Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 17 Appreciation for a drunken sailor

Today we are on the open waters. I have been very careful not to say out loud..."I've not been seasick." Having only been on one other ship and being far more miserable than I have been on the USNS Comfort. I still didn't want to jinx myself. I came fully loaded with prescribed medications, however a side effect of taking them is "double vision". I'm not sure that would improve my seasickness so I have so far avoided taking anything.
At this point you should know that I'm pretty sold on the fact that Pepsi can cure anything. If you've ever watched "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" you will remember the father used windex as a cureall. YOu could soak in it, spray it on etc. I'm nearly as fanatical with pepsi. My husband will claim that I don't really drink it, I'm just soothed when the pop-top is pulled and I hear the air escape.
So as part of our exercises today, we drop a big ol' target in the ocean for all the men and women who carry the big guns around the ship to shoot at. And evidently in order to make it more sporting we drive the ship in a circle around it.
This is Thompson, he's just posing near the gun holder, but he looks pretty cool. So about those circles we are doing in the open sea. I tolerate the first one. I start to see stars with the second one and by the third when we are hitting our own wake I have started to catalog what I have had for breakfast and how it is going to look on my shoes. During this time in the PACU, some of my co-workers are sitting in chairs with rollers and using gravity to go from wall to wall. WE are really rocking back and forth on the ocean.
Remember my need for Pepsi for all things that ail me? I have to climb 3 decks up with the ship pitching and rolling. The stairways are narrow and I can reach both hand rails. Ahh, salvation when I make it to the deck and have the Pepsi machine in sight.

At this point there are other servicemen around and I have an audience as I pitch with the floor and start on the far left of this picture but end up on the far right. I didn't want to appear as lame as I felt so I rapidly fed my quarters into the machine by #4. It was false advertising, there is no pepsi in that machine. I am now faced with a huge problem. There is no other beverage that will do, and heaven forbid someone try to make me choke down diet anything. But I'm stuck, people behind me are looking, I need to appear cool. I grab a diet coke, move immediately to machine #3 for my pepsi and scurry back to my berth holding onto the walls.Just my luck I ran into Lorena and passed the diet coke off to her.P.S. I kept my breakfast down.Once I had consumed my pepsi and we started to sail in a linear fashion again I was okay. So in defense of all drunken sailors wherever they may be.... it may not be their fault.

Monday, May 30, 2011

An Officer and a Gentleman

This being Memorial Day, I figured it was only fitting that I give a BIG shout out to all my friends still at sea and everyone else I've ever known that has endured the rigors of military life and shouldered the burden of protecting my country. My father was career military, serving in Korea and Viet Nam and I have always known that freedom does not come free.
These pictures were taken at dawn while out at sea. The navy nurses all wore their "white" uniforms. THey only came out for special occasions like ambassador tours etc. And ever since the uniform was worn by Richard Gere, there is just something kind of warm and dreamy about them, don't you think? These are my fellow nurses and I think they look hot. Sorry ladies the one in the middle and on the right are already taken, but the one on the left is single. Should I hook you up?

The military nursing staff and the volunteer nursing staff. Remember this was an exercise in seeing how well we could come together and serve as one body. I may have to say it myself, but we really rocked!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 15; Man overboard....this is not a drill.

As promised a couple more pictures from the Panama Canal....
This is the "Bridge of the Americas". It was built in 1962. It is between Lake Gatun and the Pedro Miguel Lock. It is a steel tuss cantilever bridge with a tied arch suspended span.

This is the Centenial Bridge. It is 9 miles north of the Bridge of the Americas. It cosses the Gaillard cut which opens into the Pacific Ocean. It opened in 2004.

Now onto what actually happened on Day 15. We are enroute to Peru in the Pacific Ocean. As a mass we are not beating any land speed records but we are in motion. It's been a typical day aboard ship. Mustering at 07:15 (since were not in port) Dinner for the crew is called out 3 times. Even taps has played, it's after 10 p.m. I have just returned from the shower, I'm wearing yoga pants, a long sleeve t-shirt (also know as pajamas, but just work with me here.) and flipflops, when outside our room the alarm begins to ring.

We had all been expecting a drill, because drills are not held while patients are on the ship, and in between ports there are no patients, well except for the serviceman that came aboard to have his appendix removed. But it's after 10 p.m., so being confused I open my door and catch a service person going by. I ask her, "what does that alarm mean?" Her response, "I don't know, but put your shoes on." No sooner had I laced my shoes when over the loud speaker is heard. "Man overboard, man overboard,....This is not a drill. This is not a drill." Instant activity. In swoops my roommate "Buffy". She is frantically trying to open her locker for her long sleeve shirt and her hat. Very much concerned about being properly dressed. And very confused about what to do. She is upset because she doesn't know what lifeboat to go too. No worries, this is not abandon ship, this is man overboard. Go to where you muster.

This is what it looks like where I muster. I can find no fault with the Navy's system to treat "man overboard". Even though we are cruising along in the ocean, the person that alerted the alarm is still standing at his post with eyes on the subject in the water. Others have joined him to keep "eyes on" and a small boat has been launched over the side, headed back for rescue. All of this is a mute point, within 20 minutes the crew aboard the USNS Comfort has all been accounted for. The man overboard appears to have been laundry or trash that escaped. So I geuss the lesson I learned is ....when you hear an alarm get your shoes on and don't be afraid to muster with wet hair in your pajamas. You've already done it, so it's nothing new.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 14; The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is one of the seven wonders of the world. It saves 8,000 miles in a trip around South America. It was completed in 1914. There are six locks in each direction. Each sailing vessel must rise 85 feet from sea level during the course of the canal to float across Lake Gatun and then exit through other locks. No pumps are used at the Panama Canal. Water moves by gravity alone.
The chambers of the locks are 110 ft. wide and 1050 ft. long. Sometimes it appeared to be a tight squeeze.

The Panama Canal is 48-50 miles in length with a depth of 30-60 feet. 15,000 vessels travel through the canal a year. It is considered neutral, and all vessels can pass even in times of war. A tug boat is used to position the mammoth sized ships into the lanes.

An expansion was started in 2007 to expand the Panama canal so that 30,000 per year can travel through. In many areas we could see them dredging for the expansion.  There is a fee associated with using the canal. The highest fee ever paid was by a Disney cruise line vessel @ $331,000.00 and the smallest fee was paid in 1928. The cost was $.28 for an individual that swam through the locks. Our bill for the trip was $258,933.74. This paid all our fees for mules, tugboats etc.

There is something magical in watching the water levels adjust and the gates opening. The most inspiring thing is that in 1880 someone thought it could happen. It's an engineering wonder that I can't begin to wrap my brain around. So, I guess I'll go eat more chocolate.  More later about the 2 bridges that span the Panama Canal. Leave me a comment and have a great day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 13; Steele Beach Picnic

A magical thing happened this day. I can not stress enough the number of rules you have in the Navy. Immediately following "muster" we read the POD (plan of the day). For this one day we were allowed to wear appropriate, conservative PT (physical training) gear on the flight deck. It was stressed multiple times that all male personnel had to wear a shirt. I guess for females, this is optional.
Here we are on the flight deck out of uniform. No blue shirts and no khaki pants. This night we will park outside the first locks of the Panama Canal. After seeing so little traffic on the ocean, we will anchor in a virtual parking lot of ships awaiting transfer.

Fun was had by all. Well with the exception of 2. The flight deck temperature was 114 degrees. We had 2 heat related injuries. The first was 2nd degree burns to feet. The person wearing those feet, wasn't wearing shoes, only socks. The other injury involved one of the "sumo wrestler's" fainting from the heat, losing her helmet and bumping her head. Tomorrow we enter the Panama Canal.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 12; The "Miss"-adventures on the MALE deck....

All puns intended. In order to write the following post it is important to set the stage. First off, all the names have been changed to alias's although Buffy, Helen and Holly know who they are. As long as they continue to make payments I will continue to protect their identities.
   THe first thing you should know is that seriously every passageway on the ship resembles every other passageway. The only significant difference between the male deck and the female deck is that the female deck is one deck below the male deck, throughout the entire ship. THis will all make sense at the end of the post.
   Initially, it didn't seem fair that I had to climb up or down an extra flight of stairs to get to my berthing. (what we call our current sleeping arrangements) I actually wondered if it was an evil plot thought up by some MAN that thought all the extra stairclimbing would make us all look tighter in the jeans.

Why they included "female" in the description of their door may have been a freudian slip on their part? So Buffy gets off the stairwell on the wrong floor and enters the "male" deck. She is met by a man with a large sack blocking her way. He says "male deck" but what she hears is "mail deck" and she believes he is on the female deck delivering mail, even though that happens in the post office. She nods and tries to go around him, he blocks her advance and tells her more loudly this time, "Male Deck" she is still hearing impaired and only hears "Mail". THis happens 3 times before the light goes on over her head, she turns beat red and makes fast work of fleeing off the floor.
Holly not only entered the male deck but she happily did her recycling outside the bathroom stalls. I'm not kidding we sorted everything. Metal, paper, plastic. It was so stressful to determine where the empty "pringles" can went with it's metal bottom, paper sides and plastic lid that we usually unloaded them off the ship. SHe then merrily wanders down the hall to her berthing, only to open the door and see Carl sitting in her room. Ooops one of them is on the wrong deck. In case, that wasn't bad enough she passes someone she knows from church as she is fleeing. He's only wearing a towel.

AS you can see the doors all look alike. I mean really can't we paint them a different color? But I saved the best story for last. Helen was coming back from shore and she really really really needed to use the facilities. So she made a bee-line down the stairway, opened the door and wandered into the bathroom. She made quick work of relieving herself, washed her hands and exited into the passageway only to be shocked by bumping into a hairy chested man wearing nothing but a smile and a towel. SHe said, "one of us must be on the wrong deck." His only reply "yes, ma'am". It was then that she remembered being puzzeled by the urinals in the bathroom. She couldn't remember them being there before. Helen's biggest concern throughout the rest of our sea-faring journey was that she couldn't recognize the man with his clothes on so she could apologize. In comforting her I told her it was okay because he wouldn't recognize her either, but he would remember her blue shirt. At this point I should mention that we all wear blue shirts, we all look alike. That means it's just as likely that the hairy chested man thinks that I visited the male deck. So I asked Helen if she would quickly remove her blue shirt if she ever found herself on the male deck again. Yeah, I know that could probably backfire too. ;)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My 10 "Don'ts of Summer"

I interrupt my blogging on my adventures aboard the USNS Comfort to participate in the weekly writing prompts provided by http://www.mamakatslosinit.com/ . Even though most of us have lost faith that summer will actually come this year... I am listing my Ten Summer Don'ts.
    DON'T stress over a swimsuit. Really, were all insecure about exposing all that untanned skin. So let's make a pact... we'll leave the suimsuits that should only be worn by a super model to the super models. Shop smart and buy the swimsuit with enough reinforcements to suck you in an inch or 2. ( More than that and it starts to seep out the openings and cause you to resemble a sausage casing.)
    DON'T go outside without checking things in a full length mirror. And practice your walking away so when you are in public it resembles a "swing" and not a "waddle".
   DON'T forget the sunscreen. Wrinkles only look good on a raisin.
   DON'T overeat. There will be more potato salad and chocolate brownies next week too. Practice moderation and pace yourself.
   DON'T overplan. Some of summer's most delightful events just happen. Be open to staying in the moment and making a memory.
   DON'T overspend. This a don't for the rest of the year too. Debt is not pretty and it's never fun to take months and months to pay something off.
   DON'T avoid adventure. Do the thing you think you can not do. It's the thing that will make the memory. Eleanor Roosevelt said, " Boring women rarely make history." So make some history of your own.
   DON'T expect every family event to resemble a hallmark commercial. Does your family usually behave as if they love each other every moment of every day? Then why would you expect them to while they are hot and sweaty and wearing sand in tiny dark crevices? Small don't here. Don't set yourself up for failure.
   DON'T mow the lawn in flip flops. If you love all ten of your toes then cover them up. Don't make me get out the photographs.
   DON'T cry when laughing is so much more fun. You know you will laugh about it in 10 years, so take the years off your life and laugh about it now. Life really is about being enjoyed.

Day 11; Securing to leave Jamaica....

When I first started to working in the PACU I was forever tripping over the "D" rings in the floor. They are these obnoxious rings that are not quite flush with the floor, they are bolted in. They are steadfast, strong and immoveable, they are a falls hazard. They are necessary.
    When preparing to leave the Jamaican harbor, it's important that all things with wheels are secured. Otherwise, expensive equipment can be damaged in transit.It's all in the name of preparation. It's a lot like our lives, we will experiance rough waters, we will have bumpy rides but if we are prepared we can weather the storm. This is Navy for weathering the storm.

That's not all we did on day 11. There is kind of an excitement in the air. We have successfully completed the humanitarian aid to one port. We have all learned to work together and find our place. And there are only 12 more stops in this deployment.

   One other thing we did today was of course take pictures. Here I am on the bow with some of my new best friends. I should point out that we are wearing blue shirts in the foreground, but the entire purpose was to get a picture of the protection force in the background. Pretty cool huh? Guys with big guns, there is just something adventurous about that. Anyhow, we were actually more interested in documenting the background.
  And with that we set our course for the Panama Canal. Farewell Jamaica!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 10; How we transfered patients on and off the ship...

This is my home at sea. It is the USNS Comfort. It is a non-commissioned ship owned by the US Navy and crewed by civilians. She was origianlly an oil tanker named the S.S. Rose City.They literally carved out the tank and dropped a hospital inside.She has a total patient capacity of 1000 beds and 12 operating rooms. In addition she houses 2 oxygen producing plants and 4 distilling plants that make drinking water from sea water (300,000 gallons a day). She also has a flight deck that can handle the world's largest military helicopters.
    I had heard many rumors before joining the Comfort about how I would get on and off the ship. They included but were not limited to jumping into a life raft and being dropped (lowered quickly) over the side, being helicoptered on and off as well as other nightmare inducing transfers for someone who is a little terrified of large bodies of water. I should now confess I sometimes use water wings in the tub. I'm happy to report that all the transfers I made to and from the ship were far more civilized. We took this boat to this lower opening and climbed a wheelchair accessible ramp inside.

And the patients did the same. Then in reverse order they would be returned to shore.This is truly an exercise in everyone doing their small part to make a BIG thing happen. I'm greatful to have been included in this effort.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day9; I'll show you where I worked....

So I'm frequently asked about my working conditions, what I did, what kind of patients we saw etc. I will try to answer a few of these questions in the next paragraphs and pictures.
This is where I worked, if you look real close you can find me. With four rooms operating we often recovered multiple patients at a time. This should also serve as proof that I was not on an extended vacation. The next picture I obviously did not take because I'm in it. However, the patient I am attending to had a bronchospasm during recovery and I'm assisting him to keep his airway open. I'm really partial to open airways because of my respiratory background. A number of my co-workers call this my "super nurse" pose. I'm really just focused on the monitors etc.

Many of the patients we saw in Jamaica were there for cataract surgery. This fine gentleman wanted to know if I was a "married lady." I might add he asked after he had his eyes repaired. I reminded him that he came aboard the ship with a female escort. He told me that all of his friends were ladies. This is him recovering on the ward. No private rooms aboard the ship. During this mission the upper bunks were used for the escorts.

Have you every wondered just what it might take to get you to go to the doctor? I'm sure this woman put health care off for many years. She reported that she had not been able to lay down in bed for over 10 years. This lipoma was successfully removed.

She had become quite clever in styling her hair in and around this lipoma. When we first searched for the "bump" behind her ear, we couldn't find it. After parting her hair it was found. Nobody should wait this long for health care, so if you have insurance, use it! And if you don't, get some! A baseball size lump is not something to just live with. And don't get me started on the 15 pound fibroid we delivered. That's the equivalent of delivering twins. I'm keeping the pictures to myself because they are a little graphic. More tomorrow!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 8; More from Jamaica

This pictures represents my police escort. He lead the way from the dock all the way through town to the sports arena, flashing lights and everything. At one point at a three way stop I'm sure we were headed the wrong way, but in Jamaica they drive on the wrong side of the road so it gets very confusing. I reported to my family that he was riding a vespa, not so it's a honda. Makes you feel really secure, huh?

Riding aboard a bus in Jamaica, allows for a philosophy lesson. These were the stenciled captions on the ceiling. They made me giggle because I can think of people they represent, maybe you can too. (I hope it's not me, I hope it's not me)
And you can't be in Jamaica without paying some kind of homage to Bob Farley, he is a national icon here. His dreadlocks and guitar can be found represented on nearly everything. Towels, magnets, pencils, t-shirts. He is their national treasure.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 7; Into the cage with the Angry Jamaicans....

   First we must establish that this is my blog, so these are my very own (sometimes politically incorrect) experiances in my very own words. This is a shore day for me and I get to help at the clinic at the Sports Arena. The Sports Arena is a large High School sized gymnasium that we part out into various clinic sites: medical, pediatric, dental, opthamology, pharmacy, x-ray, physical therapy etc. You get into the Sports Arena after waiting behind the gate for what I'm sure must seem like forever. You are granted a wrist band that signifies what services you are most interested in, or whatever services are left as the case may be.
  Being 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighing in at @$* lbs. (part of my own 'don't ask- don't tell' policy) I don't consider myself petite at all. In general the Jamaicans that I met dwarf me. In general I found them to be tall, sizeable people and their culture has no personal boundary issues, meaning if they wanted to talk to me, they towered over me and touched me. 2 things I found a little disconcerting.
  So I was requested to assist with crowd control. What this really meant was I went into the cage with the "Angry Jamaicans". In their defense, when I reported this story to my family they asked..."what did you do to make them mad?" They weren't really mad, it just seemed that way. They were out in the hot sun, frustrated at the large crowds and they just wanted to get through the gate. I was between them and the gate.
  I had promised my family that anytime I was on-shore I would be next to the guy with the biggest gun. Meaning I would always have someone watching my back and my safety. Well inside the cage, it happened to be a big Jamaican. For just one moment I felt the trepidation that I'm sure Daniel felt when he first saw the den of Lions. Prayers for my safety were answered that day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 6; A visit to the Comfort INN and beyond...

    If you get selected for surgery aboard the USNS Comfort you board the ship the day before and spend the night in the Comfort Inn. It's a luxurious ward of bunk beds (I'm not kidding here) where you and one escort can come. Here are some pictures from one evening when we were singing and dancing with the patients.
   It was fun to meet the patients the night before their surgeries so that I could be a familiar face in the PACU when they woke up. This particular night I met a young man of 14 who was a little embarrassed about his hernia surgery the next day. It turns out what he really wanted was to see a helicopter. I had my camera around my neck and being digital I could show him a picture I took on the flight deck earlier in the day.
  Our conversation was overheard by one of the helicopter crew and the next thing I know we have all the Jamaican patients and their escorts on the flight deck crawling in the helicopter. It was definately one of those get forgiveness later kind of events. Nothing beats a smile though, so it was worth it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 5; Experiancing MRE's

     Anyone that really knows me, knows I'm not a fan of packaged foods. I'm a little suspicious of foods that have a longer shelf life than I do. If the ingrediants listed on the side of the package are hard to pronounce that is a clear indication that it is not food but a science experiment.
    So I find myself in Jamaica at the sports arena, sampling a "MRE" (meals ready to eat). My father was career military so this is not my first exposure to MRE's and in their defense they have improved. I can't recall what meal my father would bring home, but I have a vivid memory of peeling back the pull tab and removing the foil wrapped chocolate bar that was nested inside. It was round to fit in the can and it was almost never melted.
   I was not so fortunate with my MRE selection in Jamaica. I selected a mexican entree and using water and the chemical pack was able to heat my meal. Unfortunately at this point I got a little too much help with the preparation. The packet marked "refried beans" was set aside and the packet marked "enchilada" was squeezed and pummeled until smooth, or at least as smooth as coarse corn crackers and meat paste can be. I think the presentation could be better as well, I mean what is with the camo tan coloring? Never appetizing.
    I was certain I would be put off mexican food for forever after this episode, but I'm happy to report I still like enchiladas and nachos prepared in a kitchen. Check out other distasteful foods at http://www.mamakatslosinit.com/

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 4: Rank and file in the Navy

Day 4: I'm still very much wondering just what did I sign up for? After working all day in the PACU I am absolutely driven to get outside the "skin" of the ship. After all we are in Jamaica, I have a camera and I have a beautiful ship etc. to take amazing pictures of. So, imagine my dissapointment when the weather deck is closed due to "flight ops". Flight ops means the weather deck and the flight deck are closed to unauthorized personnel while they operate the helicopter, so that while they are operating the helicopter all heads and various other body parts remain attached and no accident happens involving the helicopter rotor. I am seriously bummed.
   HEre I should take a moment and mention in addition to not knowing my way around, I can't read rank on someones uniform. I know they are different but after that, I don't play this game very well. One railroad track is a LTJG, seriously they call this a "L","T","J","G" or Leiutenant Junior Grade. Two railroad tracks is for a Leiutenant etc. On the left lapel the insignia represents where they work, most medical people wear an oak leaf. And I might mention that this only applies to Navy. The Army and Air-Force aboard the ship use a different system, thanks guys.
   So I am scurrying around the decks trying to figure out a way to get outside and smell Jamaican air and see Jamaican sites. Sites other than hernia repairs and cataracts. A lone Navy man comes to my aid and is acting as a tour guide to get me out on the stern. He is very kind, and thanks me for my volunteer service aboard the ship. His lapels have some kind of "marigold" flower looking like thing. I'm really lost, I have no idea what that means. From this time forward I will refer to him as "W". ( I'm not really protecting his identity, just mine when you figure out how lame I am.)
   With his aid, I get outside the skin of the ship even though the helicopter is flying. I mention to him multiple times that I don't need to get outside the ship if it's going to cause any trouble. He assures me it's no problem, that no one will get in trouble. He assures me multiple times. Once outside the ship he asks if I can find my way back and when I tell him I can, he leaves. I happily take the pictures you see below, never the wiser as to whom "W" is.
   Each night we have a briefing when in port. We hear from different people about the weather, flight ops, how things are doing at the medical sites. etc. Before each person begins their report they say..."Commodor, shipsmaster, Captain, Captain" addressing the people most in charge of the ship. Just so you know, "W" hangs in that crowd, so if he says I won't get in trouble getting outside the ship, I bet he's right! Language isn't the only thing that is "foreign" aboard the ship. HOO-RAH!