La Ceiba Doctor Treats the Bends

At a modest clinic down a dirt road, there are rocking chairs on the front porch and a hyperbaric chamber in the front room where Dr. Elmer Mejía treats deep-sea lobster divers who arrive paralyzed but walk out days later.

Courtly in manner and crisply dressed despite the tropical heat, Dr. Mejía could pass for an accountant in a suburban office park. But his appearance masks a fierce sense of mission. He calls what is happening to his impoverished patients “economic genocide,” and compares the lobsters they collect on the ocean floor to the “blood diamonds” that finance African civil wars.

“Here, the problem is strictly about money, where money is given more value than human life,” Dr. Mejía said.

Since fishing for spiny lobster off the Caribbean coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua became industrialized in the 1980s to meet demand from the United States, the Miskito Indian divers who are the first link in the supply chain have moved farther and farther out to sea as stocks vanish in shallow waters.

They descend to depths of 100 to 120 feet, repeatedly diving and resurfacing, pushed by poverty to ignore all the safety rules. A few die every season; many more are paralyzed by decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends…continue La Ceiba news article here.

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