In June of 2010, I traveled to Puerto Lempira, Honduras to meet with representatives from the Association of Handicapped Miskito Lobster Divers. I wanted to understand the forces that drove them to sacrifice their lives and their health to harvest lobster.
As part of those meetings and discussions, one member of the association told me that other groups had visited with them before, taken pictures and notes and then nothing had come of it. Mentally I promised them that I wouldn’t be one more visitor who simply took from them without giving anything back.
Earlier this month, almost a year to the day from when I visited with the association members, Dr. Elmer Mejia and I conducted training for each of the boat captains so they will better be able to care for divers on board their boats when the inevitable happens. During that training and the accompanying symposium, I also ran into one of the men from the association. We simply said hello, but I wondered if he remembered the discussion we had at the association office.
Dr. Mejia and I also made a series of recommendations that, if enacted, should reduce the risk these divers face daily. We also recommended that those previously disabled divers should be trained as on-board medics. The idea was that these divers would be dedicated to caring for a diver, and be prepared to administer oxygen, insert a Foley Catheter if necessary and even deliver an IV if it was appropriate. This serves several benefits for the divers. They would have a knowledgeable person on board to take care of them—and someone dedicated to their care, rather than the boat captain. I also can’t think of a better “role model” as a medic than a diver who has been hurt before. “If you don’t want to end up like me, listen to what I say.” That is an extremely powerful testimony.
Overnight, I received word from Dr. Mejia that the boat owners association and the handicapped divers association are working together to make this happen. Small groups of the disabled divers will soon begin traveling to Dr. Mejia’s clinic in La Ceiba to receive 6 weeks of training in diving medicine and caring for injured divers.
As I’ve said many times before there are no easy answers to this problem. But this sure seems like a good start to me.