1 Virus, 2 Moves and Lots of Thankyou's Aquamarine Medicals

As we start to see the divers again who were first through for medicals when things opened up last year, this has prompted me to put pen to paper and reflect on the past 12 months. As a doctor, I have been fortunate to continue working. I am not sure how I would have coped with being confined to the house or being furloughed. It has been a tough year for everyone but there has been good stuff as well which I think is good to remember on the rainy days. I thought I would write this as looking back – lots of people have helped us, and where able, we have tried to help other people too. It sounds a bit naff, but keeping an eye out for other folk, rubbing along together in a socially distanced manner and helping others is what is going to help us all get through this.

Aquamarine Medicals started life at Devonport Health Centre in 2018 . The practice was really helpful getting Aquamarine up and running (cheers Sharon and Team DHC!). I think doing medicals provided some light relief for the practice staff from the relentless slog that is working for the NHS.

When the Covid storm clouds gathered staff were needed more in their NHS roles, so thanks to the practice nurse who trained up my stepdaughter Lucy to be a medical technician (I won’t mention you by name Debs, you’d hate that).

As NHS services in Plymouth readied themselves for what we all thought was going to be the zombie apocalypse, the GPs in Plymouth worked together to set up a ‘Hot Hub’. The aim being a site to see patients whom we thought may have Covid, needed seeing in person, but were not sick enough to go straight to hospital. Devonport Health Centre was up until very recently, the site of the Hot Hub. Whereas from an infection control point of view the GP surgery and Hot Hub were separate, it felt time to move our location. It was a busy time with lots to juggle so thanks to the security guard who pointed out I was about to drive off with a coffee cup on the roof of my car!

A fairly rapid move to HQ Business Centre, owned by the Millfields Trust, happened in April last year. You could not meet a friendlier and more helpful bunch of people, thanks to their key staff (another Debs!) it enabled us to keep going. If you are looking for office space of any shape or size – get in touch with them. They are a Social Enterprise, and try and contribute funds to local schools. HQ was base for us for about 6 months, hardly any of the other businesses there were using the premises.

During those first few weeks of lockdown, we met lots of key workers who work at sea or offshore. I genuinely don’t think the general public appreciate how seafarers help keep things moving, fuel in the petrol stations and food in the shops.

One of the issues with diving medicals is that the lung function is an aerosol generating procedure, and high risk for spreading Covid, the only way we could safely do this was outside. HQ Business Centre humoured us when we were trying to work out how we could safely restart doing diving medicals. HQ Business Centre, the old Jaeger factory, might look like a concrete block from the front, but has a lovely garden round the back where we did our diving medicals. (MILLFIELDS GARDEN Thanks to the freshly retired dive doc in Cornwall, one of the authors of the British Thoracic Society Fitness to Dive guidelines, who cast his very experienced eye over our plans on how to make this work (cheers Pat!). Thanks also to our two guinea pig divers who came first to test out our new system. I had risk assessed for sun, wind, rain and Covid – but had not counted on nesting seagulls on a bombing run. The smell of pizza wafting over the wall from our favourite local pub when things opened up again was maybe a tad distracting for people doing lung function tests, but it was good to hear activity again.

We were fortunate in being able to continue our work, and realised that some were struggling. Here and there we were able to donate our time as it were to help a bit. I’m glad we could offer a few no cost diving medicals for the National Marine Aquarium as they are one of the sectors that have taken a hit. Their ‘Gins and Fins’ night in Feb 2020 was well timed for us to stock up for lockdown #1 and we are glad your doors are open again.

During the first lockdown, I found exercising outside was one of the mainstays for me keeping sane. If you saw a crazy lady swinging a kettle bell around early morning down at Devils Point, apparently talking to herself, when actually it was to Ben Wadham on Zoom, that was me. I really needed that to help me clear my head and keep going

It was good to see people adjusting their daily routine – out swimming or running, with the familiar faces from the local diving scene sometimes to be seen gazing longingly at the sea which looked from the surface to have great vis, but they had to stick to walking for the moment. Nice to see you starting to come through for your diving medicals and hearing about dive trip plans.

We were glad to respond when the Landmark Trust send out a call for help with fundraising to maintain Lundy Island, we could offer our time and some free medicals for them. We will get round to rebooking our planned stay on Lundy and really looking forward to it.

The first few months of lockdown were busy, busy – trying to get my head round what was happening with Covid from medical perspective, as well as all the worries everyone had early on. The first time I had a bit of a dip was at the end of June, the Glastonbury weekend. I have volunteered as a doctor at Glastonbury since I first moved to Plymouth in 2006 and it is a fixture in my calendar. Both thanks and apologies to our neighbours as it was the first time able to do some small scale socialising in the back garden and ‘Glasthomebury’ was a bit of light relief from the real world.

In September it became clear that divers north of the border were struggling to get back to work as several of the dive docs in Scotland were either shielding or had recently retired. The campervan was loaded up with medicals equipment and we headed north, glad to be able to carry out some HSE Diving medicals up in Oban. It was also an opportunity to get away for some much-needed space within the restrictions.

Thanks to Martin and Jane of Tritonia Scientific – glad we could help you guys out and looking forward to when Tritonia colour changing gin goes into production. Going back to Oban to do diving medicals was like going full circle for me as I first tried scuba diving in Oban many moons ago. See you again this September.

We came back from Oban to set up the new Aquamarine premises, just beside Stonehouse Barracks. Thanks to Plymouth based Sound Financial Management for their help in sorting out Aquamarine’s new home during challenging times.

Thanks to South West Signs for our signage.

Steve from Yoke for his small business discussions over a much-needed haircut.

Miles, our website designer from Altitude in Mount Wise has been a superstar doing the updates on our website at the time when guidelines relating to the medicals we do were rapidly shifting sands.

The community spirit of trying to help each other along has meant a lot this year

It has been a family effort this past year also to make things work for Aquamarine. Family members getting involved at reception at HQ, painting walls on hot sunny days and shifting kit around.

A particular test may have been the 322 kg hearing booth that was delivered but left on the pavement during monsoonal weather. Despite a lot of kettle bell swinging in 2020, that was a bit too much for just two people to move.

In true neighbourly style – thanks to the KW Brothers Oriental Supermarket round the corner from us who were happy to help with their forklift truck. If you ever need a medical, give us a shout.

There have been many people furloughed, which is difficult, but also a lot of people working really hard to try and help other people during these tough times. Thanks to Shannon, the friendly voice of Aquamarine on reception, who joined us in November and is doing sterling work as our Administrator.
We have got to know Helen Lovell from the Brixham Fishermen’s Mission, and in awe of everything she and the Fishermen’s Mission does to try and help fisherfolk. We were glad to be able to work together and promote help that is out there for fishermen and seafarers. We were also glad to be able to donate some hard cash to the Fishermen’s Mission to keep up the good work.

I have been very impressed with the collaborative efforts by Plymouth GPs and their staff for the vaccination program, well done, proper job! Thank you also to all the volunteers helping in vaccination centres. The cruise ship industry has taken a bashing, but it was heartening to see two senior cruise ship officers helping guide folk in at the local centre

We have caught up with Sandra Welch, CEO of the Seafarers Hospital Society, a charity that really tries to help seafarers and we are trying to help spread the word about everything they offer. The MCA might be seen as a lurking presence for many, but the Seafarer Health and Safety Branch and Dr Sally Bell, the Chief Medical Adviser, have taken a really pragmatic approach this past year to try and help keep people working, and remained readily available to provide advice and support for me as an ENG1 Approved Doctor.

We have tried to do our bit and help others and are thankful for those who have given us a bit of a hand. Definitely what goes around comes around, it’s nice to be nice and all of that.

Firestone Bay near our offices, has been rediscovered by the people of Plymouth it would seem, with all the wild swimmers, paddleboarders and people out and about. We are glad we have been able to support the Wave After Wave fundraising effort to improve water safety.

At times in this past year, it’s been a struggle. For me personally, some days when you are worried about friends and family and the state of the world in general, when your mask is hurting your face, the skin on your hands is suffering and feeling just generally hot and bothered – something that has helped keep me going is thinking about my Grandad. I never met my Dad’s Dad, but he was a fireman in the Merchant Navy in the North Atlantic convoys during the war. I know what we are going through now is no comparison, but when I’ve felt a bit sorry for myself, I have tried to think that hopefully some doctor back then was looking out for my grandad as a seafarer, the way I have tried to do for over the past year for people who work at sea.

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped support Aquamarine Medicals and enabled us to keep going during a turbulent year. We hope for calmer times ahead and that things can start getting back on an even keel for people