Magazine article Drug Topics

M.D. Dispensing the Norm on This Cruise Ship

Magazine article Drug Topics

M.D. Dispensing the Norm on This Cruise Ship

Article excerpt

Thousands of people sailed on cruise ships last year, and almost all of those vessels carried nurses, an operating room, enough drugs to supply a small town -- and a physician to dispense them. Pharmacists need not apply

"We just don't have the demand for drugs to justify a pharmacist," explained Ivar Haagaas, medical officer on the Royal Viking Sea. During a 20-day voyage from Australia to Hong Kong by way of Indonesia, Haagaas had fewer than 400 consultations among 800 crew members and passengers. Few passengers, he added, required more than over-the-counter medication.

"There are always accidents among the crew, however," explained the Norwegian physician, a neurologist on a three-month sabbatical from a hospital on the Baltic Sea. "A life of a sailor is not the safest. Passenger problems are more general: sore throats, overeating, and exposure to the tropical heat and humidity. Not surprisingly, intravenous rehydration fluid is the most used item from the pharmacy," Haagaas said.

Dehydration and overindulgence are the routine, but every cruise carries the potential for more serious problems. In the spring of last year, the Sea stopped for a refugee boat about 20 miles off the coast of Vietnam. The battered wooden craft carried more than a dozen adults and one frisky puppy.

"Boat people are not a regular occurrence, I am glad to say," said Haagaas, "but it happens from time to time. This time, they were not suffering from dehydration or the sun. They still had water on board when we stopped," he explained. "Whether they were genuine refugees or just a group of people begging from every passing ship, we will never know."

The Sea's captain assumed the best. He ordered water, fresh fruit, and canned food lowered to the people in the small boat before the big ship sailed on to its next port in Thailand.

Passengers, too, can present problems. Cruise ship passengers tend to be older than the average vacationer. A shipboard comedian, who noted that Royal Viking is among the most expensive cruise lines in the business, quipped that the average age of the passengers is "deceased." In reality, said a company spokesman, most of the people are in their late 60s and beyond.

"With so many passengers," Haagaas conceded, "and so many of them elderly, something always happens. …

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