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First Aid, First Hand

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing myself for the 5 day MCA Proficiency in Medical Care (STCW) once known as the Ships Captains Medical.

Having helped set out and put away the array of weird and wonderful kit and equipment, I thought it was about time I got to grips (in more ways than one) with the tools of the trade.

This course was attended by a wide mix of students, ranging from Captains & 1st Officers of cruise liners & LNG Tankers, Ship Security Officers and corporate offshore racing crews, all of which require personnel with this qualification.  

We started by recapping the pre-requisite course (Proficiency in Medical First Aid) with CPR, use of AED’s & recording of case histories. We then continued onto preserving life to a greater extent; should help take a number of days to get to you and your patient, which is a very real scenario when at sea. Heart attack, angina, stroke as well as the more minor general day to day illness such as ear ache & tonsillitis can soon become a frightening nightmare when 500 miles out to sea.

Sue, our Instructor, directed us through the elements of the body from head to toe, not missing out the embarrassing bits & within the first couple of days we were checking our blood pressures, taking case histories as well as having a good look around in each other’s ears and eyes. At this point we decided that we all had some variation of life threatening ailment and should get to A&E immediately, luckily Sue was there to put our active imaginations to rest! We then continued bravely on to how to administer oxygen, control bleeding and manage fractures.

The great thing about this course is the hands on element. With plenty of time to practice and Sue on hand for guidance, I was soon able to administer injections, glue & staple incisions and suture like a Harley Street professional.

It was then onto internal bits and bobs!! Having gone through the organs, Sue suggested taking our own urine sample during a tea break to test it for protein and hydration levels. Some of our more gung ho candidates did so willingly and after testing the sample decided, that under a casual bet, to reabsorb their samples as if it was a tequila shot in a bar. URGH!!! As the rest of us looked on in horror we were thankfully reassured it was indeed a stitch up and they had actually knocked back a harmless sample of energy drink.

The next day, having got to grips with the needles and anaesthetic and what is available in vessels medical stores (coded kit bags), we moved onto catheterisation. As expected this started with lots of school boy/ girl giggling as we each had a male and female silicon replica to work with. Once we got past the amused sniggers, we set to work and quickly realised that this can be an important procedure in giving relief to someone with a critical illness or who is seriously incapacitated and can not only promote recovery but could possibly saved their lives.

As the final day soon came around we moved onto diseases. We discussed both tropical and those passed on between ourselves (and yes this does include those brief encounters perhaps you shouldn’t have had whilst ashore!!) What was interesting is due to modern day travelling, what were almost extinct diseases are now reappearing like a fashion trend you hoped was long gone (shoulder pads anyone!!) The thing to remember is that the drugs store on board can cater for some of these symptoms but nothing beats being personally prepared for the location you’re traveling to.

Having been constantly assessed on all the practical aspects of the course we finished up with a short exam paper to make sure that although we had had a good laugh we had also absorbed the abundance of information. I am happy to say we all passed with flying colours including our highest exam score yet.

Personally I’ve had to stitch and nurse a number of crew injuries in my varied past and happily with some success (!) now though I have a much greater understanding of how much you really can do to make a difference and how when the chips are down the right training really can save lives.

For anyone going to sea, whether in a professional or leisure capacity, I would completely recommend advancing on any first aid training you may already have and if travelling further afield I can highly recommend working up towards your Medical Care.

Hazel Wilson 

Corporate Liaison

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