Wednesday, 5th May 9.30 PM Aneityum Island, Vanuatu.
I might start this entry like Robert started his last night, by saying that things worked out, well, remarkably well.
During yesterdays voyage, that finished around 1 am this morning, we had an injury amongst the crew. While moving to the rear of the boat, Andy had to suddenly make a grab for a handhold on the “dodger”, the cover for the companionway, when a large wave suddenly hit the boat. In doing so, he pushed one of his fingers into a cross piece of the handhold and felt something break in his hand.
Nice to have a medical team on board. Ian, our resident surgeon, suggested this needed to be X-rayed and assessed. Now, this is not really available when one is anchored off a remote island in Vanuatu. As such, we had a problem. There was however a rumor going round that a P and O liner was due to arrive. And in the morning, there it was. Robert put on his best VHF radio voice, made contact, and requested assistance. Their reply suggested they were happy to help. So, what followed can only be described as truly, truly remarkable. I accompanied Andy, and were met by one of their ferry boats at Mystery Island, which was involved in delivering passengers for the day visit to this small piece of Pacific heaven just off Anietyum. Off to the big boat, where we were greeted by security staff, Alyn, the hotel manager (hope I remember that correctly), given day passes, and taken to the medical department.
This remarkable section of the ship seemed to feature everything one could expect of a hospital. We were attended to by Colin, the senior doctor there who was able to x-ray, bring it up on a big screen, and identify a spiral fracture in one of the bones in his left hand. Of course their range of casting materials included a specific water proof fibre glass material designed specifically for Andy’s situation. We were given a copy of the x-rays on CD, all necessary medical follow up documents, medication, and a new purpose built adjustable arm sling to replace the one Ruth had made after arriving while still feeling very sea sick.
Words cannot express our gratitude towards the staff of P and O Cruises for their exceptional assistance. Having worked in a few hospitals I am left with the impression that the level of health care on board the Pacific Dawn is second to very few hospitals based anywhere on land. And we didn’t have to wait in a waiting room, nor were we asked for any payment in return. Not bad for being anchored off a remote Pacific island. Prior to this the main concern was how to get Andy the assistance required to avoid ongoing surgery etc that may have been required if the situation was left unassessed for the time it would take to wait for a plane to Pt. Vila, and then to Australia.
But wait! there’s more. Following this Colin took us for a tour of the ship, which of course is very impressive, a buffet breakfast, a real coffee at the coffee shop, before returning to Mystery Island and back to Chimere. Now that’s what I call a fortuitous turn of events.
The rest of the day was spent on the island watching the medical teams working with a stream of patients. I wonder how many dentists could imagine extracting teeth, training new staff in the ART method, and doing all the other scratching, assessing, and documenting on a concrete slab with a bit of roof overhang out the front of the public health building. This with a crowd of fascinated children milling around. I suspect he LOVED the attention. Further along the same slab Richard, the main driving force behind the blindness prevention project was attending to a stream of locals. In the midst of this Ruth was spotted attending to a few boys who were sporting some nasty sores on their legs, resulting from “Yaws”, a common infection that results from bacterial ingress into typical scrapes that children always get. This infection becomes a festering sore, that will not heal. The simple cure is an injection of penicillin. This is however not available on the island, as it requires refrigeration at all times until administered.
These situations are documented for follow up at another time. Boxes of new glasses were being opened and dispensed, hats prescribed, tooth brushes handed out, and much more besides.
Andy has now decided to take up a bungalow on terra firma and awaits the arrival of the plane to Pt. Vila on Saturday, and then home to Melbourne.
Tomorrow holds the promise of many more assessments, possibly a walk to an inland waterfall, and my favorite bit, looking for a home for some of the masses of medical equipment and consumables we have on board.
Can’t imagine what surprises could top today.