It happened to me
Dive Instructor Matt Waters had taught lots of students about reverse blocks, but nothing prepared him for experiencing one himself
I am a dive instructor working for Big Blue Diving on the beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao is one of the most popular places in the world for new divers, and I regularly teach the open water course. During the course we discuss equalisation, blocks and squeezes, but following a dive back in 2014 I can now use my own experience to show how extreme a reverse block can be.
It all took place when I’d had a rare day off. I booked onto an all-day trip to Sail Rock, which in my opinion is the best dive site in the Gulf. The day comprised a 6am start with breakfast on board,
two dives at Sail Rock, lunch and then a further dive at Laem Thian caves which are located on the east coast of Koh Tao.
The entire boat was buzzing, several members of dive staff were also having a day off to do some fun diving and the sun was warm with the water temperature between 29 and 31ºC.
After a journey of two hours we arrived. Eagerly, we kitted up and hit the water as soon as the boat moored up. The plan was to descend onto the secret (not shown in the dive guides) pinnacle to see the big-eyed trevally which school in their thousands just beyond the pinnacle at a depth of around 30 to 35m. Sure enough they were there, with many other species including giant grouper, great barracuda, scorpionfish, batfish in their hundreds and, of course, a somewhat angry triggerfish.
We finned back to Sail Rock, circumnavigated it and slowly made our way up. At 48 minutes into the dive we decided to complete our safety stops (I say stops as I like to complete the standard three-minute stop at 5.7 to 5.9m and then a further three minutes at 3m).
At 11m I had an experience that was like a mini explosion in my mouth. Anyone looking at me would probably think that I looked as if I was about to throw up. Startled, I spat through my regulator and was shocked to see small shards of white floating away. I ran my tongue around my teeth and found a huge gap where I expected my wisdom tooth to be.
Surprisingly there was no pain, but my initial desire was to be on the surface. I calmed myself down and decided that it could only be one thing… a reverse block. But what to do next? Well, the damage had been done so I continued to ascend extremely slowly waiting for a hit of pain that to my surprise didn’t come.
I completed my first safety stop which seemed to take forever, then up to 3m for my final one. Ascending from 3m I again expected extreme pain, so I crept up as slowly as I could. At last I was on the surface and I quickly removed my regulator so I could assess the damage.
I could feel some of the tooth with my tongue but not a complete one. Back on the boat and my buddy had a look. ‘Bloody hell!’ he stated, ‘you’ve lost three quarters of your tooth!’ I still had no pain.
When I arrived back on Koh Tao I went straight to the dentist only to find that she only attended two days a week, and was not available for another five days. With no other option and still no pain I continued with my day to day schedule of teaching and diving.
By the time the dentist was on the island I had completely forgot about it and missed my chance. Oh well, there was always next week. But next week came and went, then a month went by, then two, and it was only when teaching open water courses that I remembered the issue needed resolving.
After three months I decided to visit the nearby island of Koh Samui where dentists are available daily. The dentist asked what had happened and became very excited. He explained that he was discussing reverse blocks in teeth with a colleague only the night before, and asked if he could contact his colleague to come to the surgery to take a look.
Ten minutes later I had two dentists and four nurses all peering into my mouth with an air of excitement even higher than the first dentist’s initial reaction. A short while later the tooth was sorted out and I asked at reception for the bill. I had been quoted 5,000 Baht, but the bill she handed me was for only 500 Baht. I pointed out the error and she countered that in appreciation for my co-operation the dentist had reduced the cost.
The moral of the story? Well, firstly reverse blocks don’t always hurt and secondly, you can get them even on a perfect profile. Lastly, if you’re in Thailand when it happens, find a dentist who hasn’t seen one before, you may get an awesome discount! •