Monday, January 3, 2011

Medical Care for the Crew

Hello, Readers, and thank you for tuning in to trumptettravels - the true accounts of my 11 year career on cruise ships as a crew member aboard Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Premier Cruises and the Holland America Line.  Here I have blended sentiment, true stories, money saving tips and more to compose what I feel is something that should be educational, fun, entertaining, beneficial, and I'm hoping enjoyable.

This post is dedicated to a reader who asked me specifically about medical care on cruise ships.  I know both sides of the issue.  You see, for many years I was a ship's employee and for many years I was an independant contractor.  Both have their benefits.  As a contractor I enjoyed increased status and I could behave (almost) like a passenger.  I did not have benefits and for my wife son and myself I paid literally $1000/month in medical insurance which was tax deductible. As an employee, I had medical insurance through the company.

Firstly, my impression is that if you get hurt on a job the company can medically sign you off the vessel and pay you 80% of your salary.  That is good for a dancer hurt in the show who makes salary, but I don't know how it works for a waiter or bar steward who makes $50 a month.

Our first story is when I started ships a long time ago.  One of my friends on the ship suffered an illness when he was younger that caused him to lose his leg.  He used a prothetic on the ship and passed all of his medical exams.  At one point in his career he started suffering a swelling of his leg and his current prothetic started to malfunction.  This was on RCCL.  He went to a Dr. who recommended a state of the art limb.  Since he was a musician like me at the time he couldn't afford it, but he was signed off on crew medical.  The Dr. said, "lets's send the company the bill and if it doesn't work we'll consider our options."  I believe this was after 9/11 whe there were tremendous cutbacks at RCCL.  I was the first to complain about the corporate bastards not giving us raises (for 2 years) and trimming everything down.  Wouldn't you know shortly after submitting the expense Royal Caribbean paid for my friend's $14,000 leg?  Even better, getting this equipment allowed him to be as athletic as he could train and a few years later he ran a New York City marathon.

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My second anecdote is from my days as an Art Auctioneer on the ships.  I think this is the first time I revealed what I did for the last half of my career!  A colleague of mine started coughing on the ship.  As you know the ventilation on ships is terrible and with the recycled air and fresh people every week airborne illnesses are rampant.  He suffered from a cough and went to the Doctor.  The ship is responsible for him while he is on the ship but they give him some antibiotics and encourage him to go home and get some rest.  He signs off the ship (freeing the cruise line of responsibility) and then the cough gets worse.  My friend loses his vioce, suffers from hospital bills and it get worse and worse.  Currently after 18 months my friend cannot speak for more than 1 hour at a time and is completely permanently injured.  I know this illness is a direct cause from being on the ship, but the line did not pay a dime of his medical because he voluntarily signed off the ship early on the Doctor's advice.  Of course, he was not allowed back on a ship because he failed his medical.

Well, in general, most crew members are taken care of.  Just remember, not everyone who works on a ship is directly employed by the cruise line.  I remember once before Cozumel on Royal Caribbean a cabin steward, bless her, from Jamaica went literally crazy.  She stripped naked and ran up and down the "I95" (main crew corridor, deck 4) screaming "in tongues." A friend of mine was going to the Dr. that next day so I tagged along and visited this poor girl who was softly mumbling for her mother.  Of course, the company paid her medical but the crew sometimes is under so much pressure and work hours occaisionally they can snap.

Which reminds me of ANOTHER story. When I was on the QM2 the strangest thig happened. A crew member, upset he was being paid less than his colleagues snapped and went crazy.  Strangely, he took a hammer and killed the cousin of one of his colleagues, who I think was unrelated to the department.

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And I am saddened and shocked to learn while googling a link to what happened when I was there that ANOTHER crew (attmepted?) murder happened in 2008.  I am really surprised.  Things like this hardly ever happen but I guess we can all recall in our innocent little towns crazy things happening.

Well, that is it for tonight on trumpettravels.  This blog post is creditted ot an anonymous poster who was wondering about medical facilities on a ship.  I have more stories ot tell, but I guess you will have to wait.