In 2017, I had the opportunity to check off a bucket list item by living and working on a luxury cruise liner for 14 weeks. This experience was thrilling, amazing and inspiring.
In late July, I boarded the Celebrity Eclipse, a 2,800-passenger vessel sailing out of Southampton, England. I took care of dialysis patients, people who had lost kidney function and needed a machine to clean their blood and take off excess fluid. Dialysis at Sea, a company based in Florida, provided the equipment allowing dialysis patients to travel the world just like everyone else.
I sailed on seven separate cruises, with itineraries that included Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Canary Islands, the Azores, and finally crossed the Atlantic Ocean to visit the East Coast, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. We just missed Hurricane Ophelia, which was a nice touch.
As a dialysis nurse, I transitioned back and forth between the unique worlds of the crew and the guests. I had access to all the elegance and perks of being a guest, including delicious, four-course dinners in the dining room and evening shows with a dazzling assortment of talented entertainers (musicians, singers, dancers, and comedians). I exercised daily in a state-of-the-art gym.
We sailed by gorgeous scenery, into Norwegian fjords with the deep green cut canyons and waterfalls, around the islands of Scandinavia and past oceanic wind turbines, cargo ships and oil rigs. I could soak in one of many hot tubs, chat with other passengers from all around the world, order room service and watch a movie in my stateroom and play in the ping pong tournaments. When I could disembark, I biked and walked extensively.
On the flip side, on my workdays, I gained a deeper understanding of the ship and the 1,200 workers that made all of this opulence possible. On my way to work, I walked in the crew area, referred to as I-95 for the Americans or the M1 for the English nationals.
This area on Deck 2 ran down the entire length of the ship. In my mind, the area acts like an artery bringing resources to guests, and as a vein cleaning up after them. Everything seemed to happen here: luggage and linen management, food delivery and clean up, recycling efforts and movement of crew to and from their cabins. I passed crew that baked our breads, worked in the bars, cleaned up our cabins and monitored security. I always greeted the crew with a “hello” and waited for a reply when I asked how they were doing. I felt close to these hard-working people.
I worked every other day, between eight and 13 hours. On most workdays, I would rise at 3:30 am, grab some coffee and make my way down to the medical unit. I would set up the dialysis machines, take care of patients, clean up the ward, take a nap and then have my evening to play. Depending on our patient and staffing numbers, I also experienced working from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. This gave me an appreciation for how hard the crew worked.
I quickly learned how to keep myself healthy. I washed my hands constantly and always used an abundance of hand sanitizer. I always used the stairs, even going from Deck 2 to Deck 15. My thinking was that more sick people, the coughers and sneezers, would be using the elevators (I also wanted to get my 10,000 steps). I took naps and went to bed early.
I gravitated to the quiet of the early morning port arrivals, preferring the gorgeous sunrises to the late-night activities. I loved walking around the outdoor track while listening to a book on tape, playing Scrabble with friends in different time zones and watching the magnificent ocean from the upper decks.
These cruises are set up to provide for the needs of people with a wide range of physical conditions. Whether you have health issues, or are healthy and want to remain that way, life on a cruise ship can accommodate you.
The challenge of cruising is to start off, from Day 1, with a commitment to maintaining or improving your health status. With that commitment, you can plan your day, your meals and your activities with confidence that you will return from vacation no worse for wear. And that is how to Be Well!
Shugart is a nurse, dietitian and personal trainer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.