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Anna Karin Lundström

Registered Nurse

MS Gripsholm 1969-73, MS Kungsholm 1974-1975

Page 1 of 4

Anna Karin Lundström

Many thanks to Hans "Hasse" Gustafsson and Tommy Stark
for compiling and translating Anna Karin's story.

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This is the story about the life and career of a nurse with special focus on her work in the doctor’s office and the ship’s hospital onboard two oceangoing SAL vessels 1969-75.

About my background
I grew up attending a girls’ school in the picturesque small town Strängnäs, about 80 km West of Stockholm, in a family of seven siblings.

In those days and in the conservative small town environment there were only three options for a girl with ambitions for an education, if you did not have a senior high school degree – becoming a teacher, a secretary, or a nurse.…  And with my keen interest in other human beings it was an easy choice for me: I wanted to become a nurse of course!

I studied at the State School of Nursing (Statens sjuksköterskeskola) in Stockholm, close by to the Karolinska University Hospital. After my graduation in 1958, my first employment was at the Karolinska University Hospital in an outpatient department. Still, I wanted to work in an operating theater. After a while I got an employment at Allmänna BB (maternity ward) in the operating theater. During 1964 I lived in Gothenburg and attended a half year education in anesthesia and in 1965 I got employment at the anesthesia section of Södersjukhuset (Stockholm South General Hospital) until the summer of 1969.  It is a huge hospital in the centre of Stockholm providing emergency medical care to half a million Stockholmers.

How come I wanted to work at sea?
Ships have always fascinated me. When I lived in Gothenburg 1964 I got acquainted with a colleague nurse who had a job onboard the Gripsholm. Thanks to her I too started working on the Gripsholm in 1969.

Before my employment, just like many others, I had called captain Tistrand at the SAL headquarters on the telephone to announce my interest in working on the Gripsholm. After receiving my documents he called back, asking in Swedish if I knew the English word for ”dusch” [shower], among other things... Obviously a question he had asked many times to presumptive new employees...

All the nurses onboard should preferably have educational background for surgery and anesthetics.  And since I had both lines of training I got the job.

Working at the ship’s hospital
We were three nurses onboard attending the passengers and crew as patients, and a paramedic who also attended the crew when required.

We were two new nurses boarding the ship in the summer of 1969, Gunilla Sillén and myself. Gunilla was onboard until after Christmas that year. Ingrid Beijner went on vacation and Märta Persson returned from hers. Inger Beijner was the head nurse/supervisor.

The physician onboard was our boss and he had officer’s rank. During my years onboard, the doctor was always of Swedish or Danish origin, or from the Åland Islands (between Sweden and Finland). It was mandatory for the doctor to be a surgeon. But on the long cruises they were usually two physicians – one American doctor of internal medicine, and one surgeon. Having an officer’s rank the doctor had his own table in the passenger’s dining room. The nurses had their meals in the mess room for staff from the purser´s department.

Our working time was normally eight hours daily and we alternated on call duty according to a schedule.

Two nurses started working at 07:00 AM, and the reception time for passengers was between 09:00 – 12.00 noon. The third nurse started her work shift at 13:00 PM and continued with on call duty the coming evening and night. Whenever our assistance was needed during nighttime, we were called upon by the night steward on duty that night.
In addition to assisting the doctors and taking care of the patients, our duties included all kinds of tasks that are common in a surgery and a care center: stockpile management, sterilization of equipment, handling of medicines, etc.

Each time when we returned to Gothenburg we had prepared inventory lists of the medicines, and then a pharmacist came aboard and checked through our stock of drugs and medicines. We replenished and filled up again with what we could need during the upcoming voyages. If required we could also get medicines delivered to the ship in New York.

The nurses had single cabins onboard. On the Gripsholm we were located in the aft section of the ship on B deck. The ship was rebuilt later on and we were lodged where the engineers and clerks lived, presumably aft of the bridge. On the Kungsholm we all lived on B deck slightly forward of the medical section, which was handy when we had a standby shift for call duties at night.

Our work onboard consisted predominantly of recurrent healthcare tasks such as for example:

Upset stomachs, colds, appendicitis and appendectomy. Deaths happened onboard, but not frequently.

The passengers’ average age was usually around 73 years on a cruise, and many carried their own medicines onboard with them and were in reasonably good health.

Some memories

  • My first transatlantic crossing from Gothenburg in June 1969, being up early out on deck watching the approach to New York, passing the Statue of Liberty en route up to Pier 97. That was an unforgettable experience.
  • Gunilla my colleague and I went to SARDI’S restaurant [on 234 W44 St.] with portraits of film stars all over the walls. We had American cheese cake, something I had never tried before.
  • As soon as all the passengers had left the ship in New York all medical personnel was off duty and permitted to go ashore. And we were free until an hour or two before the ship was scheduled to depart again.
  • The North Cape cruise was my first cruise experience. We got ashore with tender boat shuttles and accompanied passengers up to the North Cape rock, and retuned down again by bus.
  • The entire Norwegian coastline with all its scenic fjords was fabulous in beauty.
  • Rio de Janeiro – simply unforgettable!  There too, I was up early and out on deck to watch our approach.
  • Cape Town in South Africa was another breathtaking experience.
  • On Tahiti – myself and two navigating officers rented a jeep and were guided by Bengt Danielsson (Kon Tiki), and we were later invited to have lunch at his home with him and his wife.

Work mates
The physicians and surgeons often shifted from cruise to cruise. Among the doctors during my time onboard the SAL ships I remember especially Dr. Nils Liedberg, Dr. Ågesen and Dr. Johannes Spotoft.

I had good colleagues on the Gripsholm; Inger Beijner, Märta Persson, Gunilla Silén, Sonja Berger and Elisabeth Wanbo. And on the Kungsholm, among others, the head nurse Ninni Lundh and Birgitta Johansson. We worked well together as a team and enjoyed each others’ company, also in our leisure time. Sometimes we prepared meals onboard and cooked together. There was a small kitchen in the medical section. We arranged parties. And we joined the officers and people from the purser´s department when they arranged some social activities. On the North Cape cruises we always had a traditional Swedish crayfish party out on the deck, as well as a party specialty from the north of Sweden: fermented Baltic herring [“surströmming”] with its characteristic stench.   
During the transatlantic trips we were allowed to eat in the passenger’s dining room. And during the North Cape cruises we could eat together with the passengers at the generous Smörgåsbord buffet in the Main Lounge on Verandah Deck.

As a nurse one was expected to act in a professional manner towards the passengers, and avoid any kind of personal relations with them.

Many years have passed, and I cannot really remember any passenger by name. It was probably more common that passengers remembered us. And possibly the crew members that had daily contact with the passengers, like dining room waiters and stewards in bars and cabins, more often got a personal relation to some of the passengers.

Aspects of being a nurse onboard
We wore white medical uniforms at work. We bought them in Stockholm, but later we bought American coats that were a lot niftier in New York. And of course we also wore nursing brooch and a white cap. My brooch is blue with a golden circle with two facing “S” [Statens Sjuksköterskeskola] in gold and three crowns at the top. Incidentally, a passenger asked if she could buy a brooch like that in the NK gift shop onboard...

Nurses were not permitted to move around freely on the ship. But we were allowed to visit the gift shop in uniform, and we could attend the ship’s passenger cinema at passengers’ performances. Occasionally, a passenger would invite nurses to a cocktail party and then we had to ask permission from the chief purser to attend.

I played the role of Saint Lucia twice onboard for the passengers and crew, on the 13th of December, on the Gripsholm.

The medical personnel were employees of the Swedish American Line, and my monthly salary was 2,690 SEK. In addition to that, when we signed off for vacation leave we received recompense for work onboard during weekends and holidays.

Nurses were not eligible for tips and gratuity from passengers. However, once when we were cruising from Mombasa to Bombay a passenger got very ill and passed away unfortunately. The body was picked up by a private jet upon arrival, with a staff of personnel to meet the passenger, and we got 50 dollar from the lawyer that was responsible for the repatriation.

In my leisure time I read many books, made needlework, cooked with friends, and when the weather was nice I often liked to take walks around Sun Deck to make some exercise.

Sometimes the officers arranged parties, and we were invited. We socialized and had a good time together. On the Kungsholm we [nurses] kept company a lot with the cooks onboard, a very nice bunch!

The visit to New York were always special
Before our arrival in New York I once asked the ship’s agent to arrange for two tickets to the Metropolitan Opera – Tosca - and then also chief officer Öhrstedt came along.
We saw famous performances on Broadway such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, and some other musicals.

The nurse Märta Persson and I liked to visit good Chinese restaurants quite often, and there were many of them in New York! We also kept company with the masseuse Gerd aboard the Gripsholm, and many others.

All things come to an end …
I signed off for good in New York at the end of April 1975. Shortly thereafter I went to Washington with the doctor Lennart Sundberg and one more person, to experience that city. Then we flew back to New York and onward to Copenhagen to get home to Sweden again. And I stayed for a short period with my parents in Tyringe in the southernmost county of Sweden, Skåne.

In those days, there were lots and lots of jobs available for a nurse. I contacted a number of clinics, and I got a job in Gothenburg (nowadays named Queen Silvia’s Childrens’ Hospital) where I stayed and worked for seven years. And in parallel with my job I studied to become a nursing instructor.

When I moved back to Stockholm in 1982 I worked at the Danderyd Hospital in the anesthesia section until my retirement in 2001. The years 1985-89 I was on leave from my ordinary work to serve as a nurse at the Liberian-American-Swedish Minerals Company, LAMCO, in Liberia. It was a huge mining project that engaged many of Swedish experts and their families for many years but also other nationalities.

Over the years I have travelled quite a lot, among other places visiting St. Croix in the Caribbean various times where a former colleague from my Liberia years lives, she is married to an American. I have also been to California a number of times. I have a sister living in San Francisco and my brother lived near San Diego during six years.

After my retirement I still keep contact with my ex colleague Sonja Berger who signed on the Gripsholm in 1971 and stayed onboard until the end in 1975. She lives in Stockholm too, like I do. I also have contacts with Elisabet and Erik Tinkhauser in South Tyrol, Italy.

This is the story of Anna Karin Lundström as recalled and told by herself in telephone interviews during February 2015. The story has been compiled, adapted and translated for publication on www.salship.se by Tommy Stark and Hasse Gustafsson, two ex crew members who served onboard the MS Kungsholm as deck waiters in the early 1970’s. The photos have been provided by Anna Karin, who has also checked and approved the above text for publication.

Anna Karin Lundström, ready for work in her white medical uniform.

Anna Karin Lundström at picturesque Geiranger, Norway,
with the Gripsholm waiting for her return in the fjord below.

At the North Cape.

The SAL North Cape Cruises reached the northernmost fishing village in the world,
Skarsvåg, where the sun never sets in the month of July.

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