Minutes ago, a turtle bigger than my dog bumped into me. I looked down to catch a glimpse and saw it drift up from beneath my legs, chasing after dozens of huge fish. I am definitely not known for my swimming, so it’s with some surprise I found myself floating forty feet above the Caribbean sea this afternoon.
Minutes before that, I was staring out across the sea from a little boat, counting other bigger boats. There were at least a dozen in view. They almost looked like they were hovering, the water was so clear. Today marks my last day in the Caribbean, finishing it as I started, at a beach house. However, in an attempt to escape its soundtrack (Worst of the 90s, also feat. Abba and Justin Bieber), we had gone looking for some turtles. But more on that in a minute.
A lot has happened in four weeks. When I came, I was the picture of a Brit abroad, complete with DEET-laced shorts and a hat that wouldn’t look out of place on safari. This sadly remains unchanged. But I do feel like the Caribbean has brushed off on me in other ways.
I’ve seen so much more than I ever thought I would, inside the hospital and out. I’ve learned about a population with incomparable friendliness (I thought I was laid back. Now I know the true meaning of chilling), but have been privileged to also learn about their many and varied health problems.
With widespread hypertension, some of the most poorly controlled diabetes worldwide, and a seven fold increase in some blinding eye diseases, Barbados doctors have more than their fair share to deal with. It makes me really appreciate how far along the UK is in its healthcare, particularly with regards to nipping disease in the bud before it grows out of control – including our close diabetes monitoring and retinal screening service.
It’s shown me that it’s always important to look at things from another perspective. Like, say, going snorkeling for the first time instead of lounging on the beach. Which takes us back to me bobbing along next to my little boat.
Staring down at the sea floor was incredible. Schools of fish, each one as big as my foot, darted around anywhere I cared to look. I’ve never seen anything so vibrant, almost loud to look at. The turtles circled around me, coming in to see this clumsy, goggled invader. I could not get over how huge they were. Far too big to glide around so effortlessly. We brushed past each other a few times, and their shells felt like smooth rock. Floating there, over hundreds and hundreds of square feet of ocean floor, was a feeling I’ll never forget.
There’s a phrase that goes: ‘a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there’. I try to take this to heart. Whether it’s changing up your career plan and training as a doctor, muddling through your first long haul flight alone to work at a hospital abroad, or even colliding with a giant turtle, I think you can only learn by doing something new.
With any luck, I’ve still got a lot to learn.