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Anchoring Lives Aboard Warship: Nimitz

After being the focus of national attention, USS Nimitz, the lead aircraft carrier of the United States, has sailed off the Chennai coast .

While everyone talked about the possible radiation from the nuclear reactors powering the ship and debated over if the ship had nuclear weapons on board or not, very few knew of the F-16 and F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, the world's best fighter aircrafts, and only a handful have the knowledge that the largest warship in the world has a 53-bedded hospital ward and a three-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

It acts as the hospital ship for not just USS Nimitz with a 5,000 odd crew, but the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, that includes half-a-dozen ``destroyers'' and ``cruisers'', each manned by about 400 personnel. The medical department is manned by six doctors, including a general surgeon.

There is a separate dental department that has five dentists, one of whom is Mohammed Kamil, an Indian-American Lieutenant Commander, who was at home for the first time in his life, after leaving the shores when he was 12 years old. This medical department delivers high-quality health care to all individuals on board the ship and is the casualty-receiving unit for the Nimitz CSG.

The main objective is to maintain a high level of readiness to respond to any emergency situations, said Captain Michael C Manazir. The hospital corpsmen and healthcare professionals staff six ``battle dressing stations'' throughout the ship during all drills and in case of need.

From vaccination, to eye check-up, dentistry, and surgeries, the medical department on board keeps working round the clock, like other departments, to be battle efficient. The crew, especially the airwing, keeps injuring on a daily basis. Recently, the oldest crew member who sustained a leg injury jumping from the ship into the Arabian Sea was treated. The foremost duty of the department, though, is prevention of any di sease, even if it is mild, from spreading to others.

In May, the medical department noticed that a large number of crew were presenting themselves with rashes, bumps, and abscesses that could have been prevented with simple hygiene measures, says Lt Jason Palmer, the family physician on board.

On shore, the soldiers can often overlook symptoms like viral gastroenteritis, but on deployment, preventive measures could save soldiers lot of trouble, he said. hore, but it can save you a lot of trouble here on deployment. Proper hygiene is the most effective way to prevent rashes and skin infections.

The medical department sends circulars to emphasise on the preventive aspect. A Sample: Remember to wash your hands! Any area where people live in close proximity can be colony for bacteria. Crew members' immune systems can be weakened due to change in diet, heat, and stress. If this occurs, a "normal infection" can get out of control and require antibiotics. If you see a red bump on your skin that begins to leak pus and does not go away over several days or weeks, you need to proceed to Medical to get it taken care of.

Stick to basics. Habits like washing your hands before and after using the bathroom, proper skin care, and not shaving areas that don't need it can reduce your exposure to infection. When washing your hands, be sure to use soap and rub vigorously to get a lather before rinsing off. When shaving, go with the grain of your hair, not against it, and don't shave genital areas, large skin surfaces, or other areas that aren't normally shaved. Don't share razors, and replace disposables as often as possible. Crew members need to wash their clothes on a regular basis if possible, avoid sharing clothes, and in the gym: wipe down the equipment!

The latest bug to hit the crew was viral gastroenteritis. Several crew member complained of vomiting for two to three days and noticed bowel movements. The phys icians on board diagnosed it to be a milder version of the virus that could not be prevented but could only be treated.

Like elsewhere, the medical department puts emphasise on preventive aspect of health. Surgeries were not frequent and there have been cases when the critical have been airlifted to nearby bases, crew members said.


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