When Doctor Steve Went On Patrol
By Jack A. Eckert
in the old days we carried a Public Health Service doctor on all northern
weather patrols. The purpose of carrying the doctor was not necessarily to take
care of the crew, but to be available if a nearby ship needed medical
Every doctor, regardless of specialty was required to make one ocean station patrol on a Coast Guard Cutter. Many dreaded this experience and, while their fear and apprehension is understandable, most took it in their stride once the initial period of mal de mer was over. These fellows wore the same officer uniforms that we did except for the buttons, cap insignia and the insignia above their stripes on their sleeves. We wore Navy type uniforms at the time. Uniforms do not a sailor make!
The doctors that rode the cutters were mostly specialists. I remember one patrol where we had a "skin doctor" who in the thirty some odd days we were gone rid the entire ship of every mole and wart on every sailor aboard, captain included. We prayed that we never would get an overzealous proctologist. Sometimes we would have a heart specialist, an eye, ear, nose and throat specialists (they were good at diagnosing flu's and colds) and so forth. We never saw a gynecologist, as we didn't have girls aboard. Come to think of it I don't remember a baby doctor either.
of the doctors mixed well with the officers and sometimes some of the crew.
Others would either sit in the Wardroom and read or remain in their staterooms.
One doctor didn't even know the name of the ship’s corpsman because he seldom
was anywhere near sickbay.
Steve, whose last name escapes me, was an ophthalmologist—that is, an
expensive eye doctor. He was a personable guy who checked out everybody's eyes
as the patrol progressed. He joined in the evening wardroom poker game (I'll not
mention the name of the cutter) after the movie and wasn't a bad player. We all
liked Doctor Steve.
Steve didn't like the duty too well. Most people don't like a wintertime
"Bravo" as it is usually rough as a cob. Unlike most he didn't get
few of us conspired to crank on Doctor Steve, just for the heck of it. About the
time the relief cutter got underway a message showed up that the doctor they
were carrying was having health problems. Every day we got a SITREP (situation
report) discussing the condition of the relief ship doctor. Every day it became
per custom the relief ship pulled into Argentia, Newfoundland to refuel and
reprovision before heading north to relieve us. We received a message saying
that the doctor was too ill to go on station and that the Public Health people
were requested to supply another doctor in his place. Just as the cutter left
Argentia, we received a message that they sailed without a doctor aboard.
what to do now. Doctor Steve who was closely following the events through the
radio messages, was beginning to get concerned. By international treaty the
northern ocean station vessels must carry a doctor.
is a three or four day run to Ocean Station Bravo from Argentia, depending on
the weather. This provided the time to have lengthy discussions about what
procedures we would use to transfer Dr. Steve to the relief ship in the event we
received orders to do so. He had watched us swap mail and movies in heavy sea
conditions by wrapping everything in canvas to waterproof it as much as
possible, tie it on one of the rafts, and carefully drop it off the stern and
move away so the relieved cutter could pick it out of the water with boat hooks
and "Norwegian Steam." He was on the bridge wing watching us rise up
out of the water and the relieved ship actually go out of sight, even though
they were only about a quarter of a mile away. He was no sailor but he
understood what he saw that day.
discussed the possibility of sending him over in a ship’s lifeboat if the seas
were only 20 or 30 feet high. Another suggestion was to use a high line and send
him across that way. If the seas were over 30 feet we would have to waterproof
him and send him over on the raft with the movies. These discussions went on at
every meal and even at the poker game.
the time for relief drew near, Dr. Steve became more and more concerned. He
visited the balloon shack to get the "weather birds" give him a
prediction for wind and sea conditions on that day. He frequented the bridge
asking for the same information. The poor devil looked like he hadn't slept in a
the relief ship came into view, we ran a couple of joint exercises, after which
Dr. Steve was piped to the bridge. He arrived as pale as a ghost, with hollow,
sunken eyes and asked the OOD which method they were going to use to transfer
him. Seas were a little sloppy but he was told to get ready for, after the noon
meal, he was being high lined over.
He evidently had packed everything as well as he could but never asked about transferring his gear. He came into the wardroom with several things including his medical bag and other medical equipment, ready to go.
was noon and both ships were doing a joint RAWIND (chasing the balloon)
together. The captain joined us for the meal and displaced the exec., who moved
and sat opposite of the doctor.
are you ready?" asked the exec.
wish I didn't have to do this. This is pretty scary!" he replied.
you ever think you would be in this position when you came aboard last
month," asked one of the other officers.
God, no! I would have never come aboard this damned ship or any other ship for
that matter," said the Doctor.
Steve, we have really enjoyed having you with us. By God, I think we have made a
sailor of you," said the captain.
really what I want to be," said Dr, Steve.
a matter of fact Dr. Steve, we like you so well, we are going to keep you on
board with us for, you see, they had a doctor on board all of the time,"
said the captain.
Steve looked baffled at first, trying to comprehend what the captain just told
him. Gradually the color began to return to his face and the grimace left,
replaced by a slight smile of relief.
then the entire wardroom, all of the officers not on watch, the weather birds,
and stewards, got a good hearty laugh and then applauded the good doctor. He was
a good sport about the whole thing, and that night he lost at poker.
of the messages shown to him were dummied up for that purpose. Everybody, as
they got involved in this ruse, played the game. To this day, I don't know
whether Doctor Steve was really fooled or played along with the joke. He'll
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