Lifestyle Sport & Fitness Doctors of the Deep
Doctors of the Deep
Written by Mr Peter McClelland
Thursday, 04 October 2012


Dr Russell Bock, Dr Fiona Sharp and Dr Andy Foote reckon it’s another world below the ocean waves and they have explored some wonderful dive sites in WA and all around the world.

Friend-Gavin-Dr-Russell-Bock-and-daughters-Cath.-and-Erin400x270 Oct12-Friend Gavin, Dr Russell Bock and daughters Catherine and Erin

Dr Russell Bock

 “I did my medical training at Monash and started diving in Victoria about 20 years ago and now it’s a real passion. We’ve got a 6m boat and my two daughters, Erin and Catherine are both keen divers,” said Kallaroo GP Russell Bock. “There aren’t too many activities you can share with your teenage children but scuba diving is one of them. Erin and Catherine are my dive buddies and my wife, Jacky, often comes out in the boat. In summer we love heading out to Trigg Island to get a few crayfish.”

Russell done his dive master course and his daughters are also more than handy underwater. Catherine has an Advanced Diving Ticket and is focusing on marine science at St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School and Erin is in second year medicine at UWA.

“It’s great being a doctor and a diver because I get asked along on Catherine’s school dive trips, which is fantastic. We’re very proud of both our girls. Erin’s keen on doing rural medicine and is on a John Flynn Rural Scholarship at a rural practice in NSW.”

“We’ve dived in some exotic locations both here and overseas. In WA we’ve got Ningaloo Reef, the Rowley Shoals and the Montebello Islands; Thailand is one of the last wildernesses and has got some great dive spots and Rottnest is just amazing, too!”

And the elephant in the room? SHARKS.

“Five deaths in the past 10 months – I do get a bit nervous, especially when I’m diving with my daughters. Put it this way, we’ve invested in a shark shield. Nonetheless, I’d recommend diving to anyone. It’s easy to get a recreational dive ticket so just get out there and give it a go!”

Sharp-Fiona-Dr Oct12Dr Fiona Sharp

Dr Fiona Sharp

For Fremantle Hospital anaesthetist Dr Fiona Sharp, diving has taken her all over the world. She’s an expert in the technical aspects of scuba diving and works one day a week at the Department of Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine at Alma St.

“I’m one of four doctors at the hyperbaric chamber. We use different chambers and pressures with treatments using 100% oxygen – it’s quite technical, especially the large chamber. Decompression illness is quite a rare disorder. We do about 50 treatments a year and Australia-wide it’s about three times that number. There’s no diagnostic test for the ‘Bends’ – it all comes down to clinical judgement – and there’s no other treatment regime except time in the chamber.

“With my diving experience I’m in a good position to assess whether someone needs treatment.”

And sometimes, despite the relatively young age of the patients (average age is late 30s), even that’s not enough to achieve a complete cure.

“Time doesn’t heal all decompression illnesses and the worst ones never get healed. Most of these patients are quite young and often their diving practice isn’t at fault. It’s basically a ‘time/depth’ illness and it can happen even when you’re within limits on your dive computer. They’ll present with shoulder pain or a rash and say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’. And often they’re right – statistics in the US suggest that about 70% of decompression illnesses occur when diving safely and in shallow water.”

The medical risks aside, Fiona says diving is a great way to see the world and she’s dived in some exotic locations and has found herself in some sticky situations.

“I’ve been stuck inside an engine-room on a wreck off Plymouth until my dive buddy found me thanks to a very good torch. On another dive I was 70m below the surface of the Red Sea after being told that we’d find the wreck at 45m. They’d put us on the wrong wreck! In Vanuatu I had a ‘free-flow’ when a valve blew and the air in my tank quickly turned into a line of vertical bubbles. We took 20 minutes to get back to the surface, courtesy of my buddy’s side-sling.”

As for sharks, “I’ve been trying to spot a shark for ages!”

“I do have a shark shield but I’ve never used it. There’s never been a double-blind trial to prove if they work. My theory is don’t thrash around, don’t dive in risky conditions and make sure there’s someone between you and the shark. There are huge schools of hammerheads in the Galapagos Islands and I’d love to see them one day. They’re so beautiful in the water."

Dr Andy Foote

Andy, a former South African who now works at the ED at Carnarvon Hospital, is a highly experienced free-diver.Foote-Andy-Dr-Black-spot-tusk-fish-Ningaloo-coast-line-WA Oct12-Dr Andy Foote

“I’m used to working in remote locations. I’ve worked as a doctor in the oil and gas industry in Angola, Kazakhstan and China. One of the employment conditions with Rural Health West was to do five years rural service and we’ve been here six years now. I love it up here! I’ve free-dived all over the world and Carnarvon is one of the best spots I’ve ever seen. It’s very rugged and in the off-season you’ve got the place pretty much to yourself,” Andy said.

Free-diving with a spear in your hand is about as primal as you can get and not without its risks (see What if?). A bleeding fish stuck on the end of a spear, throw a few sharks into the mix and you’ve got a salt water cocktail that’s not for the faint-hearted.

“It is potentially risky but if you’ve done a bit of spear-fishing, you’re aware of the conditions in the water and you can make informed decisions about whether it’s safe to dive. But anywhere with lots of fish is going to have a healthy shark population. I’ve never seen a white pointer up here but I know they follow the whale migration as far north as Exmouth.”

“I love it up here. Working as a GP in Perth with some sub-specialities such as dive and aviation medicals with some travel medicine would be ideal in the future.”