Pharmacy U

GUEST POST: For pharmacist Sandy Hewitt, giving blood takes on a whole new meaning


A couple of weeks ago, I gave blood. Not an unusual thing to have done and something I have done in the past because it’s a good thing to do. But this time was different. I was giving blood because a patient on the ship was having surgery in the morning and we shared the same blood type. That brought a whole new and very personal meaning to giving blood.

by Sandy Hewitt BSc. Phm.

Mercy Ships does not have a blood bank on board for the nearly 2,100 surgeries scheduled for this field service in Madagascar. With space at a premium on board, there would not be enough storage room. Their blood bank consists of approximately 450 crew members who carry a fresh supply of blood stored in ideal conditions.

There are many other unique situations on board that require creative solutions in the limited space we all share. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we counted inventory. In our tiny pharmacy, we need to have access to pharmaceuticals while the ship is sailing, but still need to store larger quantities of medications. Many of our meds are stored in up to three different places, both in the pharmacy and in the air-conditioned storage container in the ship’s hold. Inventory was a challenge, to say the least. At one point, we were counting tablets with headlamps in the dark, during a black-out!

In our five wards, we have a total of 82 beds. We restock each ward and the OR with meds and fluids every day since there is limited storage. Each pediatric patient has a family member who sleeps under their hospital bed and there are many visitors. Besides the great nursing staff, there are many Malagasy interpreters working on the wards as well as chaplains and musicians to encourage the patients. It’s a little bit of chaos, but also a little bit of heaven. There are times when we have to come back later to restock the wards because there is just not room for another body on the ward.

I have come to appreciate the concept of space in a whole new way here. With the day crew (local crew members that Mercy Ships hires in each port), there can be close to 700 people in the dining room at meal times. An amazing display of logistics for a 152m ship! I have a feeling that when we come back to Canada and especially to Prince George, B.C., we will notice the vastness of our country in a whole new way.


Sandy Hewitt will be blogging regularly on about her experiences as a pharmacist on the Africa Mercy ship.