In his book ROLL THE DICE, PICK A DOC AND HOPE FOR THE BEST, Len Kreisler MD included a chapter about his four years working as a cruise ship doctor for Regent Lines called What Ship, What Cabin, and Doctor Who? This is an excerpt from that chapter.
The nurse and I received an emergency call from the main dining room. As we entered the crowded room we spotted the group we were looking for in a far corner. A very large man lay motionless on the floor while a passenger attempted resuscitation. Observers offered opinions and advice. One very intoxicated female stood by shouting.
“Get up you $*/ *? ^ &!%(#, I’m not flying home by myself.”
It so happened this was the man’s second wife, married to the brother of a well known comedian. The nurse became quite annoyed by the crowd blocking access to the patient. I could see the patient was cyanotic with no signs of life. I advised the nurse to call for a stretcher and a few strong attendants to help us remove the man to the infirmary. The stretcher arrived with four muscular Jamaicans. We quickly loaded and left.
The deceased was in his seventies, but looked ninety. He was loaded with all kinds of jewelry and a Rolex watch. His shirt was unbuttoned to his mid-chest. He looked like a stereotyped Las Vegas high roller commonly seen in the Rat Pack years. He was 6 foot 4 inches and at least 75 pounds overweight. He smelled of vomit, cigarettes, cigars and liquor. There wasn’t much doubt he died of a heart attack.
The intoxicated wife arrived shortly after we managed to get him and the stretcher onto the examining table. He was too heavy to lift off the stretcher. She circled the body a few times before asking if she could give him one last farewell kiss. Who could refuse such a tender request? She then proceeded to remove all his jewelry (we noted the event into his written record with itemized articles.)
The captain told me the one-body cooler was on the top deck (10 flights above us). He had turned it on before coming down to medical. It would take at least two hours to cool down. What would we have done if we had gotten another body? Put it in the food lockers…in body bags of course.
The new widow left with the hotel manager. We wrapped two sheets around the body and secured them with canvas straps. He was too big for a body bag. The nurse and I left for the hotel manager’s office. I tried to answer the widow’s irrelevant questions as they placed a call to the deceased’s son. The widow grabbed the phone as soon as contact was made.
“Your dad finally bought the farm. Doc says he didn’t suffer. Now listen, I don’t want (she rattled off a list of names) at the funeral. Here Doc, he wants to talk to you.” She handed me the phone.
The first question to me was “Is she drunk again?”
He informed me that his dad had two previous heart attacks. He was a diabetic, overweight, hypertensive, heavy smoker and drinker and determined to do it his way…right to the end. We gave him the protocol for having the body flown back and he thanked us for our efforts. The nurse and I never got paid and decided not to pursue it.
Almost 4 hours had passed since our patient’s demise. It was after midnight. We had to move the body to the cooler. The nurse offered four Jamaican cabin attendants $5 each to act as stretcher-bearers. The easiest and most direct route was heading for the nearest opening to the back deck and up the outside stairs. The hotel manager insisted on a set of inside tortuous stairs reasoning that his route was least likely to encounter passengers. I wondered how many senior citizens wander around the outside decks after midnight. He outranked me so up the inside we went.
The Jamaicans struggled with the heavy load on the narrow, winding stairways. After negotiating two levels they stopped to assess a strong fecal odor permeating the stairwell. The body, with all the food and liquor inside, had been lying around four hours at room temperature. Fermentation was creating gas, bloating and odors. The Jamaicans looked at each other wondering who passed gas. They all denied it.
“Not me maaan!” was the emphatic refrain.
As if on cue the corpse burped fluid which produced a gurgling sound and a wet stain on the sheet in the vicinity of the mouth. The four men dropped the stretcher and pulled back in horror.
“Da maaan is arguing wid da devil,” exclaimed one of the Jamaicans.
Only two could be coaxed back…by offering an additional $10 each. The nurse and I each took a corner of the stretcher. We finally made it to the cooler and called it a night.
We arrived around 8:00 AM. The funeral people were waiting at the dock. The staff captain prepared to use the side arm designed for the specific purpose of swinging the stretcher and body clear of the top deck and lowering it directly onto the dock. The hotel manager once again intervened, saying that it might attract unwanted passenger attention. He directed the body again be taken through the inside staircases. At that point I grabbed the nurse’s arm and left the scene. I heard later someone had removed the straps securing the body to the stretcher. The body rolled off the stretcher at least once before making it to the dock.
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