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People Die Jul 25

One of the sad facts of life is people die. People die on land, and people die on cruise ships.

People get sick on land, and people get sick on cruise ships. People get sick on land, and recover, and people get sick on cruise ships, and recover.

Those are just simple facts.

When the simple facts are made to appear to be some sort of evil built into the operation of cruise lines by the media it truly works up my dander. Though no doubt well intended, the latest such case I’ve seen is

Let’s take a look at the reality…

For starters, anyone who believes a medical center on a ship is any way similar to a full service hospital in their home town or city should immediately cancel their cruise travel plans. It’s incredibly naive for anyone to think so, and disengenous for anyone to think the cruise lines even suggest they do.

While every ship does have a minimum of one doctor and two nurses on board and on call, the facilities and equipment available to them is, at best, equivalent to a walk in clinic in your home town or city.  They do not have surgical equipment or capability. They’re structured to provide basic care, and have some ability to stabilize the situation for more serious conditions. However, in more serious cases, their only option is to attempt to stabilize the patient, and get them to a land based hospital at the first opportunity. And if that opportunity is, in their view, not going to come in a timely manner, medical evacuation from the ship while at sea is a definite possibility.

I have been on Ȝ+ cruises, and on each and every one of those cruises, there has been some sort of medical emergency. On each of those cruises someone has either been taken from the ship by ambulance in a port of call, or evacuated from the ship by helicopter while at sea, or the ship has diverted from it’s planned itinerary to the nearest port of call… all because someone needed urgent care.

No question; these incidents are traumatic to the ill passengers, and their families and travel partners. They suddenly find themselves in often life threatening situations, isolated in countries where health care, and hospitals are totally different than what they are used to, and can even face language barriers when trying to get themselves or their loved ones appropriate medical care. It is indeed a terrible position to find yourself in!

However, in the case consume advocate Christopher Elliott describes in the article linked above, it seems the doctors at home determined the wellness of the patient could have been improved if they had a heart stent implanted at the hospital (which was not done). If that was in fact the treatment that would give the patient the best chance at a full recovery, it would not have been possible for the ship’s medical staff to do. They simply don’t have the facility or ability to perform such procedures.

The patient would  not have been in any better position if they had remained on the ship under the care of the ship’s doctor.

Any form of travel carries inherent risk. And traveling by cruise ship, where you’re often many miles out to sea from any port (let alone one you know will have exemplary medical care) makes it a higher risk. But one that should be foreseen, with any forethought.

With a common sense view, I cannot see how anyone can attempt to demonize the cruise line’s policies of disembarking passengers in port (by whatever means) if the decision is made that the ill passenger needs more urgent care than can be provided by the on board medical facilities and staff.

When considering a cruise, the most essential thing to purchase is adequate travel insurance! One must be certain to purchase travel insurance which will cover them in the worst case scenarios they can imagine. And you’ll find that full coverage necessary is not all that expensive; especially considering the costs involved if a problem arises. If you choose to ignore the need of travel insurance, you are “self insuring” , leaving you personally responsible for any and all costs if you become ill while on board, and the actions that follow such an event.

I am unsure why anyone thinks it should be the cruise lines assuming responsibility for any medical situation any passenger finds themselves in. With any form of travel, one would never expect the hotels they stay in, or the guides they’ve hired to bear such responsibility.  When traveling anywhere in the world one can easily be faced with a similar situation; where the medical care available is not up to the standards of the medical care which is necessary to handle the particular medical situation you find yourself in.

There is no reason the cruise industry medical teams and facilities should be held to a different standard.

On the flip side, I personally know of many situations, where the care received on the ship, and the patients being disembarked from the ship for treatment, has saved people’s lives.

 One such case occurred recently to one of our CruiseMates message board monitors, while hosting one of our CruiseMates group cruises. Her husband became very ill, and was disembarked in St. Thomas, USVI, and transferred to hospital on the island.  She spoke of the excellent care he received there, and when able, he was transported back to their home in the United States, where he received follow up care. A side note is they had insurance, and because of that the incident did not leave them with enormous costs to cover their treatment and transportation.

On another cruise I met three ladies; a mother and two sisters. On of the sisters had cancer, and had recently completed a series of treatements. It was her wish to go on a cruise, and have her mother and sister accompany her. During the cruise she became ill several times, and the medical staff were able to stabliize her each time, and she continued to cruise, and in talking to them each day, they were enjoying every minute they had together on the ship. Sadly, the last day of the cruise, she succumbed to her illness, and passed away.

The surviving mother and daughter couldn’t speak highly enough of the treatment they and their daughter/sister received on the ship. They were incredibly pleased that they got to spend their last days with their daughter/sister on the ship.

I know the case of a crewmember who was suffering from sever appenditicis. Concerned the appendix would burst, the ship organized a helicopter from the coast guard to meet the ship at the first point in the ocean where the ship and a coast guard helicopter could meet, to evacuate the crew member. The ship made full speed for a full day to reach the meeting point. The US Coast Guard, sent two helicopters, escorted by two fixed wing aircraft (to guard against any incident where a single helicopter might suffer a problem that would not allow it to serve the function necessary).

We watched as the helicopter landed on the deck of the ship, and the  medical team evacuated the sick crewmember. I received an e-mail from the crew member at a later date, saying thanks to these actions taken, she was fully recovered.

I don’t believe these incidents, which I have personal knowledge of, are anecdotal “one of ” situations, and just happenstance that I heard of, or experienced.  I think it’s much more likely that it is very common in situations where it is possible the ill passengers can survive with better treatment, in the majority of cases, they probably do.

In the cases where they do not survive, it’s not that I don’t feel compassion and sympathy for their friends and family. I do. I feel very bad for anyone who has to leave a ship mid-cruise due to accident our illness. I had to leave a ship mid-cruise once, because of a death of a family member. Different; but similar emotions, so I do have some understanding of the feelings.  However, I fail to see how the cruise lines can be held responsible for not being equipped as a critical care center. And I dont think there’s anything in the cruise line literature to suggest they are.

Passengers who assume they can get the equivalent of “full hospital care” on a ship are naive. Media outlets, travel writers, and attorneys who blame them for not being so equipped are simply not using their common sense, or are attempting to drive their own “other” agendas.

For those unfortunate souls who find themselves in these medical emergency evacuation situations, there are also far too many who have “saved some money”, and skipped purchasing adequate travel insurance, it makes already extremely difficult circumstances much, much worse, as they incur the financial burden, on top of the physical and emotional burden.

Some of those people want, and some expect,  the cruise lines to accept the financial responsibility in order to cover their decision not to purchase travel insurance.

If your home burns down, and you didn’t buy insurance for it, you are stuck with the consequences, as sad as they may be. The same is true of the cruise industry.  They shouldn’t be expected to be responsible to cover the neglectful position their passengers take in regard to  passing on buying available insurance. Travellers make that decision; when they do so they are gambling. When things go badly, they’ve very sadly lost their bet.

- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

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