My Adventure in Fiji

I just returned from a 2 week rotation in the Southern Lau Islands of Fiji on the sailing vessel Dragonfly. I can honestly say it is one of the best experiences of my life. I felt like I was in a National Geographic special. I loved almost everything about the trip, the people, the sailing, the food and all the experiences I encountered. We were a group of 7: Al and Jill Wiggington: Sail Captain and Co-Captain, Myself, Suzanne Benloucif , from the USA, a nurse of 38 years, with the past 16 years as a Nurse Practitioner; Marina, a PA from the USA; Jacquie, a RN from Australia: Miri, a RN from Fiji; Timoce, the Royco (govenor) of the Southern Lau Islands in Fiji.

In 2 weeks we traveled to 8 different Islands. The Islands we visited were very remote villages. They have received few or no outside visitors aside from their own government supply boats. Each day we were greeted by a member of the island who would come out in a “fiber” power boat to bring us, and our supplies, to shore. We then would go to the Nurses Station and meet the Island RN. This is a government provided building that each island had. They were small and stocked (sometimes fairly and sometimes poorly) with basic medical supplies. The RN’s , after graduating from nursing school, must do a 3 year rotation on one of these remote islands. We immediately set about evaluating what we had and what we could do.

We set up “stations”. The first was the weight, BP, and glucose station. At this juncture we would also assess for any other issues the person may have. We would then triage them to the eye exam station and then the procedure/advanced care room . All people received a basic eye exam and reading glasses were given as appropriate. Most children’s eyes were examined for parasites . We also diagnosed many cases of ptygerium. We assessed for cataracts and made a list of patients who may be appropriate surgical candidates. In the procedure room, we drained boils, assessed open pressure sores (the newly developed Mat Injury Scale , (due to long periods of time sitting on woven mats) was used), skin conditions such as leprosy, scabies, impetigo, and others, infections of any kind requiring antibiotics, we adjusted BP and diabetic medications.

By the second island on the second day, we started as a group to find our groove and things went quite well. The people dressed in their finest and were always happy to see us. They spoke native Fijian, however , there was always the Island staff nurse and the community health worker who spoke English and could translate. We were very fortunate to have Miri RN and Timoce , Royco, to translate also if necessary. Sometimes it took some charades, demonstrations and an interpretive dance or two, hahaha, but we could usually communicate well. There was frequently lots of talking and laughing.

Each day we were graciously served lunch by the woman of the community. They frequently cooked their best food for us, which included lots and lots of fish heads and coconut sauces. The food was delicious and we felt quite honored at these small banquets.

For me the sailing was sublime. As a sailor of 20 years of the Great Lakes in Michigan, I had never really done any open ocean sailing and found it quite exhilarating. Al and Jill are excellent sailors and made the trip very comfortable for us all. I had great admiration for their skill and bravery to undergo such a trip. Nothing is marked on these islands and tides are a critical issue. They certainly made the sailing look easy! They fished off the back of the boat by trolling daily, and it was fun to catch our food. Jill cooked for us everyday and I must say, all the meals were absolutely delicious. I was even more appreciative, knowing how difficult planning meals on a boat for a group can be.

This trip combined my love of sailing with my passion for health care. I feel very fortunate to have had this experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Suzanne Benloucif-Moore
2014 Sea Mercy Volunteer
Remote Islands of Fiji (Lau Group)

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