In 1988, I went to the Lakshwadeep islands, close to the Maldives with the Indian Presidential Party as I was treating the First Lady for a condition. A special village was built with pre-fabricated houses and I had one right on the beach. The President, with his officials, went about their engagements. I asked the Naval officers, who were there for security reasons, if they could take me snorkelling.
A high-speed rubber dingy arrived and took me to an area with pristine coral reefs. I put on the glasses and the tube and jumped into the sea. What I saw was paradise. A big fish swam past me. The corals and the sea world, with numerous varieties of fish were so beautiful. I was totally engrossed in that world. As I was warned that there were sharks in these waters, I was on the lookout. When I bent my neck to look ahead, my eyes went dark and my limbs were numb. Then, suddenly, I felt the sea churning around me. The Naval Officer saw me going limp and jumped into the water. We were all in our skin suits. He pulled me onto the boat. The vertigo was very scary. I thought I was going to die. As the boat rocked, it felt worse but with some presence of mind, I began to squeeze my neck with my hands. Somehow, I managed to tell them to lie me flat with my head right down and to massage my neck and shoulder. Once horizontal, I felt slightly better, but very nervous. The Naval Officer panicked and started the boat to take me back to the shore. I think he tried to radio the medical post, but I told them what it was and they calmed down. My neck was very sore and the jumpy movements of the small boat over the waves made the situation worse.
They took the boat right up to my unit; I staggered across the beach and peeled my clothes off. I lay on my back and asked the Naval Officer to give my neck a pull. They were so kind and did what I asked of them. If I hadn’t been a doctor, I am sure I would have landed-up in the Medical Inspection Room. After only a few minutes, I felt calmer. I continued to breathe very slowly, holding my breath for up to 15 seconds and my heart rate came down. I felt extremely sleepy. I lay on the floor and asked the officers to leave after thanking them for their help.
I had been busy on that Presidential Tour. We went to Cochin in the Southern India from Delhi and spent the night there, flew in helicopters to a naval ship, had lunch with the entire crew, slept in cabins with a strong smell of diesel; saw naval exercises on high seas with aircrafts, mock fights, helicopter rescues, sonar detection of submarines etc It was great fun watching the exercises with The President of India and his family, but it was no doubt very exhausting, especially as I had to do treatments as well. I hardly slept at night because of uncomfortable beds and different environments.
All that tightened my neck and the sudden movement of the head must have misaligned a vertebra in my neck, causing an acute reduction in blood flow to my brain. Fortunately, I knew what it was and organised my own treatment. I was well by the evening and attended a folk dance performance on the makeshift helipad. The news of my illness was revealed to the Presidential Party and they were all very concerned. I felt embarrassed, as I was the doctor. That evening in the officer’s mess where the senior officers dined, we had a good laugh. Later that evening, when I went to see the First Lady, she asked me what had happened. News does spread fast.