Friday, June 5, 2009

Abandon Ship!

Last night I tossed and turned and could not fall asleep. It may have been my fascination with the words- A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL, PANAMA which spells the same thing forwards and backwards. Or it could be because the seas are becoming rougher and I find myself shifting back and forth in my bed with the rolling of the waves. I have found over the years that this rockin either puts me to sleep, or keeps me up for hours. Argh…. It must have been 3am by the time checked out, and luckily today we were ALLOWED to sleep in. I woke up at 9am and the sea state was even rougher. We must have been taking on a ton of water, because the ship was leaking everywhere, and as I made my way up topside, I saw outside that we were in monsoon conditions. Wow it was raining hard. The deckhands had things under control, and so I figured I’d go partake in an acrobatic spin class taught my roomy LCDR Dave Bacon. Bacon is a microbiologist and a salty guy, the last person I would have suspected to be teaching a spin class on a hospital ship, but he was darn good. Hard charging music and a great sweat to start off the day. Dipping side to side with the waves on a bike on a ship gave it an added degree of difficulty.

After a quick shower and brunch (no bloody marys here) the medical crew assembled in the medical spaces for training. My other roommate Dr. Mike Berretti mentioned the link to pancreatic cancer incidence. Given the fact that Mike is currently smoking a pack a day, and he is applying to a pulmonary fellowship I find very disconcerting and I have made it one of my mission goals to get him to quit.

At 1300 we hear an alarm go off aboard the ship announcing a fire in the forward engine spaces. The medical response team jumps into action with the stretcher, medical kits, and radio. The next sound over the intercom is Abandon Ship, I repeat, Abandon Ship! Followed by six short blasts by the ship’s whistle and a long continuous blast from the horn. It was a mad rush to the door as we scrambled for lifejackets and made our way up to the flight deck and our life raft positions. It was a sea of orange on the flight deck with close to 800 people from all walks of life ready to abandon the COMFORT. Good thing this was only a drill and there was not a real fire. But if there had been, no doubt we would have made it off the ship safely. The orange life jackets had a nice way of making you look pregnant as my friend Dr. Karen Jacobson found out. She held her bun in the oven with pride.

Even aboard the USNS COMFORT, just north of Colombia, in the open seas of the Pacific Ocean- my Navy Medicine recruiting efforts continue. CDR Hartzell and I assembled a group of about 30 pre-professional students, members of Project Hope, and other NGOs for a presentation on the Navy Health Profession Scholarship Program. Again I was struck by the intelligence of these young UCSD students and their unending amount of questions. It was fascinating on two levels to talk with students who study right by where my condo is in La Jolla, and also to describe Navy Medicine to them and have them actually onboard and experiencing a Navy humanitarian mission. The Navy Health Professions Scholarship is an incredible deal which pays for ones medical or dental school in return for the commitment to serve in the Navy as a health care provider for the equivalent number of years. It is the best decision I have ever made, allowing me to achieve a professional medical education, travel and adventure, the opportunity to work with outstanding selfless people, and most importantly to wear the Navy uniform and serve my country proudly. I find that when giving this talk, and especially when taking questions, there are two types of people- those that are service minded believing in sacrifice and teamwork for the common good, and those that are selfish and see the world through a “ME” lens constantly asking the question how will this affect ME?

The answer. We don’t want the latter. Enough said. Go NAVY!

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