The voyage – part 21 – the room of doom.

Travel and Photography


There were numerous rumours and tales constantly going round the boat. According to popular legend at least half the passengers had already died by the time we left the Falklands though I could not see any noticeable thinning of the attendees in the dining room. The average age of the passengers was seventy five, (the result of being away from home for fifty five days – people could not take time off work!) and so one would expect an attrition rate. Some of these intrepid travellers were in their nineties! Many had suffered heart attacks and strokes that precluded them from flying yet were gamely heading off into jungles with Zimmer-frames and sticks. You had to admire their pluck and determination. There were macabre tales and jokes circulating regarding the bodies being stored in with the frozen vegetables, or being buried at sea in the dead of night, or the number of cabin upgrades suddenly available.

There certainly were deaths and the nearest estimate was seven – though this was impossible to verify because the ship deigned to release any information on the subject. All we had to go on was rumour and observation. There were three emergency evacuations from the ship off the coast of Brazil. One was a crew member. They were stretchered off into tenders and off to hospital. As far as we could tell one person had succumbed to a bite they had received in Brazil. It had gone septic and killed them. Another head-butted a tram and went into a coma and later died. At a few ports there were ambulances lined up to discretely whisk away the victims.

The dreaded medical room was like a mythical house of horror. It lurked just down the corridor from our room and was the source of a whole series of rumours. The first rumour was that a single trip to the doctor resulted in a bill for at least £300. That resulted in many people putting up with hacking coughs that went on and on, who normally would have visited their GP, but were terrified of visiting the ship’s medical crew. That probably helped spread the disease throughout the ship. The second rumour was that they demanded payment upfront and you had to sign a form before treatment. The third was that some people had bills of £30,000 plus and that the ship was supplementing the cost of the cruise through the medical costs.

Well I don’t think the ship was lining its pocket from the poorly. I think they had merely tendered out to a private company. What we were experiencing was the result of private health care. Being from England, with free medical attention, this seemed incredibly expensive and scary.

Unfortunately we both succumbed to the hacking cough that was making the rounds. We were up all night with involuntary paroxysms of pulmonary irritation. We had sore throats and temperatures. And it went on and on and was threatening to ruin our experience. We ran out of lemsip and paracetamol. We bought cough syrup and medicines from the cities we visited. Nothing shifted it. In desperation Liz decided that she had to go for treatment. I decided that I needed to accompany her. I hadn’t had mine for as long but I was feeling crap.

With great trepidation we headed down the corridor towards the room of doom. After all – we were insured.

We sat in the waiting room expelling air in spluttering bronchiole mucus infested spasms. The white suited receptionist took down our details and checked on her computer, presumably double-checking that we were insured. I passed the time by reading the list of charges. The first thing that stood out was the cost of a consultation. It was £100.

Too late now – we were hooked.

We signed the sheets and one at a time were ushered in.

That genial and effervescent Romanian doctor was astute. He said we both had coughs. He said that they were different though. He took blood to test.

Liz’s cough was a chest infection. It needed treating with antibiotics. She left with a set of pills and some codeine.

My blood results indicated raised leucocyte levels. I had a worse lung infection than Liz. I required a greater degree of treatment.

Once in the system I became quiescent. Who was I to argue with the doctor? Hang the cost? I was too ill to argue. I quietly acquiesced as a cannula was fitted into my arm and antibiotic was dripped into my body. I was connected up to the nebuliser and breathed in the vapour through a mask. I was then given a session of oxygen. This lasted for two hours and was repeated four times over the course of two days.

I admit to finding myself mulling this treatment over as I lay on the bed in the medical centre while the treatment was administered by a competent male nurse. Did I really need a nebuliser and oxygen? Was I that bad that I needed antibiotic through an intravenous drip? I couldn’t help thinking that if I was back home I’d have been lucky to come out with an antibiotic at all. It would probably be a cough syrup, paracetamol and bed rest. Ho hum.

The affable doctor, discovering I was a biologist, came in to show me his incredible photos of insects and spiders. They were spectacular. You could see every hair and spiracle – very sharp and detailed.

Liz’s bill was indeed £310. Mine was a chilling £2,900. Still it worked. We both rallied quickly.

I had a chat with the doctor about the treatment. He assured me that it was necessary. We were both emergencies. Cruising was different to being on land. He pointed out that we were thousands of miles from home and a good distance from the Brazilian shore. If we had worsened and required emergency evacuation the costs would have easily exceeded £30,000.

I suppose he had a point. But it did nothing to dent the passengers fears of medical intervention – the room of doom had a reputation to live down.

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