What You Should Know About Cruise Ship Medical Facilities – Part 1

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

doctorLet’s pretend you’re right in the middle of sailing the high seas on an exciting cruise vacation. You’re out on the Lido deck, working on your tan and sipping on an unidentified, yet oh so tasty tropical cocktail your server referred to as the “Signature Drink of the Day”. A smile begins to sweep across your face as the rhythmic sounds of Calypso music play in the background. Taking a deep breath, you lay back and close your eyes, letting the cool salty breeze drift you into pure bliss.

But just as quickly as you slipped into relaxation mode, your downtime was rudely interrupted by the realization that you’ve developed a tickle in your throat. You take a big gulp of your drink and chock it up to the cigarette smokers a few feet away from you. But the tickle quickly escalates into a raging sore throat. Your palms begin to itch and you suddenly have trouble breathing. But you’re no stranger to these symptoms. You know exactly what’s happening. As you start to panic, you look down at your drink and it dawns on you – that mystery drink isn’t all that much of a mystery anymore. Gasping for air, you run toward the first cocktail waiter you see and somehow manage to ask him to tell you what’s in the drink. But he doesn’t know, and seeing the urgency in your actions, turns around and asks for the bartender’s help. The clock is ticking.

As the bartender is running through the list of ingredients, you’re worst fears are confirmed – there’s Peanut Rum Crème in the drink….and you are deathly allergic to peanuts. You are going into anaphylactic shock. You brought an EpiPen, but it’s back in your cabin. You weren’t planning on eating anything containing nuts, so why would you bring it to the Lido deck? Who would have ever imagined a cruise ship would serve a drink with peanuts without informing anyone, when it’s one of the world’s most common allergens?

As the allergic reaction intensifies, frightened crew members rush you to the medical facility on board the ship. The doctor gives you a dose of epinephrine right away, but you do not feel relief. Too much time passed. You need serious medical attention right now. Unfortunately, you won’t be getting it.

While a ship’s medical facilities may be equipped to handle minor emergencies, and sometimes, moderate illnesses and injuries, the facilities lack not only the extensive machinery and medications to treat life-threatening situations, but they also lack the man power. If lucky, your ship has a doctor and two nurses who will scramble to figure out why the epinephrine shot isn’t working, then, when you suffer a fatal heart attack because no one was able to suppress the allergic reaction, your death becomes breaking news for about a week. You might hope your death was the catalyst for a tidal wave of change within the cruise industry that would lead to improved onboard medical quarters, but alas, the dust settles on your tragic passing and the cruise industry resumes its typical nonchalant attitude toward a very real and very pressing matter – cruise ship medical facilities need to improve immediately.

Though this was a completely hypothetical situation, similar medical emergencies have transpired in the past, including passenger deaths resulting from allergic reactions. The main reason being the fact that cruise ship medical facilities are nowhere near sufficiently equipped. Though cruise ships these days can hold over 3,000 passengers, an onboard medical unit is hardly more than a glorified pharmacy. It’s still baffling to know that despite the number of passengers transported on large ships and despite the fact that if an emergency strikes in the middle of the ocean, there’s no other recourse for the victim than to hope they can survive until they are evacuated from the ship.

It’s important that all potential cruise passengers become well-aware of the fact that if an emergency does occur, there is a large chance they may not obtain sufficient medical treatment . Our cruise ship accident lawyers will explore the harsh and shocking world of onboard medical facilities in part 2 of this blog.