Heidi Anguria is a paediatric nurse who has been working with MSF for over 25 years. Here she blogs from the start of a new assignment, as part of our team on board a search and rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.
This time everything is different from usual.
I'm excited and happy and it refreshes my mind immensely! My current assignment has brought me aboard a search and rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes we have waves of up to six meters high. When I think about the fact that I used to be afraid of cruises, I’ve come quite far!
But I feel safe, and my stomach is fine as well. Here's the story from the beginning...
In early January I flew from Lübeck to Amsterdam – as always before a new assignment for MSF. In Amsterdam I usually get the first briefings - this is where they give you information about the project you'll be working in and the situation in the country.
In all my previous missions I went directly from Amsterdam to African countries, but this time I went to Rotterdam instead. This is where the nautical course took place, which all seafarers have to do – and in preparation for my new assignment I had to do it as well. The course was about behaviour and safety on board a ship.
We had four days of training. This meant lots of theory units, but also practical exercises. The exercises in the pool, with survival suits and life jackets took me to my physical limits. For example, we had to climb up a rope ladder or into the life raft from the water. Yes, folks, it sounds easier than it is!
Fire was also a big issue and we had to go into a dark, smoke-filled container wearing full gear and breathing apparatus to extinguish a fire. I am now full of respect for the work of all firefighters!
After the course I flew via Rome to Catania in Sicily. That evening I went on board our ship: the Aquarius. Here it is in the port of Catania.
There was a nice welcome from the team, which consists of three groups.
One group is the nautical staff, led by a Belarusian captain. They're in charge of the boat itself, and getting us where we need to be.
Next is a group from SOS Méditerranée, which is in charge of what we call the 'search and rescue operations': the rescue of the people from unseaworthy boats.
And then there is of course the team of MSF, who are responsible for the medical care of the people we save. As always, a diverse team from all around the world!
On my first day on board, when we were still in the port of Catania, all new team members got a full explanation of the whole ship.
It took a while until I had an overview of what is at which end of the vessel, because it's pretty contorted. But the most important things I found quickly: the crew galley (a new, Polish cook has just arrived too), the washing machines, the bridge (we can almost always go there) or our gym. They gym is very simple and small, but at least there is a bike and a rowing machine in which I am interested in. And of course it's very important to me to know our little hospital on board very well.
We have also spent a lot of time on different exercises, learning how does a rescue operation work? How do we handle patients with moderate to severe hypothermia?
We practised resuscitation again. Since there are only four of us medical staff on board, we train all our other colleagues in first aid, so that they can help us in an emergency.
The best part was when we went out with one of our small inflatable boats. It's new and had to be tested. Up to 18 people can sit in it, including three crew members.
In the afternoon I had two hours of free time which I used to explore a bit of Catania. That is something else which is completely different from all my previous missions in South Sudan, where there was nothing you could explore outside the compound. On the first night we all went out together to a small, African bar with live music.
All in all, it's been a good start.