Jonty Pearce goes on an fantasy cruise with a crew of doctors and lands on remote islands, surrounded by mortal danger

Jonty Pearce:

A disproportionate number of my medical colleagues enjoy sailing. Perhaps my profession’s need to seek the wide open sea is an escape from the pressures of clinical work, or an attempt to stay grounded when accused of ‘playing God’. Nevertheless, to the coast they swarm, often in like-minded company. This piece of whimsy is a story of an imaginary sailing cruise of such a group, and being of the medical fraternity might help dissect some of the terminology so common when a bunch of doctors get together.

One of the sad facts of life is that when a group of overgrown schoolboys re-unite for a holiday they inevitably assign each other nicknames that would not be recognised by their parents. In my tale, our common vocation inevitably suggested the theme: as skipper, my role as a GP transformed me into Jack (of all trades, but master of none, including the yacht). The first mate, an anaesthetist by trade, became Yawn. Our neurologist navigator was Axon (nerve cell), and our surgeon chef Slasher. A psychiatrist, known as Squirrel for his affinity to nuts, was as directionless as any politician at the helm, while our spinal surgeon Ivor (backache) was just along for the ride as he never did anything anyway.

Our stated goal, apart from having a childishly hilarious time, was to sail out to locate the fabled Islets of Langerhans. Our cruise was to start at Liver pool: Axon came up on the train from St Pancreas, Ivor drove up from Wyre Piddle, and the Irish contingent – Yawn, Squirrel, and Axon – arrived on the ferry after leaving their homes in Whitlow, Achill, and Gallway respectively. Slasher arrived last, cut up about the traffic from Lower Slaughter.

We set off from the fleshpots into the evening sunset to who knows where. The course of our night passage was only known to Axon, who gave directions to Squirrel on the helm, who was away with the fairies as usual. We woke to an empty sea, reaching powerfully towards an empty horizon. Slasher produced a proper Cholesterol Special for breakfast, and presently a distant shore appeared on the horizon. From the mirage-blurred lands arose two noticeable peaks – Axon assured us that our destination lay between them, and in due course it became clear that we were to pass between two islands – Mons Pubis to port, and Ampulla of Vater to starboard, following the channel of the Linea Alba. Once through, a bay opened up to port – the Sella Turcica, but our route lay to starboard, passing first the rock of the Tarsal Plate before approaching a channel between two more large islands.

We dropped sail; the winding channel, named ‘Epididymis’ on Axon’s chart, was too narrow and tortuous to sail. After many twists and turns, we finally emerged into strange surroundings – an odd even light emanated from a group of small islands in the middle of a circular sea. ‘There they are!’ Squirrel squealed excitedly. ‘The Islets of Langerhans! We all stared as we approached the nearest of the island group, a white beach beckoning seductively. We anchored, and rowed ashore.

The sand looked strangely white, and a sweet scent blew in on the gentle breeze. ‘This isn’t sand – it’s sugar!’ Ivor exclaimed. We tasted the grains – he was right. On the margin of the beach was the remains of a village – roofless now, with only square walls showing the outline of the old rooms. The inhabitants had left, leaving only the empty cells and sugar laden beach. Being a GP, I was the only one to recognise sickness and suddenly realised the danger we were in. ‘Run!’ I shouted. ‘Back to the boat! The islands are diseased! Those were the Beta Cells, and the Insulin they produced is all gone! We’re in danger of Diabetes – that’s why the sugar has crusted on the beach!

We raced back to the dinghy, our sea boots sinking into the syrup forming at the water’s margin. We scrambled aboard, dragging mad Squirrel forcibly in – he was lying on the shore wriggling with white froth on his lips, looking like a giant Sugar Puff. Yawn put him to sleep with an oar, and we beat a hasty retreat, swiftly retracing our steps till we could raise sail and run away safely.

‘Well, boys. We found The Islets of Langerhans’, I announced in honeyed tones. ‘Where next?’ ‘The Adrenals’, said Slasher. ‘Let’s keep on the theme. Aren’t they a type of sweetbread? I’ve often seen them but never tasted them’. With no better suggestions we agreed, and set a new course past The Kidneys. Slasher put the kettle on for a brew. None of us now wanted sugar in our tea – we all felt a little sour after our near escape.