As soon as I posted the first post for today, I regretted it. It was too general, too simple and really didn’t explain why I was here or what was going on. There is only so much I can cover in a “blog” without it turning into something else, of course, and I plan to write this up for another publication or two when I get home. That said, I think I can add some more detail to explain the “purpose” of this adventure.
Since the mid-1960s, Moskito Indians from the La Moskitia region of Honduras and Nicaragua have been diving for lobster. In the beginning they dived without scuba, freediving, and were very good at it. But, as is somewhat inevitable, they had to go deeper and deeper so they began using scuba. Even then they have had to move deeper and deeper to continue their harvest.
In short, their diving has evolved well beyond any recreational or commercial limit into the extreme—and extremely dangerous. Often, these divers make 8 to 12 divers (or more) a day for 12 days to 100 feet or more. Simply put, that is insane. One of the greatest mysteries of this is why these divers don’t experience more problems than they do.
Dr. Elmer Mejia has been treating these divers for nearly 20 years, starting out as a hyperbaric technician, then a nurse and now as a physician. Today I showed him a video produced about 15 years ago in Roatan. He is in it. He remembered the people and the situation. Dr. Mejia does his best to treat these divers and restore their health and function. Sometimes he is successful, other times less so. But, he has dedicated his life to serving this community and trying to make a difference.
These extreme diving exposures often lead to severe paralysis and sometimes death. Today, Dr. Mejia treated a diver who had come to the chamber paralyzed from the top of his abdomen down. He can now walk again, but he is unable to urinate on his own. He has to wear a catheter. On the boat before he ever made it to the chamber, this man had to insert his own catheter—he used kitchen grease as the lubricant. Dr. Mejia is continuing to treat him and work with him to restore him to normal function. He is fighting the residual affects of the diving injury along with a serious urinary tract infection at the same time. We can only hope for the best. If he returns to his home in La Moskitia, he’ll probably only live a couple more years. Continuing to use a catheter, finding sterile materials and such, is nearly impossible.
So, that ultimately is the purpose for this adventure. We are going to travel to Puerto Lempira to visit with some of Dr. Mejia’s former patients and see where they live. I want to understand their quality of life. It’s important we all understand the price these men are paying to harvest lobster for American dinner tables and “all-you-can-eat” buffets. As Divers Alert Network, my employer, evolves we are looking for ways to use our expertise in diving medicine to help underserved populations like this one..