Ship Happens

I was released from isolation yesterday after being confined to my cabin for just over 48 hours. I was hit hard with a gastrointestinal virus commonly referred to by the cruise ship industry as NLV or Norwalk-like Virus. This particular strain of the virus is found in areas where large groups of people are confined to relatively small areas; it is contagious through the air and by contact with surfaces and is characterized by violent episodes of simultaneous vom…well, you get the picture. If guests or crew show symptoms of this virus they are supposed remain in their cabin to avoid spreading the virus and notify the infirmary immediately. A nurse is then dispatched to the cabin.

My 3-hour episode of spontaneous self-combustion ended around 2:30am and the last thing I was in the mood for was a visitor so I passed out for about 5 hours before notifying the crew doctor. The nurse arrived around 8am. A lovely older woman from New York City, she introduced herself by saying, “Hi, I’m Jan…I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances.” “It’s OK,” I quipped, “I’m not dead yet.”

Jan from New York left me with a care package including a liter of Gatorade, Imodium, Purell instant hand-sanitizer, and paperwork detailing the onset of my ‘episode’ to be filed with the CDC. They don’t fool around here.

The truth is our ship is in “Code Red,” which means than more than 2.8% of the ships passengers and crew have reported incidents of gastrointestinal illness. “Code Yellow” indicates that between 1.8 – 2.8% have reported the illness and “Code Green” indicates less than 1% have reported symptoms, which is the norm. There is a specified set of cleaning protocols and precautionary measures associated with each respective color.

Code Red is a nightmare for the crew and not much fun for passengers either. In addition to heightened sanitizing procedures throughout the ship, guests are basically not allowed to touch anything on the ship and put it back where they got it. All games, books, playing cards and sports equipment are removed from the premises. The public areas have to be disinfected several times throughout the day. In the Lido “Buffet” restaurant, self-service comes to a complete halt. The guests are not allowed to serve themselves anything, which requires double the manpower and horribly long hours for food servers. The entertainment staff was asked to pitch in by serving food in the crew cafeteria. I was prepared to don a hairnet and plastic gloves when I too succumbed.

There are worse things than being confined to your cabin during a crisis of this nature. I ordered Jell-O, broth, saltines and ginger ale from the room service menu. It was delivered to me by a bell hop sporting a facemask and surgical gloves. I felt like E.T. When I tried to tip him he looked repulsed by my cootie-ridden dollar bills but accepted them reluctantly. At the end of my quarantine the Chief Housekeeper and two housekeeping staff, masked and coated with latex, came to ‘super-sanitize’ my cabin.

This is serious business. This bug is beyond contagious and is potentially fatal to someone with a compromised immune system. We had next to zero cases onboard until embarkation last week in San Diego, which means newly embarking passengers brought this on onboard. It’s the passengers who contribute to it’s spreading by leaving their cabins when they should be in isolation or not reporting their symptoms at all because they don’t want to miss out on BINGO and whatever else.

This morning I was awakened when the Captain came on the PA to comment on the earthquake that had just erupted in Chile and it’s potential consequences for seafaring vessels. A tsunami is most dangerous to those living along the coastal regions. Captain van Schoonhoven assured everyone that we are too far out to sea to be affected by the occurrence of a tsunami and finished by saying, “I hope dat dis will put your minds to resht. I wish you all a wonderful day at sea and please don’t forget to wash your hands.”


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