Oct 24, 2020 • 5M

Couchfish Week 28: Spiderman

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The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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Sorry for the radio silence over the last couple of weeks. Have been very ill will some kind of faux–dengue that comes and goes. Hopefully I’m back on track now!

Malaysia’s Perhentian islands sit off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. They’ve long been popular for offering some of the cheapest diving in Southeast Asia. There are two islands, Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian). The latter has a free–wheeling vibe, distinct from the conservative states onshore. And so it was I found myself there ramping up my dives under the guise of Travelfish research.

The crowd on Kecil veers young, but unlike the Thai islands, locals make up plenty of the business. Some are there to party, others to dive, others, like everybody, after a beach break.

Did someone say beach break? On Perhentian Besar. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The water is warm, with wreck diving and some pinnacles and plenty of fish. It is by no means Komodo or Bunaken, but it is a fun and gregarious scene. I’d fallen in with an English couple who were kind of working at one of the dive shops, but they didn’t seem to work much. Drinking and diving. Or was it diving and drinking? I can’t remember.

We were on a morning run over to the Police Wreck dive off Perhentian Besar, when I first noticed his leg. Above his knee was a perfectly round lump about the size of the top third of a golf ball. I asked what it was. A tumour of some kind? He wasn’t sure. He’d first noticed it a week earlier—he’d slipped over on the cross–island jungle trail, and had scratched himself up. Since then it had grown a little, day by day, but it didn’t hurt. Ok, maybe it itched a little, but he wasn’t concerned. Despite his girlfriend’s protests, as the weather was good, he was putting off a trip to Kota Bharu to get it looked at.

Just another back beach on Perhentian Kecil. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

“I dunno,” he said, “a mystery. I guess it will pop out gore or just go away.”

The Police Wreck was lacklustre. The boat sits on a sandy bottom and someone only needs to pee underwater to stir up the sand. Visibility was a metre or so—like I said—this was no Komodo. I remember seeing him, at close quarters as we floated near the wreck’s bow, scratching at and rubbing his knee.

I didn’t see them that evening, nor on the morning dive the next day. When I didn’t see them the following evening either I assumed they’d headed back to the mainland about his lump.

Just another day on the beach. Perhentian Besar. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The following morning, as I was having breakfast, I saw his girlfriend and she joined me. She looked like she hadn’t slept for a week. Yes, he was on the mainland—but in hospital.

It turned out the morning after the Police Wreck dive, they’d both been diving the Pinnacle. It’s a deeper dive with current, but still a beginner spot—they were very experienced divers, so it was a no–brainer. He’d been complaining about his knee and about half way through the dive he signalled to her he needed to surface.

Covid–safe sunsetting, Perhentian Kecil. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

“He was grasping at his knee and I could tell he was in some pain, he’s such an idiot sometimes” she said. “We still had to do our safety stop, but he was in so much pain I started to freak out.” [for non–divers a safety stop is a pause you make on your ascent, at five metres, to let the pressure equalise].

“I was holding his hand as we started to rise and then he flung my hand off, I looked down, and his knee exploded.”

“What? What do you mean exploded?” I asked.

I forget which beach this is. Sorry. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

“His knee split and peeled open, I don’t know, like an orange. The skin was flapping in the water—it was gross. There was some blood, not a lot I guess, I don’t know, I’d never seen a knee explode before,” she said.

“And then, there were like a million baby spiders. They poured out of his knee in a cloud. I almost vomited in my mask. They kept coming, more and more. The fish came and started to eat them. It was like a horror movie.”

My breakfast was over.

Check it for spiders before you sit down. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Long story short, once the spider vomit was over, the pain eased, they made their safety stop, and surfaced. He was then sped back to the mainland. He had called her to say the doctors didn’t think there were any serious risks, and he’d be back on the island in a few days.

Moral of the story: If you have a golf ball sized lump on your knee, don’t go diving—go to a doctor. And always always always listen to your girlfriend.