This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.
Thanks for coming back, It’s been about a month since I last wrote, so I’ll do my best to let you know what I have been up to since I last wrote. As with most of my posts, this will probably be about what has happened that I remember or seem to be a once in a lifetime experience
But first, life on deck doing Deck work.
I feel like I have been telling a few people back home the same thing about what Deck work is like; A lot of the same of stuff as usual: A lot of chipping, grinding and painting, with maybe some different tasks to be completed. At the moment, at the early stage of the field service, the different kind of work is Container work. This usually involves one container at a time, but due to customs, we had three containers stuck in country. When they were all released, we suddenly had three containers to empty. Containers became the priority. So I spent a little bit of time on dock ‘supervising’ moving pallets to the container to our own transfer container, which would then be lifted into the cargo, to be unloaded, then moved back onto the dock to be reloaded with pallets. It’s repetitive, but it’s nice to be doing something different once in a while.
I also tell a lot of people on ship that Deck work is pretty much general maintenance, to keep the Ship as strong as it can be. Which I am proud to be doing, to keep the mission going on this ship until the new ship is ready. And I guess, until this ship is done and I guess ‘Too old to continue in service’ and has to be decommissioned. The ship is about as old as Mercy Ships, about 40 years, which in ship years, is pretty dang old. Want to hear the impression our ship makes on neighbouring berthed bulk carrier ships? The crews are amazed by our old mooring deck machinery.
Why have I been sick?
The truth is, I don’t know. Pretty ironic for a hospital ship, but things go around. I think I got what everyone else has been getting. At least that is what the crew clinic said. The story begins on one Wednesday morning I had Monday off (though I was working elsewhere) and Tuesday off, because I was on Night Patrol for a week. I started to notice that it was a bit painful to swallow, but I went about my morning. I was doing a bit of Fireman duty for Paulo, our current Firefighting Equipment officer from Portugal. I was doing the routine inspection of the Fire extinguishers around Decks 2 and the Engine Room. I had been doing this stuff in the engine room months ago, but it’s nice to have a bit of a change of work scenery. I started, went for break and started again.
Until Paulo came down to find me, to let me know about some Engine testing that was going on, which I had to be involved for. When you are on a ship that doesn’t operate like most ships, in that it has a hospital inside and doesn’t move for most of the year, these things have to be done. So, I headed down to the dock. I was used to this operation. Close off the gangway, ensure the patients and other crew don’t get in the way of danger. I was with Kim and Momar (One of our Day Crew from Senegal) after waiting I don’t know how long before the operation to actually start, I headed to the forward of the ship, just to keep an eye on the mooring lines. The whole job went on longer than I expected it too. We took a break, to let the other crew on waiting to go to lunch , and then we resumed for about another half an hour, before we took lunch. I was starting to feel a little bit feverish. I headed to the crew clinic to talk about my initial condition, which was a bit of a sore throat. I received guidance, which was to gargle salt water. which I started to do, before I was quickly called back down to the dock to finish the engine testing job. I didn’t get much better, and I was becoming more and more feverish. And a little dehydrated. and tired. And a little bit nauseous. I confided with Kim, who trying to lift my spirits, took me to the aft end of the ship, to watch the ‘floating power station’ coming into port. I told him “I am probably going to take the rest of the day off. I am really not feeling well. Thankfully, the job finished, and we let the gangway down, and let the crew on. I was thinking about how ill I was feeling, but wanted to get the job done. So we did, I spoke to the Bosun and went back down to the crew clinic, basically saying “I feel 100x worse than I was feeling about an hour ago” so after vitals were taken, I was advised “Yeah, go get rest and don’t go to work tomorrow”. So I did.
I didn’t work the day after that. Or the day after that, not feeling that much better, the weekend came, and after that I had several days trying to work, but feeling. ‘I am not well enough to work’ So, after my mouth was becoming less painful, and a couple tests were taken of my blood and a swab from my tonsils, which turned out to be negative, but suspecting something that is not uncommon for my age group. As I type this now, On the 11th of October, on a sudden day off for a sudden weekend on call, I am feeling so much better, A little bit coldy, and having the occasional nose bleed. But unable to keep bloody tissues for a few days. Why would I do this? I am strangely fascinated by hardened blood, and the brownish colour at the edge of puddles of blood. I don’t know, I am a strange human.
A different line of wok
As I have already mentioned, I decided to work on my day off, but in a different department. Nearly slap-bang in the very thing we do on board. I volunteered to spend a day in Medical Supply. Working with Joe, Eric, Ben and the Medical Supply day crew, Bibe, I got to see what it is that that Medical Supply does on a day to day basis. I was informed by Joe that it could potentially be a lot of standing around. Not much happens unless a container is in. I shadowed Ben, to carry out the daily job of refilling the cabinets in the wards. This involved a check list, paper shopping bags, and going in and out of rolling shelves. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I first saw them in the Doctor Who episode “The Stolen Earth”, When Martha Jones is ordered by UNIT to use some experimental teleportation tech, that may or may not be complete, and the device to activate Nuclear warheads in the Earth’s surface. Series Four had the best Finale episodes.
|Aren’t these cool? Not what we have on the ship,
I just found this on Google.
After refilling cabinets, and lunch, and about half an hour of sitting around whilst Ben updated the system of expiry dates, we went from the cargo hold to the shelving, filling up the shelves of nearly empty stock. Then the day ended. It was really cool to be able to go down there, and see what else goes on around the ship. Particularly because, after spending time helping with Container operations, moving pallets of Medical supply between containers, cranes and elevators, It was interesting to see the other end of the supply chain, and what goes on once the Deck department has moved the pallets to where they go.
Going out, and saying goodbye.
After a long week of Night Patrol, I headed out with my Onboarding group. Well, 95% of the adults of the group. We went to a very nice coastal restaurant, right on the coast. How on the coast? You may be asking, well the waves from the sea were crashing against the rocks, right next to us. It was very scenic, with a very different climate from either end of the restaurant. As we got out of the vehicle, in the car park at the entrance to the restaurant, it was like arriving in Texas all over again, which was fitting, because it was over a week since our ‘journey with Mercy Ships’ began. It was like leaving the airport in Texas to be hit with the ‘wall of heat’. Then, walking through the open-air restaurant, it suddenly became cool, from the cool, coastal breeze. There was some delicious food. What did I get? I got a chicken burger, delicious Fish and chip shop chips, and a crepe with caramel ice cream. I didn’t take a picture, but the ice cream was in the crepe, and the crepe was like a package, held together by a wooden skewer stick. It was all very good food.
|The Lighthouse and the giant statue in the distance.
|The party. But someone is missing
A couple goodbyes were made over the last few days leading up to that evening. The first was Pauli, the Deck Cadet from Finland. He was also a cabin mate, and then Alexander. I have written about him before, he was one of the Able Seamen from Sweden on loan from Stena. He was my bunk mate. we had some good times. Our first moments together was during shipyard, and I was in the galley, receiving project supplies, then Ibrahim brought Alexander to work with me doing that. Because of the extra long pallet, we had to find a way of balancing the pallet on the pallet jack. So I sat on top of the load. It was sad to see him go. A group of us, mostly the deck crew went to the port bar bar minutes up the road. I was hesitant, because it was Friday night, and my last night of Night Patrol, but I enjoyed myself, and got back in plenty of time. I just had a Fanta and a Coke. On the same Saturday, Ian and Sarah had to leave temporarily. I hope that they will be back soon, we miss you guys! . I did wave Ian, Sarah and Alexander off, because I was healthy at that point in time.
(update on 16th October, Ian and Sarah have come back!)
Kim, another one of the Deck Hands, from the Philippines, recent Mercy Ships Academy graduate, and his parents, Ramon and Nina, reached the end of their commitment onboard, so they have sadly gone back home, to the Philippines. It was sad, because Kim was one of the youngest in the Deck Department, so it was easy for us to get along, and we have the same sense of humour. I am actually the youngest. Yes, although I finished High School before Kim, he is a few months older. And so is Flynn. Who is also younger than Kim. Not all bad news, as Kim is coming back in January!
World War Two battles.
So, one day, during my night patrol week, I learned the most interesting thing about Dakar. Well, It’s very interesting to me. During World War Two, a small fleet of Royal Navy warships clashed with the pro-German Vichy French Navy outside the port of Dakar, in an attempt to take Dakar for Allied control. How did that go? It was an embarrassing Allied defeat, and the British and Free French retreated. I was so interested and excited by finding out about this event, I used my Deck Devotion slot to tell the Deck Department this story. Also, Daniel, who I may or may not have mentioned in a blog post before, has come back to work on the ship for a few months! (He was a Bosun onboard a few years ago)
And yet again, I must come to a close. I have no idea if this is shorter than my last post, but I do hope you have enjoyed reading.