A thousand people on board: "We have to cut our way through the crowd and help is needed everywhere"

Since the beginning of the year, Heidi Anguria has been travelling as a nurse on the rescue vessel MV Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea. Her assignment is slowly coming to an end, but until then, she's sharing her incredible experiences on board.

Since the beginning of the year, Heidi Anguria has been travelling as a nurse on the rescue vessel MV Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea. Her assignment is slowly coming to an end, but until then, she's sharing her incredible experiences on board.

We reach the area of our search and rescue mission on Monday night. The weather is bad. That’s why we don't expect to see any boats. The next morning, we are about 20 miles from the Libyan coast.  

Man overboard and other exercises

We have a program to fill less busy days. Today we start off with the theory and practice of spinal injuries. In the afternoon we will lower the lifeboats into the water and do some exercises. I was allowed to leave our ship and participate in a man overboard training.
Did I tell you about our male "staff members"? There's Paul the water dispenser, Patrick the tracksuit for our guests, Henry our dummie for reanimation exercises and last but not least Oscar, a heavy, stuffed life-size doll. He is our "man overboard" and serves as a "patient" to be carried on a stretcher. 

Training with binoculars. Photo: Heidi Anguria/MSF.

"All these people would have drowned, if their boat had remained out there"

On Tuesday there's work for us: at 9:10 a.m. a boat appears on the radar. Shortly afterwards we also see it through the binoculars. We reach the boat at 9:35 a.m. Three minutes later, our lifeboats enter the water. At 10:15 a.m. we have guests on board, albeit not for very long. We hand them over to another ship which takes them to Italy so that we can stay on the spot.
Within a few hours the weather has worsened substantially. The waves are as high as five meters. All the people would have drowned, if their boat had remained out there. The hefty swell makes us all a bit tired. 
Waves and rocking: Will I ever be able to sleep without it again?
On Wednesday we have a busy schedule. Following our daily briefing, there is a training on the resuscitation of babies. After that we practise rescuing people with spinal injuries. A photographer who is accompanying us for one week shows us pictures of the beginnings of the Aquarius he took last year. There's yet another class on knot tying techniques before the captain introduces us to navigation in the evening.
The sounds of the waves and our rocking ship wake me up on Thursday. Will I be able to sleep without all that back home?
We start the day with a class about aspiration and potential suffocation. Then, there is another video lecture held by a journalist about his time with the Boat People of Vietnam. Afterwards, I repeat my talk about my missions for Doctors Without Borders for our new staff members. In the evening yesterday's introduction to navigation continues.
There is a strong swell - up to six meters high - and the chef's ginger tea is in high demand. 

Medical training on-deck. Photo: Heidi Anguria/MSF.

St Patrick's Day celebrations
Friday. It's St. Patrick's Day! Our medical doctor is from Ireland. That's why we celebrate. I read something from the Irish author Oscar Wilde. But there is another beautiful incident. We watch a large group of dolphins with their babies! Apart from that, today is more quiet because everyone is so tired.
On Saturday the weather is better. We are about 20 nautical miles from the Libyan coast. I visit the bridge with two colleagues, and the captain makes time for us to explain some things from the navigation class, which is really interesting.
Later on there is a training on drowning emergencies. There are even more rescue ships in our vicinity now so that more of the sea can be covered. Our medical doctor is very excited because Ireland's rugby team defeats England's and he is able to witness this historical moment, albeit in bad quality.

The team on St. Patrick’s Day. Photo: MSF

"It's difficult to find any sleeping place at all"
From Sunday on, there is a lot to do. We have to get up at 3 a.m and work non-stop.
In the end, almost 1,000 people are on board! It is difficult to explain all this but our ship is definitely overcrowded. We have to cut our way through the crowd and there's a permanent need for our help.
As usual, we take care of the most urgent cases first. After that, we do as much as we can. This time, there are many patients with burns resulting from spilled petrol. They need their dressings changed and pain relief.
For guests not quick enough it is difficult to find any sleeping place at all. In the evening we are all exhausted. Nevertheless, our night watch must go on.



People on board. Photo: Heidi Anguria/MSF.

A thousand times -  "How are you?“ and "Ça va bien?“

On Monday we all struggle through the day. The distribution of breakfast alone takes hours. In the meantime, we take care of patients, comforting and listening to them. The water dispensers have to be refilled every half an hour. We also have to keep the toilets as clean as possible. Over and over again, we have to collect rubbish from every corner of the ship.
Already early in the afternoon, we begin to prepare dinner. Like always when food is distributed, everybody queues at once. That's why we need good crowd control and functional logistics. I take a quick look at some individuals to see how they are. That means I have to repeat "How are you?" or "Ça va bien?" a thousand times.

Distributing food. Photo: Heidi Anguria/MSF.

Last time we made a stupendous purchase: two drums called "Djembe". Everybody is happy about their presence. Hearing our guests drum and sing was a new experience for us. For them it was a good opportunity to let out their emotions. By now, we know that 3,300 people were rescued this weekend.  
Little Mercy's birth
The crowning highlight of our mission happens on Tuesday: a baby did not want to wait any longer and is born after four hours as we arrive in the port of Catania! Little Mercy is well. Everybody is happy and wishes her the best of luck!
The disembarkation procedure officially takes place between 8 a.m and 6 p.m. However we saw the last registration as late as 11.30 pm. Fortunately, the local authorities made every effort and continued until the end. We finally indulged in some well-deserved drinks and a dinner onshore. 

Little Mercy with her parents. Photo: Heidi Anguria/MSF.

"I'm going to miss this very much"

On Wednesday we get rid of approximately 20 cubic metres of waste. We also receive new supplies of food and other materials before our departure from the port at 11.00 a.m. We are all worn-out. But the ship and our clinic have to be cleaned and data has to be recorded. I'm definitely going to sleep like a baby tonight.
This will be my last tour before the end of my incredible time on board. I don't want to think about it, yet, as I'm going to miss all this very much. Until then, I will go on telling you about my adventures. I'd be glad if you kept my company until the end!

Heidi during a rescue operation.



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