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GUE Cave 1 course report - Part 4

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OK, where were we. Ahh yes. Danny, Meredith and I were in the water. Imogen was standing up in her kit, and dumbass had just done the hoppy dance of futility before landing on the floor. Luckily his body protected all his gear from gettnig scratched. Wwhat else? Ahh yes, the screaming.


 This was not good.

It's been a long time since I've heard someone scream like that. I knew this was not good. Not good at all. Danny, Meredith and I took one look at each other and went for the steps out of the water. Imogen span on her hells and looked for somewhere to dump her kit. Neil was immediately surrounded by strangers, all probably desperate to help him but all I could hear was him screamin for them to "leave it alone". Through the crowd I saw him roll over, gripping his wrist. Well that's fucked then. I remember breaking my own, and making similar noises and protective gestures. A lot went through my head in those first seconds. We need to find a hospital. We don't have any money with us. Some of it was a bit selfish. That's our course fucked then. Danny and Meredith raced up the steps with me closely behind them. Imogen got to Neil first and started to strip him of his kit. Danny arrived nexct and took charge of this process. By the time I had dropped my kit Imogen was off getting scissors and the first aid kit from the car. They had already removed Neil's one piece harness. His drysuit was going to be toughter. Danny opted for just dutting off the entire seal of the right arm. I then stripped Neil out of his suit. That looked painful, but when his arm appeared it didn't have an obvious break. I've seen a ew broken bones though, and whereas my broken arm looked like I had developed an extra joint, some of them look fine even though all kinds of badness can be going on under the surface. Either way his wrist was clearly fucked. his screaming had died down now and I was starting to take the piss to make him laugh. I can't remember what nonsense I came up with but I got a few pained smiles out of him. We needed to splint it, so Meredith and I went off hunting for something. she found a brush with about a foot of broomstick in it, which I promptly ripped apart and ran back to Neil and Danny. Danny and I then splinted his arm. Neil was pretty much incoherant at this point, but we needed to get him out of his suit completely before he overheated, so we just manhandled him through the process. Once he was out of his suit and his arm was well splinted Danny made the next call. 

We decided to split the team. Meredith and Imogen would stay with all the gear and strip it. I would stay with Neil and go to hospital. Danny would take us to the hospital, make sure Neil was being looked after, and then go back for the girls and gear. Danny expressed concern that the Tulum hospital, the nearest, didn't have the facilities to deal with an injury like this, so he stopped and aked a very nice, and ludicrously heavily armed, police woman. Clearly, mexican police have to deal with people who ask for directions and small armies that come to take over the country. I have seen squads with less firepower than this girl was carrying. By now Neil was lying quietly in the back seat, whilst I was trying to keep him amused and a little distracted. 

We found the tiny hospital just of fthe main road, and rushed him in. Danny sorted everything out, and within 5 minutes a doctor was on his way in. Ten minutes later, Neil was in and being x rayed. Danny stayed in the room to handle all the translatation etc whilst I waited a little anxiously outside. In the end the doctor came out and basically said Neils arm wasn't broken, it was worse than broken. That was interesting. I thought the only thing worse than broken was "missing" but there you go. It turns out if you wreck the nerves of your wrist the pain is agonsing and you completely lose the use of your hand. Neil's hand at this point was completely paralysed, with all the finers locked into a claw. The doctor said he could dive in a couple of days if he could move his fingers. 

Neil and I were both very doubtful of this. His hand was utterly useless. Any pressur eon the wrist of hand caused him pain strong enough for me to stop taking the piss and grab his shoulder to comfort him. I was absolutely 100% certain that his diving was done for the course. Privately I was worried the doctor had missed something. He hadn't heard that scream. Time would, I guess, tell. The good news is that the doctor jacked Neil up with enough painkiller to sedate a horse. In fact, Imogen told him that some of the drugs he was given are not used on humans in the UK, but are indeed given to animals. This obviously gave me lots of new material to work with.

I should take a moment here to stop and talk about the hospital. It's on the egde of a jungle. In a village that is pretty basic. I can't image they have a huge budget or cash to spare. and yet the place was not only spotlessly clean, as high tech as any UK hospital I have seen, but he was seen by someone who knew what they were doing within 15 minutes and being properly treated within 20. We were done in about 90 minutes. the last time I walked into a UK hospital it was probably 90 minutes before a bored nurse asked me what was wrong with me before walking away. Makes you think that there is something very, very wrong with our medical system. I know its not a lack of passionate and dedicated medical professionals. So it must be the bollocks they have to put up with from the government. Anyway, I digress. Again.

Once Neils treatment was well underway Danny asked me if I minded staying with Neil whilst he decamped and went to pick up the girls and kit. I asked the doctor if I could go through and see Neil and they were very obliging. Neil looked pretty miserable to be fair. Despite the drugs he was clearly in a lot of pain, feeling nauseus, and had a waterproof removeable cast on his arm. I would have bet vital parts of my anatomy at that point that his cave1 days were done for a while, and that an early flight awaitied him. Amazingly, despite the fact that the only use for his hand at the moment would have been as a shovel to clear out toilets, he was determined to crack on with the course. Danny, being Danny, was completely flexible about this. We had a spare week in MX, so we could just lay up for a few days and see what happens. Neil decided to go on with the course, but obviously do no diving the next day. This meant lots and lots of field drills. To be honest, I didn't even think he would be able to do this. there was no way he could manipulate a valve, no way to grip a line, and I think if I'd twisted his hand to indicate we were crossing the line I might have been the next one needing a visit to hospital. 

We all went to bed feeling pretty low tbh. I felt really shit for Neil. I couldn't imagine how disappointed and frustrated he must feel, but I had to admire his determination. He was absolutely adamant that we shoudl crack on. This meant a busy day the next day. Complex valve failures. Blind exits. Missing diver, Lost line drill, gas sharing exits, torch failures. and then theory. The plan was to get as much of the non-diving stuff done as possible to give Neils arm the best chance of recovering. That night, as I feel asleep to the gentle sound of insects sucking out my blood, I wondered if I would have been as determined, or whether I would just have ended up feeling sorry for myself. The next day Neil would show just how determined I was, Imogen would scream like a little girl, and I would jump off a cliff.

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Gareth Burrows is a GUE Instructor trainer, and a personal diving coach for recreational and technical divers of all levels, specialising in improving buoyancy control, trim and stability, in-water confidence, and ascent management. He has trained with PADI, TDI, IANTD and GUE as well as serving as a DO in a BSAC branch. He has been diving cold water wrecks in Europe and around the UK for over a decade, and can usually be found diving out of Brighton, Portland or Plymouth. He is qualifying later this year as a cave diver and looking to become a GUE tech1 instructor in the 18 months. He has trained or coached hundreds of divers from newly qualified open water divers, to course directors and technical instructors.