Giving your first jab, by Captain John Campbell

One of the duties of the 2nd Mate, if you served as a Second Mate on a Bank Line ship of your many duties was is to look after the Medicine chest. A large locker in the Officers accommodation full of pills and potions prescribed by the Merchant Shipping Act. It also held drawers of instruments for operating on and in a seafarer. Details on how to look after this kit and the health of crew members were listed in The Ship Captain,s Medical guide. A book which was invaluable to a first trip 2nd Mate. The Master was ultimately responsible but usually delegated any first aid one of his officers. This was a job which few liked as it was conducted in our sleeping time and thus it was a demanding and irksome chore with accompanying form filling. 

My first trip as 2nd Mate was in 1957 and then Penicillin was the wonder drug and it and Sulfa Drugs (M@B) were the great lifesavers. Having an Indian crew meant that whilst at sea there was a steady stream of patients standing at the time of “sick parade” at 1000hrs daily whilst at sea. These sailors presented with maladies ranging from constipation to sore throats. We carried large gallon bottles of Black Draught and Cough Linctus and these were much in demand. The sailors would drink cough linctus by the gallon as they found that it contained morphine and that had to be rationed or we would soon run out. Other than these two drugs aspirin and calamine lotion for sun burn there was not a great demand for the other drugs although I have had to stich a sliced hand apply polices and splint legs. I had to look after a crazed Radio Officer, a schizophrenic sailor and a very depressive Third Mate in my time as Mate and Master. Thank goodness for Radio and getting speedily in touch with a shore side Medic was invaluable. There are times when you are grateful for the supply of Morphine on the Captains safe when an ill seaman has you clasped around the legs screaming in agony from kidney stones, 

I was a first trip 2nd Mate on the lovely new cargo ship the m.v.” Teakbank” where the Master was a huge man from The Isle of Wight. He resembled Pres Trump in statue and temperament and expressed openly his dislike for 2nd Mates in general and all us officers disliked him and slightly feared him.  

Since I started my career, I dreaded First Aid lectures and indeed all medical matters. I was quite faint at the sight of blood and in those days when we sat for our certificates of Competency, we had to have a valid Cert of Proficiency in first Aid which consisted of seven two-hour lectures and a twenty-minutes oral exam. A complete farce. Nowadays things are completely changed, and it is now completely updated and even includes spells in Hospital A&I and even knowledge of childbirth.  One thing they never taught us was how to give an injection. This was a grave omission from the syllabus as giving an injection was a terrifying proposition to a novice 2nd mate. 

The procedure then was to get out a stainless-steel pan and place it atop of a meth Spirit lamp and boil the syringe and needles. when these had been boiled you had to assemble the syringe and insert the needle into a vial of liquid draw it up and then insert the needle into a vial of Penicillin V. Shake the vial and liquid vigorously and draw the mixture into the syringe bring sure to not draw in any air. There were dreadful stories at the time of murders being done by injecting air into arms and we were all terrified of doing this. Never insert needles into veins 

 Our voyage was taking us from Hamburg to New Orleans and we were halfway across the Atlantic when I had to do a job which I dreaded doing and it was to give a jab of penicillin and to, of all people, the Captain. The “old man” was a great model maker and had a large selection of carving blades and had used one to cut into an ingrowing toenail with the inevitable result that he now had a septic and inflamed toe. 

I saw him om the bridge one morning as I had to come there to wind the chronometer as part of my daily duties. I thought it strange as he seemed overly friendly to me as he started chatting across the chart table. Then he said “Any good at giving a penicillin Injection Second Mate? I nearly fainted and my heart thumped, I had hoped that my first jab would have been to a lowly seaman but here I was faced with this ogre.  

I mumbled OK sir and he proceeded to show me his infected toe. I went down to my cabin and grabbed my Medical Guide and re read the chapter on giving an injection, I got the kit out and proceeded to boil up the gear. The ship was in ballast and was rolling in the Ocean swell. The apparatus was in danger of sliding along the counter of the medicine locker as assembled the paraphernalia, kidney dish, cotton wool and iodine. The needles were thick not like those nowadays and could and were used many times. I did a dummy run and got the whole lot assembled using a complete vial of penicillin which I deemed was worth it. 

Anyway ,with trembling hands and saying a prayer, I climbed the stairs to the captain’s stateroom and was soon in front of this huge man with my syringe and kidney dish and towel, we went to his bedroom and he lay face down on   his bunk hauling down a vast pair of blue shorts to expose a huge area of flesh. The Guide gives a graphic illustrated display of where to insert the needle involving the drawing of an imaginary cross on the hip muscle, the upper and outer quadrant being the point to aim for. With the vast pale white hips on display I drew the penicillin into the syringe and stabbed completely forgetting to ensure that I had not expelled any air first. I did this all in a flash and I was so relieved when he said that was almost painless well done second Mate.  I said another prayer and ushed down to clear up. 

Since that day I have given and raced many jabs but like all those mariners who have had to look after a medicine chest one will always remember the time you gave your first jab 

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