I come from a family of animal lovers. My sister is a renown Dog Whisperer. When we were younger I watched her commune silently with a large black Newfoundland Retriever. Twenty minutes later, she and the dog lay on the ground clutching each other and having a good cry. My brother has always had at least three species of animals in his house at any given time. I watched him let his pet cockatoo named "Pretty" eat peanuts directly from his mouth. Everybody thought it was cute. I thought it was disgusting and the potential beginning of an outbreak. My wife at one time kept seven dogs under our roof in a high-rise apartment in central Bangkok. When she wasn't cooking omelettes for the dogs, she was walking to Sukhumvit Road and buying food for them from the Bangkok street vendors. She said their favorite was "chicken ass." Both the dogs and my son seemed to love it. The whole family was on a pricey five dollar a day chicken ass habit.
|Have to buy your Chicken Ass early. |
|The speedy Basilisk. Fun to watch,|
but we were never best friends.
"Sure I'm cute. Lets see how cute I am when I'm hanging
off of your ass."
|When animals attack: Soi Cowboy|
|Making friends with the locals.|
The next morning I awoke early and headed to the boat. It was a perfect winter day for diving. The temperature was almost 90 degrees (32 degree C), the skies were clear and the Andaman Sea was calm and blue. The first of three dives would be a wreck dive just off the coast. Since most of the divers on the boat were in a beginners diving class, the dive master and I headed off on our own. It was great to be back in the water. If you've never SCUBA dived before, you cannot understand the sensation of peace and calm under the sea. You float effortlessly and glide with the currents. The only thing you hear is your own breathing and the sound of bubbles in a hypnotic and serene rhythm. Your heart rate slows down and there is a perception of peace and calm that you can never achieve on land...............until things turn to shit.
I've been diving since 1982 and have always been a bit of a cavalier diver. I've done things you are not supposed to do. It's exciting to get as close as possible to the creatures under the sea. I've chased and ridden on the backs of poor, docile sea-turtles, traumatizing them for my own thrills. I've poked at gargantuan Stingrays and laughed as they startled and sped away leaving trails of Stingray shit behind them. I've stayed down too long, run out of air and have gone deeper than I was supposed to. Worst of all, I grabbed the tail of a twelve foot Caribbean Nurse Shark and let him drag me through the ocean for fifty meters trying to shake me loose. I was young and I was stupid. In retrospect I can now see that it was only a matter of time before a little payback would come my way.
|The Titan Triggerfish. Pretty......................nasty!|
When I got within a few yards of the big beautiful fish the dive master saw where I was heading. He screamed to me through his regulator."NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
Too late. The fish made a bee-line, jaws open, straight for my head.
|The business end of a|
You hear people describe an awkward man as a "fish out of water." Ironically, I was that man in the water. The fish was moving deftly and deliberately. He was lunging at me and backing away just as quickly. I could near his jaws and teeth click as he tried to take a bite out of me. I swung my arms clumsily and wildly to spin my body around and put my flippers in his face. If he was going to bite something, I preferred it to be my legs for some reason. I was hoping to keep my face, hands and other vital parts near and dear to me as far away as possible. He was relentless. I thought he would get tired of terrorizing after a few runs at me, but he had nothing better to do. After a long minute I my legs and arms started to cramp and I realized I was hyperventilating. I was still thirty feet below the surface. I remember the thought coming into my head incredulous that this is how I could actually die. The dive master, experienced with this mongrel of a fish, came over and finally drew him away. He calmly and bravely kept the fish at bay with his own fins. As we slowly backed out of the fish's territory, the fish moved on.
Now my head was pounding and I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. Intellectually I knew I had enough air in my tank. I had to stay at this depth long enough to do a decompression stop and keep myself from getting the decompression sickness called "The Bends." I breathed as long and deep as I could and tried to calm myself down, but no matter how much air I took in, I felt like it was not enough. My legs cramped more, my head started to pound and my chest hurt. I felt like I was going to drown and headed for the surface. When I got there, I pulled my mask and regulator off. I breathed hard and floated on my back. I saw the diveboat nearby, but I could not make enough sound for them to hear me. I shut my eyes and felt the hot Thai sun on my face. My chest was aching like I'd run a marathon and there was no way my legs would support me. I stayed on the surface bobbing with the rhythm of the waves for a few minutes and felt the lactic acid pains finally drain from my muscles. The dive master broke surface next to me. I panicked for a second worried that the Triggerfish followed him to the surface. He could be eyeing my floating ass for one more bite.
|He was this goddamn big! Maybe twice that big!|
"Are you okay, mate?" he said in South African.
"Yeah. I think so. Jesus Christ That was fucking horrible."
"Titan Trrrrriger," he said in South African again. "Verrrry nasty. Verrrry territorial. They'll bite rrrrright through to the bone Best to give them a lot of space. Do you think you are bent?"
"I'm not sure. I mean I don't think so. Let's just get on the boat."
Once onboard I checked myself over. My head felt better, my lungs were working fine and my fingers and toes weren't tingling. Close call, but I didn't feel "Bent." I decided to keep diving. We still had plenty of day left and I didn't want to miss two more precious dives before going back to port. There's nothing worse than sitting on a dive boat while everyone else is diving. It's like driving to Kilimanjaro and watching people climb from the base. It's depressing. The next two dives were only shallow dives. I'd just take it easy.
I spotted a handful of Titan Triggerfishes on the next dives, but steered clear like a little girl running from a bully. I didn't need to be bitten once to be twice shy.
An experienced Divemaster has two considerable responsibilities. First and foremost, take the diver out and get him back safely. Second, guide the diver through the best local pubs the night after the dive. In Phuket they both commitments are taken seriously (although finding a good pub in Phuket is really like shooting Triggerfish in a barrel). After the fifth pub I stopped counting. I was at least fifteen years older than the other divers in the group, but my pride would not let me be the first to bail out on the night. Eventually my brain started writing checks my body could no longer cash so I slipped away and I staggered home.
My hangover arrived at first light and woke me out of a restless sleep. I ate some Ibuprofen, drank a liter of water and went back to sleep. A second day of diving was not in the cards. I'd take a well deserved rest and fly back to Bangkok in the late afternoon.
By the time I got to Phuket International Airport I still had the Mother of All Hangovers. I attributed it to age. I can't handle my hooch the way I used to. Best leave those long nights of poly-alcohol abuse to the kids from now on. A few exotic beers are enough these days for this aging nightlife veteran. Once in Bangkok I figured a few good nights of rest would put me right back in the game. But this hangover went turbo. The next day I was the worst combination of shaky and stupid. I was having difficulty putting a few good thoughts together. When my right leg muscles started twitching uncontrollably I knew this was no hangover.
I was "Bent."
There are three basic, non-negotiable rules for the "Bent": Don't dive if you're Bent. Don't booze if you are Bent. And absolutely, definitely, certainly don't fly if you're Bent. I'd hit the trifecta bad behavior for the "Bent."
The "Bends," also known as Decompression Sickness, is classified into two types: Slightly fucked and completely fucked. Since I was still coherent, I figured I was in the midst of the first type. I needed more information on this disease since I was foolishly doing my own diagnostics. I called the guy who you call who knows about these things : Shane B from Kalimantan (Borneo). One year before, I'd worked as a doctor at Shane's mining site on the Eastern coast of Borneo. He ran the local Kalimantan diving club there off of a big boat called The Barracuda. Shane is a tough-as-nails Aussie who's logged more time under the water than many species of fish in Kalimantan. Rumor had it that he'd even begun to develop rudimentary gills. He gave me some good advice, having been through more Type one Decompression Sicknesses than he could count. He also had that typical tough Aussie "its-not -a-machete-wound, its-only-a-scratch" view of illness.
"Ahhhhhh, I wouldn't worry about that much, mate," he said, "I once had the bends so bad me eye popped straight out of me head and pointed up at the sun."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Ahhhh, mate, just modified me sunglasses, put a cold beer on it and went back to work. It got better."
I went straight to the hospital.
|Decompression Chamber: Actual size|
Damn Fucking Fish.
I'm fairly average sized for a white guy. Not too big, not too small. The only decompression chamber at my disposal was built specifically for a small Thai Navy man. It was a glass cylinder about six feet long and only as wide as an automobile tire. Even worse, the only thing that could go in there was me. Anything else could potentially ignite a fire due to the high oxygen concentration inside. So it would just be me and my thoughts and my thin, potentially boner-exposing hospital gown. On the bright side, I could see a television out of the right side of the tank, but I'd have to watch Thai soap operas since that is what the staff was watching. Personally, I'd rather go another round with the Triggerfish.
|You will now be subject to three|
hours of Thai soap operas.
I called around to every Bangkok Hospital to find a chamber large enough for a claustrophobic whitey, but there was none. Apparently Thai people have no problem with simulated glass coffins for long numbers of hours. I opted to go with my own treatment and took high doses of B vitamins, did daily yoga, got lots of rest and drank only the occasional exotic beer. It took almost four months, but eventually the symptoms insidiously went away. Unfortunately the panic attacks did not go away and they seem to like to inconveniently occur in the middle of helicopter rides over the jungle and ocean.
It's been over a year since that fish attack and I haven't gone back to diving. I live five minutes off a pristine coastline in Indonesia and it's killing me not to check out it's depths. I'm almost there. When I'm ready, I will return to Thailand and dive the Titan Triggerfish infested coast off Phuket Island. When I do it, I will be armed and loaded for bear. I'll be looking for a little payback.
Start frying up the garlic. There's a feast a'coming.
|A little tasty payback.|