The world was captivated by the saga of the Thai Cave Boys last July. The incredible story of the 12 young soccer players and their coach – who were trapped by rising waters in a flooded, narrow cave for 15 days, then rescued, all alive and well, by an international team of divers, engineers, medics and other experts – had a near-miraculous happy ending.
And that happy ending was made possible, in part, by ketamine.
A new report from the LA Times, summarising a medical paper, has revealed that Special K was chosen as the drug with which to sedate the boys as they were passed along underwater by a chain of rescue divers.
The operation was incredibly dangerous – one diver had already died in the attempt to reach the cave at the end of the narrow, pitch-black series of flooded passages, and one of the major potential issues was that the boys could, understandably, panic as they were swum out.
But ketamine had some huge advantages over other kinds of sedatives: there was a lower risk of hypothermia, and they don’t suppress breathing, but kept the boys cooperative and calm. Which is a pretty big help when you’re malnourished, terrified, and being repeatedly dunked into turbulent waters by a stranger in the dark.
Dr Richard Harris, the Aussie anaesthetist and diver who helped train the rescue divers to administer the ketamine, was awarded Australian Of The Year this year alongside fellow diver and retired vet Dr Craig Challen, and also signed a $6 million Hollywood movie and book deal to tell their story.
Ketamine’s had a bit of a reputation rehab lately, going from “you take horse tranquilliser at the club?” to a surprisingly effective depression treatment – but now we’re wondering if there’s anything it can’t do.
The full LA Times report is detailed and fascinating, and highly recommended.