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May 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When You Least Expect It

minor and potentially lethal dive injuries, all in a few days

from the May, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When I look back over my 42-year diving career and more than 10,000 dives, I realize how few diverelated injuries I have sustained. A few infections from coral scratches, a nasty sting from a bunch of Corallimorpharians. Nothing besides a little care has cured me from repeating these injuries. Perhaps I have some deterioration in my hearing, but that is a function of old age, as is "selective" hearing, where we males recognize words such as "sex" and "dinner," but not "garbage" or "washing up."Certainly minor compared to injuries inflicted on my friends who partake in the supposedly healthy lifestyle choice of bicycling. They always end up in the hospital with broken bones, missing teeth and the gift of life-long scars.

So it was a bit of a shock when, out of the blue, a fish bit me and I started bleeding. Strangely, exactly the same thing had happened to my dive buddy, Rodney Pearce, when we were diving a Zero wreck in Papua New Guinea's Rabaul Harbour just a month prior. Rodney's bite was the result of a coral cod mistaking his fingers for food in the billowing silt stirred up while investigating Japanese markings on the aircraft, while mine was the noble efforts of a large Titan triggerfish protecting freshly deposited eggs in its nearby nest.

But there is a bit more to the story. You see, I had just a few minutes previously pointed out a nesting triggerfish to my dive model, Kirtley Leigh. They are known to nest around Christmas time and become aggressive. I gave a danger signal to her and gesticulated to make it clear we were going to swim away. I felt quite pleased with myself in a superior, pedagogical kind of way, and we moved along, soon to be captivated by a beautiful hawksbill turtle that pleaded with me to have its photograph taken. As the turtle assumed several dramatic poses for my camera, and Kirtley and I swirled with balletic elegance and harmony to capture the essence of its "turtle-ness," another triggerfish took advantage of my distraction, hurtled into me from below and chomped my wrist. I was surprised rather than hurt, but because there was blood, I quickly handed the camera to Kirtley to make sure the event was recorded.

This all happened just as we started a wonderful nine days' diving in our own backyard, escaping the hell of Christmas hype and pandemonium. It is easy to do, and we chose Cairns-based Deep Sea Divers Den's liveaboard, Ocean Quest, to do it on. After displaying my bleeding wound to all and applying first aid, I decided that it was really rather trivial, so I affected a limp to make it seem worse. I love sympathy. But there was more, and potentially not trivial.

I noticed I was getting a bit of "heartburn" during the dives. There was no problem before the dive, and I had a rapid recovery after, but nevertheless, I felt soreness in my upper lungs. This got worse as the dive progressed. I was getting quite uncomfortable. My first thought (and shame on me) was that I had bad air. But this is virtually impossible on any Great Barrier Reef dive operation. The air has to be tested regularly, and operators are all meticulous in their attention to clean air. Besides, bad air smells and this was sweet, with no smell. But I was on the right track. You might care to do your own diagnosis now before I reveal all.

It got even worse, and I realized that not only was my chest sore, but I was also producing a large amount of mucus. Got it yet? I should have realized right away when this happened, but it was not until I was half asleep that night that the "eureka" moment occurred. These are symptoms of saltwater aspiration.

My Scubapro G250 is a notoriously dry regulator, but it could have a pinhole in the diaphragm that would produce a fine spray of saltwater for me to breathe. First thing in the morning, I was on deck using my emergency tool kit to pull the second stage apart and check it out. The diaphragm was fine and properly seated. Next stop, the exhaust valve -- and there it was, a tiny corner of the valve had "tucked" under the seat and leaked when I inhaled. A quick flick, and problem solved.

I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out. I just have not had a problem like that for a very long time, and it happened, just like the triggerfish attack, when I least expected it. By the way, oxygen after the dive will rapidly treat the symptoms of saltwater aspiration. It is a personal choice, but I feel that margaritas and some bubbly also help.

I must say the crew looked after us splendidly, and they have a tough job. They're mostly looking after students or inexperienced divers, so they see some crazy things that they have to prevent from becoming dangerous. They managed to stop the diver who had his regulator firmly fastened under his weight belt from jumping in, along with several who had their air still turned off. I spotted a diver with the worst case of bicycling leg kick I have ever seen being nursed, and weights on the bottom testified to dive guides adjusting overweighted divers. But dive supervisors Ed and Katie and their team of instructors handled all this quietly, with good humor and enthusiasm. There were many very happy customers.

Bob Halstead, considered the father of Papua New Guinea liveaboard diving, is a well-known diving curmudgeon and a frequent contributor to Undercurrent's blog. Read more of his commentaries at www.undercurrent.org/blog

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