Thursday, June 4, 2009

Navy Showers


Beep beep beep beep. It’s 5:50 and my cell phone alarm has been going off for about 20 minutes muffled in my locker. I jump out of my rack trying not to fall in the darkness and promptly remove the battery from the phone to shut it up. The phone doesn’t work down here in Panama anyway. Good break from the Crackberry. We’re running low on fresh water aboard so the Captain has called for “Navy showers.” This consists of quick splash to wet up, water off, soap and shampoo up, then quick splash to rinse off. No Hollywood showers the Captain says. Haha. I do the deed and am off to breakfast at 0600. Panamanian fruit and yogurt, with French toast and grits. Not too bad. Mixed with some good conversation with the folks from Anesthesiology the morning is flying by already. At 0730 we gather in Sick Bay for the Medical Department meeting (muster), take roll, and go over the plan for the day. Those of us that just checked on board have some further paperwork to complete, and give our introductions to the crew. Since it is the final day of operations in Panama we will have to wait until Colombia before we start seeing patients. With some spare time I feel the need to get the blood pumping, so lace up my orange shoe laces and hit the gym. It’s well air conditioned and with plenty of cardio equipment. I did some cross training with elliptical, exercise bike, and running on the treadmill. Worked up a good sweat and let my mind wander. Still trying to decide what route to go – Preventive Medicine or Family Medicine. One of my roommates is David Bacon, a Navy microbiologist who spent 4 years studying Malaria and Leishmaniasis in Peru. He is a very frank guy, gruff as they come, and tells me why he loves Navy Medicine- the people, the travel and the benefits you can’t beat anywhere else.

Early afternoon meeting with the PrevMed team. CDR Maleen and LCDR Wells talk to a joint group of us from the Navy and the Public Health Service about what we can expect in Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We will not be pier side for those countries and will have to be taken to land by helicopter or small boat. LCDR Wells is leaving to El Salvador tomorrow to start planning for a preventive medicine project on a small island there offshore. After the meeting I run into a tribe of older Panamanian women dressed in the most ornate and colorful dresses. They are short in stature, very nice, and pleasant to speak Spanish with. They each tell me how many “hijos” (kids) they have and it ranges from 4 to 11! Next stop is the pharmacy to pick up some doxyclycline. Every crew member must take a pill of this medication each day as prophylaxis for potential malaria. I make quick friends with the Pharmacist LT Butaa who agrees to give me the orange pills instead of the blue which are a bit easier on the stomach. We will be getting our uniforms sprayed tomorrow with permethrine- an insect repellent also commonly known as DEET.

Mid afternoon I retreat to my room and being reading Forgotten People, Forgotten Disease by Dr. Peter Hotez. It is an insightful book about how Neglected Tropical Diseases plague millions of people in this world, and the link they have to downfalls of governments, social injustice, poverty and mortality. And we can have a serious impact on this outcome as treating these diseases are extraordinarily cheap. For just 50cents per person per year we can eliminate these neglected diseases through oral medication. Dr. Hotez along with Kari Stoever formed the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease at the Sabin Institute ( a few years ago with help from Bill Clinton and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The impact they are having on global health is remarkable. More on this later…

After dinner my Navy Reservist friends from Hawaii and I took a stroll off the ship where many local Panamanian Indians had set up makeshift stores with trinkets, jewelry, and hand-woven bright colored cloths. I got some postcards, and a nice rosary made out of volcanic rock crystals from Panama. It is HUMID! Sweaty walk back wearing coveralls to the ship in time for the Confirmation Brief. Tonight we heard from the ship’s Navigator about the plan for Panama Canal Transit. The brief had excellent photos and history of the building of the Canal. Wednesday’s crossing is going to be eventful with some stellar photo opportunities.


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