To add insult to injury, after I got the basic open-water certification, one dive operator had us fill out a copy of the same form, including the medical history. Since I answered Yes to the same questions as before, the form was going to disqualify me from diving. He wouldn't accept that I'd gotten a clean bill of health from a responsible ENT, and insisted that I lie on the form or I would not be allowed to dive.
That made the form absolutely worthless, and, just for effect, I made a scene. This occurred on the run out to the dive site, much too late to head back to get a copy of my signed-off form.
If I could make recommendations to dive operators, one of them should be to either: a) allow the individual to take legal responsibility for their medical status, or; b) not bother to ask the same medical questions unless it's an industry standard. Honest folks would have enough advance warning to carry a copy of their original form with them on each dive.
By telling me to lie on the form in front of witnesses, the divemaster destroyed any legal protection he may have gained from the inappropriate or excessive use of the medical form. It just ensured that in any similar situation in the future, I will absolutely lie on the few relevant questions, and I will have no moral qualms about doing so.
I'm an adult, and unlike many of our countrymen, I do take responsibility for myself and my choice to dive, or not dive, as the situation warrants. It is pointless to make us fill it out, particularly with this incident in mind.
Like most people beginning a scuba program or seeking to upgrade a certification, you'll inevitably be asked to complete the questionnaire generally referred to as the "Medical Statement."
What is this form? Why is it necessary? How should I answer these questions? Are they really needed? After all, don't we have the right to do what we want? These common questions, heard by dive instructors and physicians, also reach our medics each day on the DAN Medical Information Line.
Yes, you do have the right to do what you want. However, when it comes to the health and safety of other divers, your trainer and those who bear the costs of rescue, transportation and treatment, limitations exist. We shouldn't forget that diving is a social activity, demanding responsibilities of you and countless others.
The medical statement, a set of unified standards, evolved from the need for consistency in minimum course training standards. Over the decades, fitness standards for recreational diving have varied widely. They have typically been established by the respective training agencies, often with a group of dive medicine professionals active in the day-to-day care of divers.
Common themes have constantly stressed both cardiovascular and respiratory fitness and psychological stability. But as the sport gained popularity and attracted a broader population base, dive medicine and research have come to the forefront, helping define and shape the issues of dive fitness for the general population. How one answers those questions weighs heavily in the minds of more than just a few divers.
Scuba diving probably causes the most challenging combination of physiological stresses the human body can encounter in daily life. Unlike mountain climbers, skydivers or participants in other recreational activities, the scuba divers who enter the underwater environment are at a distinct disadvantage while swimming through a dense medium and protecting themselves from excessive heat loss. Diving can require high levels of energy.
The diver must also possess a cardiorespiratory system that can cope with the changes imposed by the direct effects of hydrostatic pressure and temperature. To maintain sufficient exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, the diver must be capable of breathing gases of increased density.
The diver is also continuously challenged to adjust to changes in gas volumes as the air containing spaces in and around the body require constant equalization. And finally, the diver must be able to perform within the limits imposed by the possible toxic and narcotic qualities of altered gases.
Sadly, each year we learn of dive accidents and mishaps that occur to divers who have been less than honest in their medical statements. Perhaps the various forms can seem overly generalized, but they serve as a good starting point in helping people foresee some of the potential health risks associated with recreational diving.
So often we hear, "Had I only known it could be like this," and sometimes, only when it's too late. DAN's Medical Information Services are here to help people learn and understand the potential physiological risks of which they may not be aware.
Last year alone, DAN answered nearly 14,000 telephone calls and emails through the information service, a service unlike that provided anywhere else in the world.
Please, answer these questions honestly. For your sake and for the sake of your family and your fellow divers, be honest with yourself and your physician. Remember, we always have a choice, but it is the consequences of your decision that may shape the lives and destinies of those around you.