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"My only beef with them about medical care is when no one is watching them and they send the employee to a foreign doctor," says Hoffman. "Technically they're providing maintenance and care, but how good is the care?"
In a case closed this year, an employer allegedly went one step further and completely cut off an injured crewman's medical treatment and support by booting him out of the country. Mateus Da Cunha Dos Santos was a Portuguese waiter working for Apollo Ship Chandlers, which operated the restaurants aboard the S.S. Britannia. After Dos Santos slipped on butter in the ship's kitchen and broke his wrist, he was treated by a Miami physician.
Seven weeks after the accident, doctors still had not given Dos Santos the go-ahead to return to work. In fact, at least one doctor determined the crewman needed another month before he'd be able to lift anything. So Apollo hired security guards to deal with the matter, says the crewman's attorney, Charles Lipcon. According to a 1988 decision reached in the Third District Court of Appeal, which ordered a trial in the matter, the guards took Dos Santos to the airport and put him on a plane home to Portugal even though he had one day left on his visa. "That was just one of their tricks for getting rid of injured crew members," Lipcon says. The case was eventually settled out of court. Lipcon says he can't recall the amount of money Dos Santos finally accepted, although he believes the waiter could have received a lot more if he had taken his case back to a jury.
Although no security guards were called in to deal with the crew members injured in Carnival's lifeboat accident, Julian Bravo says the medical treatment he received in the immediate aftermath was nothing short of appalling. He says he was X-rayed in Freeport about an hour and a half after the fall, but that he was subsequently returned to the ship and abandoned in his cabin with only a supply of Tylenol to see him through. "Nobody for the whole day or night went to see me, or even the doctor or captain," says the wiry, unshaven Brazilian, recalling the incident.
Carnival kept him on the Fantasy for a day before flying him back to the United States for treatment at the company's clinic in Miami, even though he could barely walk and his entire body was racked with pain. "What was wrong? Pain on back of head," says the 30-year-old, starting at the top and working down, patting each section of his body as he names it. "I had a huge pressure on my neck. My shoulder, the left one. My whole back. Both arms, my left elbow was bleeding. Left hip, swollen. Left buttock, swollen. It was difficult to put my pants on. Both legs." A cramped booth at the Howard Johnson Hotel restaurant on Alton Road in Miami Beach can barely contain him as he rattles off his litany of pain.
Frenetic and intense, Bravo is a flurry of movement and gesture, putting a match to a Marlboro Light, describing how the company further neglected his needs by sequestering him and three other victims in a Fort Lauderdale hotel even though they were receiving treatment at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. "I was there for one night," Bravo says, his voice rising in outrage. "They said all the hotels in Miami are full. They say full! Fuck that. I got really mad. I say, `Why do you send me up there? Bring me to Miami.'" Carnival immediately moved Bravo to Room 415 of the Howard Johnson Hotel in Miami Beach, affording him a view of Mount Sinai Medical Center and the traffic jams on the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
(Carnival executives defend their handling of the lifeboat accident, saying every victim received proper and expert medical treatment. Still, the incident is far from over. According to Carnival spokesman Gallagher, all seven victims have lawsuits against the cruise line pending in Dade County Circuit Court.)
Bravo says his frustration grew when a Carnival agent contacted him by phone at his hotel and told him to pack his bags for Brazil. Although a Carnival spokesman denies the allegation, Bravo says it was what inspired him to call a lawyer.
In cheap hotels and motels all over Miami - the Howard Johnson on Alton Road and the one downtown on Biscayne Boulevard, the Days Inn next to Jackson Memorial Hospital, the Budget Inn Motel on Biscayne Boulevard, and several hotels near the airport - dozens of injured seafarers nurse their injuries, receive treatment, and wait for their lawyers to resolve their cases. These people are not to be mistaken for the crew members who are just passing through - all the cruise lines make use of the hotels for employees travelling between the ships and home. But those people come and go. The injured stay. "What can I do? I stay here in my room, in the hotel, go to the doctors, go visit my friends at Days Inn," Bravo says. "I do nothing. This is no good."