 10 foot seas. I barely feel any motion in my cabin, but later I will hear other passengers talking about how bad the ship was rocking during the night. Face it, I am used to it, others are not.

When I awaken, I'm winning, my cold is losing. There is a little swelling in my right hand and lower lip. I have had this angioedema occur several times in the past 4 years. I feel pretty well, at least well enough to venture out, but I will wait until after lunch to make a final decision. My tour is in the afternoon. The weather is good, cool but no rain. My usual bowl of cereal for breakfast.

We arrive about 10:00 and passengers head off the ship in large groups for various tours, mine will be one of the last of the day. I find a chair on deck 5 and check my email. At nearly every port we have had very good local cell service.

About noon I head to get a bite to eat, nothing looks appetizing, I grab a slice of Pizza and an Iced Tea. One bite but it doesn't taste like pizza, but I don't know what. I take a few sips of tea and head back to the cabin.

I suddenly realize that I am out of breath even though I am not exerting myself. I make it to my cabin, 7 decks down and on the opposite end of the ship, but have to stop and rest. I sit in the cabin for a few minutes to gather my senses. This is not my usual self. I'm not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't have issues slowly walking along the corridors of cruise ships large or small, and this is a small ship by comparison.

Just run down from the cold? Maybe, but I felt pretty good earlier in the day, but that's the way colds work, you are usually at your best early in the day and the cold takes over as time goes on.

Make a prudent decision, do I go or skip the train ride and shore excursion. Actually I looked up some reviews for it on the Internet last night, and many reviews were pretty negative. Disappointing, but I'm not missing a lot. It is not like I haven't ridden an excursion train before.

I sit in the cabin for a bit and my shortness of breath does not improve. There is only one option, see the ships doctor. I check and the office doesn't open for 3 hours. Waiting would be procrastination, not a smart decision. Time to call.

The phone system has a dedicated button for medical. The phone rings and rings, no answer, not surprised, the office is closed. Who sits in a closed office?

I try the front desk button. Even with most passengers off the ship, there is always someone at the front desk or the back office to answer the phone. Same response, no answer.

Another button is just labeled emergency. In my judgment this would be the button to use if there were a fire, or someone fell overboard. It is answered within several rings. It obviously goes directly to a manned command center somewhere on the ship. Actually I think it is between the elevator shafts on deck 2. I explain that I have shortness of breath and that I am in my cabin and would like to see the Doctor.

Within a minute a security officer arrives quickly followed by other staff with a wheelchair and a nurse. Another minute and I am in the medical facility, one deck below and less than 50 feet down the corridor. My condition has deteriorated as my anxiety goes up. No, I don't panic, but there is the realization that this could be a serious issue, or at least I have triggered the mechanism to handle the most serious of emergencies.

Am I having a heart attack? Was that bite of pizza that didn't appeal to me contaminated with a piece of shellfish? Is what I have been thinking to be a cold not really a cold but something more serious like pneumonia or worse? Every ship has passengers from all corners of the earth, strange and unusual illnesses can circle the globe rapidly. Norovirus? Dreaded on every ship, but quite common in any area with lots of people in close quarters. There are countless possibilities.

The nurse, obviously the leader in the medical department, springs into action, immediately blood is drawn, as my vitals are monitored and an EKG recorded. My oxygen is low, no surprise that fits with my only symptom of shortness of breath. Oxygen is started, and an IV placed in my arm.

Simultaneously a barrage of questions, most are answered by a little yellow laminated card I always carry in my pocket. I have carried this for over 20 years, and is kept updated whenever anything changes. This is the first time I have used it in a real emergency. Allergies, major surgeries, known medical conditions, prescriptions and OTC drugs, emergency contacts, all listed on one little easy to read card.

Armed with the results of the first blood tests and my history I am given several medications. Blood work again, continued monitoring, a constant barrage of radio communications.

The pecking order of the office is soon obvious. The nurse runs the operation, but makes the Doctor feel like he is in charge. She suggests, he says yes. Initial investigation doesn't reveal too much. Slowly the facility fills with other staff members. A decision was made to call local emergency medical staff. I don't remember any participating in that decision, but it is well understood that one of the main goals of the ship medical staff is to transfer any serious problem to someone else if possible. We are tied up to the dock, I am much easier to transfer than the patient last week that risked his life as he was handed over to a Canadian Coast Guard vessel.

I must have my passport to get off the ship. Where is it? I am asked. "In my safe." I respond. They will get it, several radio calls to the man with the secret safe code. They can't get the safe open. I tell them "the code is 9948". So much easier.

Just like in Florida, the Saint John EMT is a combination of Fire Department fire and rescue and an ambulance team. The medical facility is now crowded.

At this point I have already been given numerous injections, I'm sure my pulse is racing a mile a minute, but that would be true just from all the activity. My shortness of breath is really the same as it has been since this all started, not really worse, certainly no better.

They are almost ready to wheel me away, but still no passport, and they suddenly realize I have not given them consent to treat. That detail is taken care of and an envelope arrives with the contents of the safe.

As we leave the medical facility I am given three envelopes. One with my passport and other stuff from the safe and my phone, a second with a copy of all medical records from the ship, and a third with an additional copy of the medical records for me and my bill from the ships Doctor office. I now know what he was doing.

I am wheeled through the bowels of the ship to a forward ramp, I think the one that is being used by the crew today. It goes directly to the pavement. An ambulance is 50 feet away. This time I am the subject of observation for any nearby passengers. I look, but don't recognize any faces. I would have waved, but they have me pretty well strapped in.


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