Nobody likes getting sick, especially not while on vacation in a remote location, far from their own couch and doctor.
Beyond mal de mer, hangover or a common cold, a guest’s sudden illness is nothing to take lightly. No guest will be happy about spending his or her holiday under the weather. The best-case scenario involves the guest marching up to the captain to ask for a doctor.
Chances are, however, the guest will keep his or her situation quiet at first, not wanting to be a drag on the rest of the party. Stewardess Parker knew the 16-year-old guest was getting progressively sicker, not because he sat in a chair half asleep all afternoon while his friends played video games around him, but by what she had to clean up in his cabin. “I don’t want to gross you out,” she says as she wrinkles her nose up, “but he was coughing up some ugly stuff.” Luckily, they were in the British Virgin Islands and only needed to detour to Road Town, Tortola for a doctor. The whole visit took less than an hour. He was diagnosed with strep throat and was better by the next morning.
Too often, guests will downplay how bad they truly feel. This allows their situation to worsen, and if the illness is communicable, the guest exposes everyone else on the vessel to their malady (especially crew, who work long hours and get little sleep). Capt. Stephen warns that dealing with this kind of sick guest is very tricky. He relies on reports from the stews, who unfortunately are on the front line, cleaning heads and cabins and looking after guests.
“If the boss or principal charterer isn’t fully aware [of sick guest], I’ll pull them aside and fill them in,” says Capt. Stephen. “That is usually enough to warrant a quick change of plans and a trip ashore.”
Stephen also cautions crew to stand back. “I don’t care if my chef used to be an emergency room nurse; I won’t let her touch a guest, even to put a bandage on.” There is too much to know about the patient between past medical history, any medication s/he is on and what s/he may have been exposed to. Liability, he admits, is the better part of this resolution. He likes to remind his crew: “Don’t be a hero, be professional.”
The first place to turn should be your boat’s medical service. They can direct you to the nearest doctor or hospital. You also can rely on the ship’s management company, local agent, possibly even a contact from customs or the police. In the event that you are in a very remote location, your medical service will have a doctor on call via Sat phone. Crew will have to act as a liaison between doctor and patient.
While this whirlwind of activity is spinning around the sick guest, don’t forsake your other guests. Maintain your regular level of service to them. Most people are gracious, but there is a possibility some guests may become resentful due to a change in plans, itinerary or even cabin arrangements. Try to keep everything as normal as possible.
And as for the crew…take plenty of vitamin C.