Sight-seeing in St. John’s—a hospital ER?

St. Clare’s Hospital – a beautiful day in St John’s, Newfoundland

St. John’s (make sure you note the “s”, we were told by a local; St. John is in New Brunswick; St. John’s is in Newfoundland) gave us a new, unexpected experience—a tour of the local emergency room!  My decade-old acid stomach issue gave rise to some gastric bleeding. Terrified that I would bleed to death on the ship during the next two sea days, or the sea days after that, the ship’s doctor insisted I see a GI specialist for some tests before continuing on with the cruise. 

Imagine our fear that we would end our cruise in St. John’s!  After just 5 days!  Of this are adventures made.  I also understand the ship doctor’s fear.  The ship has no blood (except possible willing passenger volunteers), no anesthesist, no CAT scan, no surgery, or sterile equipment for surgery—all the stuff we take for granted.  The ship doctor told of a Hawaii-CA cruise he served on in which a patient was slowly dying of internal hemorrhage with one day of the cruise behind them and two in front.  Too far away for coast guard and helicopters (it looks so easy in the movies!).  Ultimately all 4000 passengers on that cruise had to return to Hawaii and they were on board for 2 extra days, etc etc.  He insisted I be seen by the GI specialist in St. John’s.

Of course, it was Sunday (of course), and the ship was only in port from 8 to 5.  Everyone told us that the ER rooms in Canada were even worse than the ones in the US.  It didn’t seem probable that this could work out well.

We were wrong.  The hospital staff rushed us right into an examining area, and we had seen the ER doctor by 10:00am.  She asked the GI specialist to give up his Sunday activities and show up with his staff to do his evaluation. He took some pictures of my stomach, pronounced me stable and we traveled back to the ship, returning about 2:30pm.  The ship’s doctor and the nurse met us in deep embrace and tears of joy, as did the Concierge who needed to make it legal for us to stay if we needed.  Things we learned:

  • “Disembarkation” is distressingly normal.  Another passenger had been disembarked in Halifax. Given the age and morbidity of the passengers (warfarin and diabetes in particular), we shouldn’t be surprised. The possibility of disembarkation is never a part of those glossy brochures, but it should be part of planning.

There are many places you don’t want to be disembarked.  Honduras was high on the Ship Doc’s list. Greenland could be another. 

  • Before we left, our Resident Care Department provided us each with a 2-page summary of our health history, including medications. Having that with us saved hours of time! Both the ship’s doctor and the hospital wanted the list of medications and the history, and both just copied the summary we provided. Quick and easy! We will try to always have these when traveling!
  • The nurses at the hospital were very amused each time they brought us a payment authorization form: “We never do that in Canada.  No one pays, except in taxes.  We’ll send you the bill; it will arrive in your mail.” Except for that, registration was simple name, address and phone number.  We never even showed a charge card or a passport. What is wrong with our country?  So far behind! 
  • The language in Newfoundland is a derivative of English/Scottish and ? with a lovely brogue and lyrical cadence. The nurses spoke North American English, but readily understood the patients around us who spoke “newfy” We could barely understand the cab drivers.   

Wednesday, a ship leaving Boston with us was hit in the fog by a fishing boat. The cruise ship was bigger and is fine. The Titanic’s graveyard in nearby. Our ship has added a crew of “Iceberg Pilots” to the Bridge. It’s 52 degrees outside, though there is sun filtering through the mist. Life is short and filled with risks. We are glad to be here.

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Betty Warner

Married female, mother of two, grandmother of five. Living in a senior living community, where dinner, house maintenance, and continuing care are part of the contract. Residents in this community are actively engaged in our lifestyle here; I currently help produce Zoom programs, and help edit our webpage. Physically "healthy for your age" despite shortness of breath, two knee replacements, a cardiac murmur, various skin issues and an incipient back problem.

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