Manta Divers May, 2011 Anatomy of a Dive Rescue
When we think of a diving accident, we usually think of decompression sickness, lung over expansion or drowning, but most of the accidents that befall divers occur out of the water. In fact, the lion’s share of supplies in our dive first aid kit are things needed to deal with bee stings, heat exhaustion, cuts, bruises and punctures; the most common injuries that divers have to deal with on dive trips. On our recent trip to Bonaire, we had to put into practice all of our rescue diver skills.
We arrived in Bonaire all rarin’ to dive, so as soon as we finished the resort briefing, it was off to Buddy’s reef to do our buoyancy checks and get wet for the first time that week. After that dive it was back to our condos for lunch and to decide where to dive next. Together, the group chose “1000 steps” because, according to our guide book, aside from the long trek down (and up) the steps, the entry to the side was relatively easy. In addition, it was rated as an easy dive and an excellent place to snorkel. Unfortunately, some things are just not as easy as they seem.
Upon arrival at 1000 steps, we did a reality check to see if we noticed any glaring inaccuracies from our guide book. This is good practice as guide books can become outdated and what seems easy to one person may be insurmountable to another. Although the steps were narrow and uneven we decided that it would be best to assemble and don our gear at the top and walk carefully down. Eric, our snorkeler, was at the last step to help. As you can imagine, once we reached the bottom step we were all pretty hot, so we immediately headed into the water to cool off and wait for the rest of the team.
Jim and Diana were the last of us to descend the steps. Jim was at the bottom first and was directing Diana where to step, as the last step was somewhat eroded and a bit further down than the others. As she was stepping down, Diana’s foot snapped and down she went! We saw her fall and we all hoped that the clunk we heard was not her head! Mike, Brian, and Ed ditched their gear and ran back to check on Diana. Her head was fine, but she appeared to have twisted her ankle pretty badly.
They helped her out of her gear and set her upright on the step. She said her ankle hurt too much to stand on, but insisted that we go on and finish the dive while she sat in the shade. So we reluctantly went for a quick 45 minute dive, leaving Eric to keep an eye on her.
Upon our return, Diana was still there but she had removed her bootie and her ankle was much more painful and starting to swell. It became clear that this was more than a twisted ankle. We were in a remote part of Bonaire without cell phones to call for help, so Mike and Mario took one of the cars and headed back to the resort to get the ambulance. Meanwhile the rest of the team, that fortunately included three EFR instructors, and ER physician, and several first responders, started to discuss what the next steps should be.
We could wait until the ambulance arrives, but we had no idea how long that would take. In addition, we questioned how they would get her up to the ambulance. Would a rescue boat be a better option? We also had to consider the possibility of Diana going into shock. Shock can be brought on by overheating, extreme pain and dehydration. It was sunny and hot. Diana’s leg was probably broken, and since shore divers in Bonaire are warned not to leave anything in the cars, lest you be robbed, none of us had any water, or snacks. We had to figure a way to safely get her up the steps.
It was clear that we would have to somehow splint her leg so as not to displace any break, but what could we use? There were some trees in the area; perhaps branches. Someone else suggested using our snorkels. Finally we remembered that some of the divers had weight belts, so we took our towels and wrapped her legs together, securing them with the weight belts. This effectively made her good leg a splint for the bad. Okay, so now she looked like a mermaid, but how to get her to the truck? Again we inspected the steps. The stairway was too narrow for three people to walk abreast, so a two man carry was out, in addition, since it was too painful if her foot was not elevated, anything other than a lying or seated carry with leg elevated was out.
At this point, our patient was still feeling pretty strong, so we decided to make slings out of our remaining towels and have her help us hoist her step by step, rather than waiting for help. We gingerly slipped one towel under her legs just above her knees, and the other one just below her bottom. Two of us were on either side lifting with the towels, one was keeping her legs elevated by holding on to the weight belt, and Diana was placing her hands on the next step (think “dips” on a bench at the gym), and then on the count of three, we all lifted her to the next step. Thinking back, I would never have been able to do this if I didn’t do all those lunges, sumo squats and arm curls! It was amazing to me that Diana managed to keep such a wonderful, positive attitude. When we were resting after each step, we all kept encouraging her and cheering her on. I was reminded of my labors while giving birth, so looking up and seeing that we were at least half way there, I jokingly told her, “You’re doing great, you’re at 8cm!” That got a laugh from the women in our group, but it did take the guys a minute to process the joke. That levity kept her going.
When Diana’s arms finally gave out, we had to pause to formulate an adjustment to our system. Pressing Eric into service, we had him pull her while we lifted. This worked great, even allowing us to make more than one step at a time, but it was back breaking! As if on cue, once we reached the top step, the ambulance, and Mike and Mario arrived. The guys wisely thought to bring water back for all of us who had labored up the steps, and Diana who by now was fading a little, but looking forward to some pain meds.
Poor Diana must have felt like luggage that was handled by a gorilla by the time she reached the hospital. After a look at the X-ray, our suspicions were confirmed: Diana’s leg was broken. She had the option to stay and have the leg set on the island, but given that the medical care was slightly primitive, she opted to fly home. The doctor in Bonaire casted her leg for the trip and sent her home where she had surgery to repair the broken tibia and fibula. Currently, she is on her way to recovery and looking forward to diving in St. John in June. With her positive attitude and love of diving, I guess this is not a surprise.
Throughout this adventure, a common theme of patient planning and team work was evident. We all offered ideas and supported each other in the decisions we made. As this was the first time that Diana and her husband, Jim, had dove with Manta Divers, they expressed surprise and gratitude that we all collaborated in Diana’s rescue and care, but what else could we do? Once you are part of Team Manta, you get the whole team, all for one and one for all!
In Other News…………..
If you would like to be better prepared to deal with mishaps and accidents, sign up for EFR and the Rescue Diver class. Rescue Diver academic sessions can be completed online. Practical training sessions are schedule for May 22 and June 5. Call the shop for details.
Manta Divers has been volunteering for the Scuba Training for At Risk Students (S.T.A.R.S) through Kenosha Unified Schools. Click here for a short video of their latest pool session.
Here's your chance to own your own scuba gear! Manta Divers is having their annual rental gear sale! Purchase gear at a fraction of the cost of new, but have confidence in the seller and the care given to each item.