Achieving medical self-sufficiency is an essential skill for bluewater sailors. The word cruising depicts adventure, relaxation and independence.
However, with this lifestyle, there is a responsibility of learning how to be self-sufficient. This self-sufficiency involves both vessel maintenance and your health maintenance. Even the most well equipped and maintained vessel cannot look after itself without a healthy skipper and crew. You must be prepared to be your own “911” and clinic when cruising.
Even if your plans are only coastal cruising, you still need to be prepared to handle emergencies onboard. Your knowledge and treatment could be the bridge between saving a life … and death. You do not have the luxury of calling a paramedic who will arrive immediately to deal with the emergency. You may be hours or weeks away from land. A medivac may take hours or may not be feasible at all. If you are in one of the third world countries, the medical care and equipment may be questionable or non existent. So … What do you do to take care of your health?
There are certain “tools” that can be used to prepare you for health self-sufficiency. Just as you use tools to prevent and fix equipment failure on your vessel, you can use certain “tools” to prevent and fix an injured or ill body. Here are a few “tools” to work with:
A) Before You Go … preventative measures. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Corny saying? Sure! But very true. Under this “tool” some of the issues include:
* medical and dental checkup
* pre-voyage medical history checklist….know your own health problems and deal with them before you go.
* water and food maintenance…avoid becoming ill or contracting a long term disease eg. hepatitis A from contaminated water or food.
* injury prevention
* medical communications…know the medical hot lines. Know how to medivac.
B) Basic Knowledge of the Body
* review basic anatomy. eg. Where is your spleen?
* learn symptoms and treatments of common illnesses and injuries.
* learn how to treat: environmental issues eg. sea sickness, ciguatera poisoning, burns, wounds, sprains, strains and fractures, pain
* differentiate between minor and serious symptoms with:
– headache…is it a migraine or a stroke? chest pain…is it heart burn or heart attack?
– abdominal pain… is it gas/constipation or appendicitis?
* Know how to: give an injection close a wound using steri strips or a stapler sterilize your own wound cleaning solution and equipment
* learn when you can treat the problem onboard or if you need medical advice by radio or medical assistance on land.
C) Good Medical Reference Library
An illness and some injuries are like jig saw puzzles. There are many pieces of facts that, when put together, will give you the right diagnostic picture. A medical library is an important source of reference from which to build this diagnostic picture. It will also help you communicate more effectively with a doctor onshore when you need advice … especially when you are dealing with drugs. If you are looking for First Aid Courses on the Sunshine Coast visit http://www.firstaidcoursessunshinecoast.net.au
D) Well Stocked Medical Kit
You can’t treat someone effectively without the appropriate drugs and equipment onboard.pills The stocking of a medical kit, especially for an ocean going passage, is an important issue. Be aware that without knowledge or training you can do a great deal of damage with some of the equipment or prescription drugs. Learn the necessary skills to use your kit effectively. If you are uncomfortable with some of the supplies, it still is important to have them onboard. When you are traveling to some of the third world countries, it is safer to have your own supplies such as syringes and antibiotics.
Your needs will depend on your cruising itinerary.
The more isolated or the further you travel from our North American medical style, the more advanced your medical kit and knowledge should be. Ask your self these questions to assess your kit’s needs:
* where and how long will you be cruising?
* how long will you be offshore?
* how many people will be traveling onboard?
* what kinds of medical problems do you and your crew have?
* what medications are being taken
* are there crew members that have some medical training? A wound that requires suturing/stapling can cost you $300 to $400. This includes the suturing, all the wound dressing changes, the drugs used and the removal of sutures.
A particular hand wound (happened to a friend of mine) took 14 days to completely heal and cost $400 to treat. It is important to have enough supplies to fully treat the problem onboard. Most of the serious illnesses and injuries you probably will never see…and that’s good! Remember that some simple conditions do become worse and may become dangerous if not treated quickly and effectively. Prepare before you go and be prepared while cruising. Enjoy you self-sufficiency safely!
By Fernanda Morley