Edited by Martha Jette
Story by Paul Cauchon
Every single week, all negative, until one week three years into my tour, red specks of WTF was growing on my petri dishes. It was not e coli (Escherichia coli). The strain O157: H7 can cause severe stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Serious complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection can include renal (kidney) failure, which can be fatal.
It was also not strep (Streptococcus), which is a “genus of spherical Gram-positive bacteria belonging to the phylum Firmicutes and lactic acid bacteria group. Some species of this bacteria can cause meningitis (acute inflammation of protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord), endocarditis (inflammation of the inner layer of the heart, also called the endocardium), bacterial pneumonia, pink eye (causing red, itchy swelling in the eye and eyelid), necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating infections) and erysipelas (also known as St. Anthony’s Fire due to redness and swelling of the skin). However, most species are non-pathogenic (do not cause illness) and are found in the human mouth, intestines, upper respiratory tract and skin.
It was also not a staph (staphylococcus) type of bacteria, which in the S. epidermidis form can cause skin infection and more severe infections in those with suppressed immune systems.
So with all of the above ruled out, we had NO idea where the red specks were coming from. It looked more like some kind of contaminant.
While approaching Phuket, Thailand, ENC (Electroencephalography Technician) Redmon and I donned our coveralls and crawled under the PWTs (port watch side) with maglites (flashlights with a variable focus beam).
Steve was a big guy and probably had about four inches clearance between the skin of the ship and the bottom of the tank. It was wet and dark, and not fun but what was bizarre was that we kept feeling stuff hit the bottom of the ship.
We were out in the middle of the Andaman Sea. Seriously, what the f**k was that? Were the red specks actually paint flakes coming off the hull?
And if whatever was hitting it was causing damage, what would we have done if we found a leak? Seriously.