Sunday, 8 December 2013

Emergency Surgery at Sea...

The sail back to South Africa started off uneventfully, with Candace and I making the most of our time reading and watching DVDs together. But soon it was apparent that there was a serious issue for one passenger onboard. Karen, a Tristanian now living in Switzerland, was suffering from stomach cramps and nauseau and upon further investigation it was discovered she had acute appendicitis.

The SA Agulhas II increased speed and cut our sail to Cape Town by one day. This was done in the hope that we would be able to get within flying distance of Cape Town soon enough to fly the ill passenger to a hospital on the mainland. But Karen's condition deteriorated and it was decided to do a risky appendectomy at sea. The doctor had performed appendix surgeries before, but needed a team to assist him in the surgery. Passengers with health care knowledge volunteered their services, including a Scottish vet, the returning Gough Team medic, and my wife Candace. The three of them teamed up with the doctor and the ship's navigational officer - who best knew the layout of the Agulhas's hospital - and performed a successful surgery at sea. The ship's surgical unit is pictured here.

Candace had some experience in Zithulele as a scrub nurse for cataract surgery, but as cataract surgery is much different from an appendectomy she served as a "runner" during the surgery, standing by and assisting when needed. She also helped in the following days with looking after Karen and doing round-the-clock shift work as we sailed closer to Cape Town. It was wonderful to see my wife thriving as a nurse again. She was a real blessing onboard that ship! This is the team who undertook the operation.

If Karen had been on one of the smaller fishing boats that sail the same passage, the outcome may have been quite different. But several factors made the surgery such a success: 1). The SA Agulhas II has a very modern, well-equipped (for a ship) surgery. 2) The doctor had skill and experience in appendix surgeries. 3) There were several passengers with medical backgrounds who were able to assist. 4) The ocean was very calm on the day of the surgery - like plate-glass! (As seen in the first photo above.) And 5) God answers prayers!

This is the Agulhas's hospital ward.
Karen is lowered by crane to the waiting ambulance upon arrival in Cape Town.
Karen with the whole surgical team.

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