Things to keep in mind on the open seas

I should hate being at sea.

In 1952, during my first trip as a young ship’s surgeon, I sailed to Germany to bring persons displaced by the war to Canada.

I did not know that during the voyage I would have to remove the Captain of his command, for medical reasons. Nor did I realize how many medical problems I would encounter with 800 very ill passengers. Still, I’ve always loved being at sea. Now I’ve just returned from a cardiology seminar aboard a cruise to Alaska. During it I pondered how to keep well while cruising.

First, get rid of misconceptions.

Some people decide not to cruise for fear of Norovirus infection. But such infections are rare occurrences that hit the headlines. Actually, you’re much safer at sea due to strict sanitary precautions aboard ship. After all, how many city restaurants expect you to sanitize your hands at their door!

I recall one cruise passenger who started to pick up ice for her drink with her hands. She was firmly told not to do so.

But remember, it’s still a germy world whether at home or at sea and frequent hand washing still remains the best guard against infection. Hand sanitizers are important but not a replacement for hand washing with soap and water.

In conversation with ship’s surgeons, I was told the big problem aboard is overindulgence.

Cruise ships are noted for the abundance and variety of food and it’s staring you in the face all day. So is alcohol. It is readily available, particularly if it’s included in the fare. So every night becomes Saturday night.

Not a good time for the stomach. The best caution is to eat and drink prudently while aboard.

It’s tempting and easy to become a daiquiri-guzzling couch potato on a cruise, particularly during the summer.

I’m not a gym lover at home or at sea, but over the years I’ve made a habit of using the stairs or walking the promenade deck for exercise. It’s still the best and safest way to keep fit. As Abraham Lincoln remarked, “You have the two best doctors in your body, your left and right leg.”

Keep smart while ashore, particularly if visits are in less developed countries.

As a rule it’s safer to take water and food ashore with you in these locations. And never put ice in your drinks except on board.

The possibility of falling is a constant threat.

Keep in mind that on the ship or on a shore excursion, it’s new territory. So be aware of your surroundings, hold onto railings and watch for hidden steps. A fall can end with a disastrous broken hip. And take special care in the bathroom as it’s the most hazardous location on the ship.

Numerous bathrooms are located around the ship and it’s often more convenient to use one of them than returning to your cabin. But infectious disease experts say it’s safer to walk further and use your own bathroom to decrease the risk of infection.

Keeping well also means good preparation for the trip. I continue to take several thousand milligrams of Vitamin C daily while cruising, to maintain a high immunity to infection. C also fights constipation often associated with travel.

Be sure to pack prescription medication and other health products. But they should always be in your carry-on bag, just in case your luggage never arrives!

It’s also prudent, particularly if travelling to exotic locations, to consult a travel specialist about vaccinations several weeks prior to departure. No one wants to develop malaria when it can be prevented.

Today, sea sickness is usually not a problem.

If it is, scopolamine patches placed behind the ear are available.

But it could be that sickness upon sailing is not the ship’s fault. Rather, you made the mistake of requesting an aisle seat on the plane. It is the most infected one, caused by the number of people who use the plane’s bathroom, but fail to wash their hands. They then use your aisle seat to steady their passage back to their own seat.

Enjoy your ship’s cruise. You’ll keep well if you practice moderation and are cautious about its many joyful temptations. Savour them all gently.

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