The astonishing story of Christopher Bugros, a 28-year-old diver who was separated from his group underwater and found himself lost at sea, is the stuff of thriller cinema.
Three divers were exploring deep waters off the east coast when a large shark swam past them and Bugros was separated from the group as they avoided the animal. Caught in undercurrents, he was swept away and when he reached the surface, he was far from the dive boat. In a moment of what must have been absolute frustration, Bugros, out of range of the radio communications the team used, could see his friends searching for him. He saw them leave and return to search again. Then he got to work saving himself.
He discarded non-essential equipment, stripped his swim gear to the essentials and used his dive tank to float for as long as it was useful. Using navigation tools on his dive watch, he realised at midnight that he was 44 miles from the Toco coast and guided by light from a distant mountain, he swam to shore, collapsing on the beach until the sun rose.
Christopher Bugros is alive because he was prepared, through training, with a knowledge of his equipment and what it could and could not do for him and with the fitness to make a robust open water swim to land. Unfortunately, the Toco Health Centre where he was taken wasn’t. The clinic was unprepared to deal with a case of extreme dehydration and simply gave the young man antibiotics and sent him off.
Bugros collapsed shortly after and was taken to the Sangre Grande District Hospital where he was properly treated after spending almost 16 hours in the ocean. Before he left that hospital, he had received four bags of IV drips to hydrate him.
Remote clinics and health centres that are the first point of contact with the public health sector for citizens and visitors enjoying our natural attractions should be better prepared for risks in their area. The Sangre Grande Hospital, for instance, has ensured from its early existence that it is ready to handle snakebites which could be a common emergency given its bushy and forested domain, but are its satellite health centres prepared to stabilise such patients as soon as they come a-knocking before they are transferred? Why would the Toco Health Centre in the middle of a coastal front be not prepared for dealing effectively with complaints that are peculiar to the sea?
Bugros was in the Atlantic Ocean for his desperate swim, hammered by high waves that forced him to drink far too much seawater, which overloads the body’s capacity to process the excess salt and results in extreme dehydration.
Bugros helped reinforce our point that remote health centres should be ready with both staff and equipment to manage normal health concerns as well as those unique to their circumstances, at least to the point where patients can be treated more comprehensively at better-equipped hospitals.