Surgery at Sea! – A surprising missionary journey

Surgery at Sea! – A surprising missionary journey

by Sr. Raphael O’Connell MMM (1925 – 2022)               Ireland               11.05.2023

It was to be the last voyage of the Llangibby Castle, the elderly ship of the Union Castle Line that had once carried Edel Quinn to Africa. Sr. Kieran Saunders was returning to Tanganyika (as it was then, now Tanzania). She was returning from home leave and accompanied by Srs. Eileen Keoghan and Sr. Raphael O’Connell. Sr. Raphael had qualified in medicine a year earlier, and this was her first overseas assignment. She recalls the reason she was invited to dine with the Captain before they docked!

“We sailed from England on New Year’s Day in 1954. We had no storm crossing the infamous Bay of Biscay, but there was a mighty storm after we entered the Mediterranean. So we were very happy when we entered the calm waters of the Suez Canal. While cruising down the Canal, we were at siesta one afternoon when there was a loud knocking at our Cabin door. A ship’s officer was there, saying that the Ship’s Doctor was asking for assistance. A young female passenger, en route to South Africa on honeymoon, has developed acute appendicitis. He had hoped the patient would make it to Mombasa, but the abscess had perforated. Could Doctor O’Connell take care of the anaesthetic while the Ship’s Doctor operated on her?

The children’s play area was scrubbed down and sterilised, while the Captain steered the vessel into the two-way bypass in the Bitter Lakes between El Qantarah and Al Ismailiyah and dropped anchor.

When the surgery was finished, Srs. Kieran and Eileen, now dressed in their white nurses’ uniforms, took over the special care of the patient in her first-class cabin. She made such a good recovery that when the ship docked at Mombasa, the surgeon who examined her there felt there was no need for her to be admitted to the hospital, which would have interrupted her honeymoon voyage to South Africa!”

First published by MMM in 1997