Transmission 12: Harold Goldfarb

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Having never been aboard the Big U prior to this stint as ship’s surgeon, I was as flummoxed as the newly boarded passengers were about the layout of the ship. After the first three or four lost, puzzled passengers stopped me – dressed in my spiffy officer’s maritime uniform – to ask the location of this or that, I beat a hasty retreat to my cabin to study the ship’s layout. Needless to say, ego conflated with ignorance ensured I quickly learned the SS United States’ layout!

As ship’s surgeon, I took care of the Tourist Class passengers and the crew. Because I was “their” doctor, the crew could not do enough for me. The first evening, when I ordered “hors d’oeuvres and scotch” to my room, a beautiful tray loaded with goodies and a full, unopened 750 ml bottle of Ambassador scotch appeared!

The medical highlight of the trip? I was awakened in the middle of the night by a middle-aged male passenger with acute rectal pain. Examination quickly turned up the cause for this gentleman’s severe “PIA”: a thrombosed hemorrhoid! Although I was an ophthalmology resident, I had spent a full year in a real “cutting” surgical internship, so I felt very comfortable in performing, on the rock and rolling North Atlantic high seas, in the Dispensary Operatory, an I&D (incision and drainage) of his thrombosed hemorrhoid. He was one of the most grateful patients I have ever had in over 50 years of practice.

After 52 and ½ years, my time as ship’s surgeon on the SS United States still stands out as one of the most memorable and determinant experiences of my life. Wonderful captain, wonderful crew, and lots of wonderful experiences with the most interesting passengers. In this relatively early post-WWII era, transatlantic crossings were a pleasurable experience to be savored as part of the unfolding travel experience. Today the “travel” portion so often involves being jammed into claustrophobic Economy Class seats that make “crossing the Pond” an endurance contest, rather than the gracious pleasure that it was aboard the SS United States.”

— Harold Goldfard, M.D., Ship’s Surgeon (May 1964)