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Packing for an emergency at sea

Every sea going doctor takes along a medicine chest, and Jack Faulkner and I will be following in the footsteps of ocean-bound surgeons including Robert McCormick of the famous HMS Beagle when we stow our own medical kit on our skiff.

In April this year, we’ll be rowing for 3600 miles – all the way across the Indian Ocean from Western Australia to Mauritius, and a medicine chest is essential. There won’t be any emergency crews to help us out if we get hurt – for most of the journey, the nearest ship will only be able to reach us in three days. True, our boat is a tub compared to the HMS Beagle – just seven metres long from stem to stern, and we’ll be the only two people on board but we are junior doctors and we know a thing or two about sutures and stethoscopes. Our medicine chest is already packed – with an eye on weight since every pound must be accounted for – but it contains everything we think we might need, bar life support machines and mind bending drugs. Not a good idea since we both need to keep our wits about us.

There won’t be any emergency crews to help us out if we get hurt – for most of the journey, the nearest ship will only be able to reach us in three days.

Hopefully, we’ll suffer nothing worse than cuts and bruises, sunburn, fungal infections and strains. The bulk of our kit comprises bandages, plasters, pain killers, antiseptic creams, antihistamines in case of jelly fish stings, and broad spectrum antibiotics for infections. We fully expect to get sore bottoms, since we will be rowing for two hours on and two hours off 24 hours each day. The wear and tear on the bony area beneath the glutes, even with special pads to sit on, is going to cause skin erosion and pressure sores. Our hands too will suffer from calluses and blisters, even if we where specialist padded gloves. One preventative which we are both doing in advance of our trip is rubbing surgical alcohol on the skin to toughen it up.

If things get more serious, we will be taking along sterile scalpels and full suture packs so we can perform minor surgical procedures like incision and drainage of an abscess. Luckily, Jack no longer has an appendix, but I still have one. Hopefully, I won’t develop acute appendicitis, although there is some evidence now that a course of antibiotics can help to reverse the inflammation. We’ll also be taking along a tourniquet to stop major arterial bleeds. Don’t ask, but we will be rowing straight down the main migratory route for pelagic sharks including Great Whites and Hammerheads. We will need to get out and swim on a regular basis, to maintain the hull of the boat and keep clean.

We are also going to take along IV kit and some sterile saline, if we need to bring back blood pressure in an emergency. I’m hoping not, but you never know what can happen when you have battened down the hatches in 50 feet swells.

At the end of the day, we are going to be relying on stamina and a lot of luck to help us get through a challenge which has only been accomplished by four other two-man crews – compare that to the 4000 odd people who have now conquered Everest. The medicine chest will be a comfort, but our ultimate success of failure will be down to us.


In April 2017, NHS junior doctors Ted Welman and Jack Faulkner with leave from Exmouth, Western Australia, on the 84-day expedition to Port Louis, Mauritius. During their 3-month voyage, they will row 3600 miles, often beset by 50 foot waves and storm force winds. They hope to raise £100,000 for the charity, Medicins Sans Frontieres and you can pledge money for the cause at


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3,600 miles between Geraldton to Mauritius over 3 months

Ted Welman
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