The last Wednesday and Thursday of each July is a national holiday for me and my family. It is the Florida’s sport divers mini lobster season, a two-day jump on the commercial harvest of Florida lobster. This past July my family along with my brother and his family traveled to Long Key, Florida, and the ZANE GREY INN, a group of eight pastel yellow island style townhouses, which share a long common boat dock, pool and barbecue area, nestled in lush tropical landscaping. We were among a group of eight veteran boaters and lobster divers. We were all together for the same mission to “limit out” on Florida lobster for the two-day mini season. At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, still very dark, all the boats were leaving the dock, trying to get in position on their favorite dive spot for the 6:10 a.m. start of mini season in Monroe County. This is exactly one hour prior to the published sunrise. Our boat’s limit based on the number of licensed divers was 36 lobsters each day for the two-day season. At precisely 6:10 a.m., we hit the water. The lobsters were everywhere. Shortly after 8 a.m., we had “limited out” and were on our way home back to the docks. After being stopped by the marine patrol at the docks, checked for safety gear, lobster licenses, size & quantity of lobster, we were on our way for breakfast: eggs, bacon and cheese, a rare exception to my steadfast diet of oatmeal, tuna fish, raw fruits and vegetables. As the morning progressed, one by one the boats came in, all had met their limits. By 2 p.m., all boats but one were back at the dock t and they all had limited out. It was around 4 p.m. when the last boat wandered in. They had problems and only got a few lobsters. They were planning to cancel the rest of their vacation and return home that night as one of their divers, a fireman from the west coast of Florida had an eye problem. I reluctantly, (normally on vacation I try not to reveal my occupation) said “I’m an eye doctor, what can I do to help you, what’s going on.” He said he got down to 60 feet, and one of his eyes went blurry. He tried this several times and the same thing occurred. Once he reached surface, the vision had returned to normal. He also said that he had a new mask and had experienced mask squeeze on each attempt to get to 60 feet. The pressure at 66 feet is approximately four times that of the surface. His medical history includes the fact that he had LASIK (corrective eye) surgery three to four years before and had experienced no vision problems. I quickly grabbed my dive light, checked his pupils and visual fields. His vision appeared to be normal. Then I called my colleagues back at Visual Health who were still working, reported on how well the dive had gone and how many lobsters we had caught and then asked for advice. They seemed to come to the consensus that it was likely not an eye problem and potentially a medical problem, so we needed to have his blood pressure checked and a medical checkup. A 20 mile trip to the urgent care center was in order. Before he left, I said “stop by the dive shop and get a new mask”. Meanwhile I started thinking. Having 40 years of scuba diving experience with nearly 1500 dives under my belt and 30 years of medical practice, I started reviewing the literature online, (thanks for 3G wireless Internet). Then I called DAN, Divers Alert Network, at Duke University Medical School, where they have a research and clinical department specializing in Diving Medicine. They have reported a few incidents of blurred vision following a mask squeeze with patients that had LASIK. They had theorized that either a small amount of fluid or air formed at the stromal interface of the corneal flap in patients with LASIK and that was likely what was happening in this case. Of course they recommended that the fireman seek appropriate medical care upon his return from his trip. Feeling much better, I spoke with the fireman and concluded likely he could safely dive the next day and need not ruin their trip. Fortunately, they had a great day diving on the second day of lobster mini-season and obtained their legal bag limit of lobster. Upon return to his home, his eye doctor was unable to find anything but perfect vision and healthy eyes. Fortunately, I had a small part in saving the vacation and, as every diver knows, a bad day diving is better than a good day working.
Richard Scott Hearing, O.D., F.A.A.O