Ever wondered what it would be like to be a doctor who travels?

For about eleven years, I wrote reviews on a Web site called Epinions.  It was a great place to write.  I made a lot of friends who are still friends today, some of whom I actually met at Epinions hosted parties.  I also made some money.  Unfortunately, Epinions croaked a few years ago.  Every once in awhile, when I look on Facebook’s On This Day feature, I run across links to some of my old reviews.  Although I saved my old reviews, they are on my old computer which has a broken hard drive.

Anyway, I try to preserve the book reviews on my blogs if I am able to access them.  Sometimes I click the link and don’t find the review.  Sometimes, I get lucky and it’s still there.  I put most of my old reviews on my main blog, but I put my reviews about travel subjects on this one.  So, if you need a break from politics and want to do some light reading, have a look at the reviews I am reposting today.  British physician Ben MacFarlane was a doctor on a cruise ship and has also worked for insurance companies, traveling to people who have gotten sick or injured while on vacation.  He arranges for their care as they transit back home (to England).

I found both of MacFarlane’s books very entertaining.  In fact, I may need to re-read them.  They may be just what the doctor ordered to chase away the winter blues.

  • Being a doctor on a cruise ship…

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel
      January, 16 2012
  • Pros: Very entertaining book.  Makes being a cruise doctor seem glamourous and fun.
    Cons: Perhaps a little too upbeat?  Doesn’t tackle issues like burnout.
    Over the past couple of years, I have become a fan of cruising.  My husband Bill and I have so far cruised three times, once on a large Royal Caribbean ship and twice on the comparatively tiny SeaDream I.  We had a great time on all three of our cruises and every time we’ve cruised, we’ve met some amazing people.  Many of those friendly people were working on the ships.  Knowing so many fine folks work for cruise lines has made me want to learn more about the cruising business.  I have been doing a lot of Amazon searches, looking for tell-all books from former cruiseline employees.  I have found several titles, all written by people who once worked for Carnival Cruise Lines.  My most recent find is Ben MacFarlane’s (a pseudonym) 2010 book, Cruise Ship SOS: The Life-Saving Adventures of a Doctor at Sea.  I just spent a very entertaining few days reading Dr. MacFarlane’s story of being a cruise ship doctor on a world cruise.

    It’s interesting that I picked this past week to read Dr. MacFarlane’s story.  If you’ve been watching the news over this holiday weekend, you probably know that the Costa Concordia, a mega cruise ship, ran aground off the coast of Italy, resulting in at least six deaths and twenty injuries.  The Costa Concordia was carrying thousands of people when it hit the rocky coast of Italy’s tiny island of Giglio.  I was shocked when I saw the dramatic photos on Saturday morning. I wondered if the ship’s doctors had sprung into action to help people.  By the media’s account, it doesn’t seem so.  However, having read Ben MacFarlane’s book, I know that huge cruise ships are typically staffed with medical personnel who must always be ready to tend to the vast array of medical ailments and injuries that can strike cruise passengers, crew, and officers at any given time.

    Ben MacFarlane hails from the United Kingdom and his writing definitely reflects that origin.  In conversational prose peppered with lots of dialogue, Dr. MacFarlane describes how he came to land a job tending to people on cruise ships.  It was a natural fit for the author.  Before he sailed the high seas, Ben MacFarlane was an emergency doctor whose job it was to escort Britons who had medical emergencies abroad back to the U.K.  His job had required him to jet off to exotic locations around the world at a moment’s notice.  He loved the work, though he also longed for a job in London, where his girlfriend, Cassie, was living.  It seems Dr. MacFarlane took the cruise ship gig as a means of filling a brief amount of time between two major career defining jobs.  Like all cruise ship employees, he worked on a contract that only lasted several months.  But those months were filled with drama, adventure, friendship, and amazing travel opportunities.  By the time I had finished his book, I was almost wishing I could be a cruise ship doctor or nurse.  Too bad I hate the sight of blood!

    Dr. MacFarlane is careful to mention that he must protect the privacy of his patients; consequently, has has obscured the identifying details of the people who inspired his stories.  He has also fictionalized some accounts.  This book is offered in both electronic and print formats.

    My thoughts

    Cruise Ship SOS is a very entertaining and educational read.  Dr. MacFarlane is a gifted storyteller who has a knack for giving life to his characters.  He makes the medical center on his cruise ship sound like a good place to be, even if you happen to be a patient.  Not all of his stories have happy endings, but they are all uniformly touching and memorable in some way.  He really makes the medical staff on his ship sound wonderful, even as they deal with challenging medical issues and occasionally difficult or eccentric patients.

    It is important to remember that these stories are somewhat fabricated for privacy reasons.  Moreover, Dr. MacFarlane keeps his stories overwhelmingly upbeat, even the ones involving death.  By his account, everyone in his job got along beautifully and never once suffered burnout.  Maybe that’s how it really was on his ship, but somehow I doubt it.  Also, Dr. MacFarlane really sticks to medical and human stories.  He doesn’t dish too much about some of the places he got to see, except to mention them a bit in passing.  You also won’t read about how much those onboard medical treatments cost, which is one area that I know some readers would find interesting.

    Despite those minor criticisms, I really did enjoy Cruise Ship SOS and even found myself wanting to meet the good doctor in person.  His writing made him seem very personable and charming.  He comes off as a great doctor and gives his co-workers equally flattering descriptions.  Again, I’m not sure Dr. MacFarlane’s somewhat rosy account is entirely accurate, but it was fun to read in a Love Boat kind of way.


    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a cruise ship doctor, Ben MacFarlane’s Cruise Ship SOS is worth reading.  I’m not a big fan of mega cruise ships, but this book makes me appreciate all medical staffers do on those floating hotels.

The second book is about MacFarlane’s experiences traveling to people who have become sick while on vacation.  He accompanies them back to their home and arranges for their care.

  • Ben MacFarlane’s adventures of a traveling doctor…

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel
      January, 19 2012
  • Pros: Fascinating stories about a traveling doctor.
    Cons: Sometimes incongruously chipper.
    Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were on vacation and suddenly had a serious accident?  How about if, while visiting an exotic location somewhere, you suddenly became deathly ill.  If you’re smart, you have travel insurance.  If you’re lucky, there is someone who knows to call someone at home on your behalf.  And if you’re even more fortunate, you’ll have a medical professional like Dr. Ben MacFarlane (a pseudonym) travel to your location to bring you home, safe and sound.

    A couple of days ago, I read and reviewed Dr. Ben MacFarlane’s book, Cruise Ship SOS: The Life-Saving Adventures of a Doctor at Sea.  I liked Dr. MacFarlane’s writing style and traveling medical stories so much that I decided to read and review his earlier book, Holiday SOS: The Life-Saving Adventures of a Travelling Doctor.  This book, offered in print and e-book forms, was published in 2009.  This earlier book consists of Ben MacFarlane’s fascinating and entertaining stories about his adventures as a traveling doctor who repatriates people who have gotten hurt or sick on vacation.

    Dr. MacFarlane is British and his company, which mostly does a lot of work with insurance companies, is based in London.  It’s MacFarlane’s job to travel the world in search of Britons who have had mishaps while on holiday.  MacFarlane explains that most of the jobs are relatively easy and involve “hand-holding”.  Sometimes, however, Dr. MacFarlane runs into challenging medical situations that test his abilities as a physician.  Occasionally, MacFarlane and his colleagues become ensnared in the typical red tape that can develop in the course of traveling abroad.  And from what I read in his book, Dr. MacFarlane often gets to know his patients, whose stories touch and enrich him.

    This is not a job for the faint of heart or the committed homebody.  Dr. MacFarlane and his colleagues often have to travel at a moment’s notice, jetting off to any of the corners of the world.  But the rewards can be amazing, especially for those who love travel and adventure.  And if you’re not qualified to be a medical professional, Holiday SOS might give you just a glimpse of what it’s like to rescue people abroad.

    My thoughts

    This book excited me on several levels.  First of all, I love to travel and I love reading about other peoples’ travels.  Secondly, I have a professional background in public health and social work.  I’m not qualified to do what MacFarlane does, but I am interested in the medical aspects of his stories.  And finally, I am very intrigued by the concept of medical care abroad.  Dr. MacFarlane’s adventures put in contact with plenty of medical facilities abroad.

    Interspersed withing MacFarlane’s travel tales are anecdotes about his personal life.  For instance, he explains how he met his girlfriend, Cassie, who is herself working in an occupation that requires her to travel a lot.  He also writes about his colleagues, whom he makes sound absolutely wonderful to work with.  We should all enjoy work environments as positive and rewarding as the one described in this book.  Of course, MacFarlane also had to deal with doubts.  As a doctor, he has been trained to want to have a “proper” job in a hospital, where he can build prestige and a pension fund.  And, as it turns out, MacFarlane did eventually quit working as a traveling doctor full-time, though as of 2009, he was still doing freelance gigs.

    Naturally, the job isn’t always rosy.  Sometimes he has to deal with very difficult cases under challenging conditions.  Occasionally, his patients are unpleasant people who are demanding or ungrateful.  He’s dealt with his share of dirty airports, inedible airline food, and bad airport coffee.  He’s experienced chronic jetlag.  But consider this.  MacFarlane’s travel expenses are all paid.  He usually flies in business class or better, so he can properly attend to his patients.  He usually stays in decent hotels.  He gets plenty of time off to see the sights, too.  In exchange, he deals with sick or injured patients, the vast majority of whom are happy to see him.

    I really enjoyed reading this book, though I did notice that just as he did in his other book, MacFarlane keeps his tone very chipper.  He writes of one time flying in a private Lear jet to pick up a patient who had broken his neck.  MacFarlane and a colleague snacked on scones and champagne and very much enjoyed themselves.  Though I could hardly blame them for doing so, I also wondered about the poor chap with the broken neck.  I think MacFarlane is mostly very empathetic,  though sometimes his stories about catastrophic injuries and illnesses don’t mesh with his upbeat attitude.


    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to travel the world for a living, this is a good book to read.  If you’re a medical professional with wanderlust in need of ideas for places to visit, Holiday SOS is right up your alley.  If you are inclined to read both of Dr. MacFarlane’s books, I recommend reading Holiday SOS first.


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