Tragedy of careless diving

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Dr Johan Sothman in the Acute Spinal Injuries ward prepares a feeding tube for a diving patient. Photo: Tracey Adams

Cape Town - While incidents of drowning around the Western Cape continue to make headlines, a doctor specialising in spinal cord injuries warned about diving accidents after seeing at least four people being admitted to hospital this summer.

Two victims are undergoing treatment at Groote Schuur Hospital for acute spinal cord injuries resulting from paralysis after dives into shallow water.

Dr Johan Sothmann of the ASCI (acute spinal cord injuries) Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital said such accidents often occurred when people misjudged the depth of the water on diving in head-first.

“People dive into the sea where they can’t estimate how deep it is and it is impossible to do so whether it is the sea, dam or tidal pool.

“Another problem is that they dive into the water head first and we warn strongly against this practice. Even if they dive with their arms out it is just as dangerous,” said Sothmann.

Sothmann warned that tidal pools were a particular hazard as people often misjudged whether the tide was high or low and how deep the water was.

The biggest tragedy in these cases, he said, was often the restricted existence that they would have to live for much of their lives.

“The real issue and tragedy is that the cost of treatment is enormous and it is a life-long expense.

“It costs the taxpayer a lot of money,” he added.

“Then there is rehabilitation, which can last up to three to four months, and it is expensive, and don’t forget that homes have to be revamped as well, which is costly,” added Sothmann.

He said that there are approximately seven to eight cases of accidents stemming from diving a year.

Up to 90 percent of the injured are young males between the ages of 18 to 35, he added.

Although Sothmann says alcohol consumption does play a role, more often it is the negligence of individuals that leads to accidents.

“Alcohol plays a role as well but it is not always involved.

“It is that the person dived into the water when it is too shallow – that is the main reason.”

Sothmann said such cases were often sad as the individuals involved were in the prime of their lives.

“It is often men who are working or who are engaged to be married, so it is very sad.”

Sothmann warns that the public and beachgoers should be cautious and must realise that these incidents can be avoided if they take note of his “simple advice”.

“Diving accidents are preventable; people should not dive head first without checking. Actually, they should preferably not dive at all.”

Cape Argus

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