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Southern Ocean Hospital


Each day as the yachts race in the Global Challenge, teams will file daily logs via satellite to the web site.

These log entries are designed to be more than simple position and status reports; they are the teams’ way of sharing the excitement and drama as it is seen and felt by those aboard.

Via the Global Challenge’s RSS Feed ATWOS will feature selected daily logs.

The boats left Argentina on November 28th headed for New Zealand. Leg 2 will include rounding Cape Horn.

Today’s log is from Imagine It. Done

Some people have said they find ocean passages dull. They were obviously not sailing on Challenge 40. As we continue to plough our way towards the Chatham Islands that reveal themselves only as a few small specks on our charts, we remain in constant contact with the race office and the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in New Zealand.

We pass on news of John and his progress back to health and they give us the most up-to-date weather reports and discuss possibilities for getting John to hospital as quickly and
comfortably as possible. Given the weather that is slowing our progress (oh the great ironies of sailing that strong winds (from the wrong direction) can actually make the boat go slower) there is an on-going discussion of the possibility of a helicopter being sent out to meet us and then John being airlifted to safety.

Unfortunately the furthest such a vehicle could travel is 200 miles from the Chathams which means we still have a couple of days to go.

In the meantime, John continues to lie prone in his very own hospital wing that has been set up for him on the boat. Before he became ill, John used to reside in a top bunk in one of the 2-man cabins near the mast and whilst this affords privacy it is not the easiest place to get in and out of.

As he started to feel unwell and found the climb into his bunk too difficult, he was relocated to the bottom bunk on the Port side of the aft accommodation. For those of you who have toured the boat on one of the open days you will remember this as being at the bottom of a stack of 3 identical bunks and opposite another pair of bunks. This is somewhere that John could now get in and out of relatively comfortably, can be easily observed by the Doc and his helpers and is close to the chart table to ensure a flow of well-wishers so he doesn’t feel too left out of life on the boat.

Fortunately the medical staff have yet to impose controlled visiting hours so there is a steady stream of visitors who take their seat on the berth to talk to John.

As the days have gone on and John has had to receive more attentive medical care, the whole stack of bunks has been located to create his very own hospital ward. The bunk above is now a nurses’ station come drugs trolley, full of tablets and vials, observation charts and boxes full of medical paraphernalia such as a stethoscope and thermometers.

Hanging from a hook above his head, which used to bear mid-layer jackets and salopettes is a drip that feeds directly to the back of John’s hand. Whilst I’m not sure whether today’s fluid comes from Team Save the Children or Samsung, it is certainly well travelled and looks only slightly out of place opposite the thermal layers hung on identical hooks at the other end of the bed.

One thing that is notable from the Masters Ward compared with your standard hospital set-up is the absence of electronic diagnostic and monitoring equipment. There are no flashing lights and no beeps. All the work must be done manually and as John says himself this is a massive credit to the skills and dedication of Doctor David: “he has only his brain and his fingers to help him diagnose” and he is doing a fine job of using both.

In John’s words, he has a team of “superstars” looking after him. There is the Doc who has impressed everybody with his tireless work to try and diagnose the problems, treat the symptoms and ensure that John receives the best possible medical care. His patience and level-headedness has never cracked despite the far-from-ideal conditions he is working in.

Then there is “nursey-nurse” Dee who is always there to aid the doctor and provide an extra pair of hands, as well as the trademark humour, to any situation.

Last but not least there is Gary, our fireman, who has taken responsibility for some of John’s care so that the doc can get some rest. He is at John’s beck and call for dispensing tablets at the appropriate times and ensuring John is comfortable and has everything he needs. He does this with meticulous care and attention to detail and it is humbling to watch as these people rise above their normal roles on the boat and work around the clock to ensure John has everything possible to keep him comfortable.

In fact the only thing that we haven’t allowed John so far is a bell to ring for attention. Normally this doesn’t pose a problem as there are enough people coming and going to hear him call for help and Gary and the Doc share the bunk opposite John’s – how many other patients get to have their own live-in medical carer within grabbing distance?

Occasionally John is left alone to sleep and rest while the scratch medical team are refuelling or even making the odd foray onto deck to remind themselves what the outside
world looks like and then it is up to John’s ingenuity to capture peoples’ attention. I think we got the message the other day as Sian was sat at the chart table and an empty water bottle came crashing to a halt by her feet – our patient was thirsty!

It may not be the most high-tech hospital we have seen but it surely provides some of the most exclusive and personalised care available in the world.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 31st, 2004 at 7:36 am and is filed under Main Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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