The ferry boat "Liberty" at its dock in Roseau.
As our ferry approached the capital city of Roseau, we could see in the port a huge white ship bedecked with red crosses. I watched in fascination as a helicopter circled and landed on the ship, just as we came into our dock. Once off the ferry (and through the gauntlet of international immigration and customs), I was able to confirm that the gigantic white ship was a U.S. Naval Hospital Ship named "Comfort."
I considered it to be a good omen to see this example of America's humanitarian efforts just as I started my own two year altruistic mission. I hoped the residents of Dominica and other Third World countries were as impressed with this giant floating hospital as I was.
Little did I know that first day on the island that I would later get the opportunity to take an inside tour of "Comfort." Although I was immediately moved in with my host family on the northern coast of the island, our pre-service training continues for the rest of August at the Peace Corps office in the capital. On Wednesday, our training schedule was juggled so that we could take the tour.
The pilots were constantly flying in and away from the ship, sometimes delivering supplies.
The JAG officer (what attorneys are called in the military--the acronym stands for Judge Advocate General) on the hospital ship is a former Peace Corps volunteer. After completing his service in Albania, he came back and went to law school. Because of his interest in international law that began with his Peace Corps experience, he decided to join the Navy's JAG program. He handles all sorts of legal issues in the ports they visit. In addition, he reached out to the Dominican Peace Corps office and offered the opportunity for a special tour.
The walk up was no problem for me, having done the New River Gorge BridgeWalk and the Nelson Rocks Via Ferrata. The picture below was a sign telling the various roles played by staff wearing different hats.
The Comfort is a former oil tanker that was converted in the 1970s into the largest U.S. floating hospital. It is currently on a six month tour of the Caribbean region, and was stopped in Dominica from July 28 to August 6. The ship itself can perform all sorts of medical services. However, most of the work is done on the island itself, where two examination sites were set up in a couple of the larger schools. Any patients who needed services not available at the examination sites were brought to the ship. All services were free of cost, and thousands of residents took advantage of this unique opportunity.
This CAT Scanner was in the Radiology Department. The beds below were in the main hospital area.
The ship is outfitted with the latest medical equipment, including high-tech operating rooms. It also is proud to possess the largest blood bank in the world (the staff of the ship donate regularly). In addition to the medical services, many of the sailors and non-medical staff spend their time in port performing charitable work, such as painting schools. It is quite an operation!
The black beds were in the recovery room area outside of the surgery area. In the picture below, I'm standing next to center of the ship.
The world often hears (quickly and loudly) about the negative things that sometimes involve the U.S. Government. Unfortunately, the good works done by the U.S. Naval Hospital Ship "Comfort" (or for that matter, the efforts of the Peace Corps) are rarely covered in the mainstream media. However, we are both hard at work in this little corner of the Third World, trying to do what we can to make things better (more peaceful and more comfortable). I'm sure the thousands who benefited from medical and dental care this week appreciate what American taxpayers provided to them. Given the religious nature of the people here, I bet there were many Dominicans who exclaimed "God bless the U.S.A.!" (even if they don't know the Lee Greenwood song).
A panoramic view of the port in the Dominican capital of Roseau, taken from the top of the ship.