Tuesday, November 11, 2008

DAN to the Rescue (again)

DAN to the Rescue

It was the start of an 11-day trip, November 2008, on one of my photo tours, this time running from Ambon to Raja Ampat in the far reaches of Indonesia. Pretty remote regions, a fact I learned all too well Valentine’s Day of 2007 when the live-aboard dive boat we were on in the Misool region made a strategic error running at night and ran smack-dab into an island. The island won. The bowsprit on the wooden boat was pushed back into the mast, dislodging it and causing the base of the mast to smash through crew quarters. No one was hurt, amazingly really, but we arranged to be evacuated by Indonesian Search-and-Rescue to Sorong and then we flew back to Bali where we finished off our dive holiday.

It could have been a lot worse, but just being back in that part of the world left me feeling a little paranoid. So, when on the first day out a guest began to complain of possible cardiac symptoms after the very first dive, I began to consider where we were going, how primitive health care services were, all the things that could go wrong and how far we were from critical-care health services. We had a couple of doctors on board (also guests) and their collective concern made me decide to talk to the experts. From anywhere in the world, for any diving related emergency, my go-to guys are the Diver’s Alert Network.

The first thing I did was to pick up a sat phone and call DAN in Durham, North Carolina. It was two in the morning there, but the on-call physician Dan Nord (sorry to wake you Dan) talked to my guest, and then went the extra mile to seek out a cardiac consultation from his network of specialists. He called back in less than 20-minutes and we had reassurance that this was not a life-threatening cardiac event, and so long as he took it a little easy we could carry-on with the trip.

That particular event, albeit rather inconsequential, reminded me how very important the DAN organization has become for the growth of global dive travel. A fact I know all too well from personal experience.

Divers Alert Network has bailed me out of jams several times in the past. The first time I got bent was in Vanuatu, back when Vanuatu was REALLY remote. There were no chambers there, and at the time there wasn’t even a decompression chamber in Fiji, the next stop along the way. There weren’t satellite phones then either, but through a combination of single-sideband radios back to a shore base and a long distance phone call to DAN headquarters, they decided the nearest deco treatment was in Hawaii. So, I boarded on the 747 I was scheduled to fly anyway, and Qantas dropped an O2 bib just for me. I sucked oxygen, watched movies, and stepped off our jetliner in Waikiki to be whisked away to the Navy’s recompression chamber for an 8-hour treatment. That was the first time I really got a glimpse of the efficient global network that DAN had become, and how absolutely integral they are to the growth of international dive travel. For without the DAN safety net, people could not afford to go to the places we go for fear of being bankrupted by the very real possibility that something, dive-related or not, could go wrong and they’d have to be evacuated.

That episode alone cost DAN insurance providers over $50,000, and that was back in mid-eighties dollars. I can easily envision a $200,000 tab for evacuation and treatment these days, and without that kind of an upper limit on a personal credit card, there is the very real possibility the airplane and doctors and chambers would simply not be available if they weren’t certain they would be paid. That’s the power of deep pockets and serious insurance. That’s the power of DAN.

So, I knew DAN from my own experiences, but later in the week, over a few post-dive beers, other DAN stories popped up. One guest had her brakes give out on her bicycle as she was racing down a steep incline. She fell off the bike, smashed into a tree, and had massive facial injuries. DAN to the rescue in terms of prompt evacuation. Her husband, also a DAN member, suffered a heart attack while on a cruise ship in Jamaica. He got off the ship in Cayman and was stabilized in the local hospital and then airlifted home. DAN to the rescue. It was interesting to me to note how broad the coverage was in these cases, even though not directly dive related accidents. Insurance and assistance for evacuation back to proper health care facilities is a big part of the DAN mission.

As further illustration, another bad accident happened to a close friend of mine on one of our trips to Thailand. He got hit by the hull and propeller of the dive dinghy, resulting in some very nasty contusions and deep lacerations to his foot. He had to get evacuated from the Myanmar border back to Phuket to be hospitalized, and following treatment needed assistance to get back home. Once more it was DAN to the rescue, although by then we had satellite phones and could talk to DAN directly (24/7 by the way). His issue had nothing to do with decompression sickness, but all to do with being in a remote region with serious need for medical care. DAN was there for him. By coincidence, that friend of mine, Dennis Liberson, is now Chairman of the Board of DAN, and I am proudly now a member of the board of directors as well. For us, it is a small way to give back to an organization that means so much to the global support of destination diving.

For others who may ever have had need for emergency treatment, or even the reassurance of a free phone consultation far from home, the importance of DAN may not be readily apparent. But, of all the things we do as recreational divers, the small cost of DAN membership and insurance is the best bargain in our industry. Some may take it for granted, but not me. We require DAN insurance for all participants in our photo-tours, and most live-aboards worldwide want that same proof of recompression treatment and evacuation insurance for all their guests. Really, don’t leave home without it. Don’t even think about it.

By the way, this year's trip was aboard the Seven Seas, and it was awesome. great boat, and great crew, with diverse and spectacular photo opportunities. In the end we had nothing to worry about, nothing worth being insured for. That's the very best kind of insurance ... the kind you don't need.


Greg said...

Thanks for the great info!! I am a DAN member, and recently(last month) had a friend have a heart attack while vacationing in Cabo. I guess I didn't realize that non diving emergencies might be covered. Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

Amazing story Steven... Is there a link for DAN... thank you... Eddie