Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Nice weekend diving, shame about the bends

Ah, the traditional British August Bank Holiday, traffic jams and rain. And extended hospital treatment.

So, I went off to Eyemouth with the Orca crew this Bank Holiday for three days of boat diving. And there was some great diving to be had, as although the visibility was only OK at three to four meters the macro life there was fantastic! Plenty of anemones (easier to spell than say and not so easy to do that either), many nudibranchs, lobster, squat lobster, all sorts of crabs, scorpion fish, leopard spotted goby, the list goes on and on. Wow!

The time passed quickly and we were soon looking at the last days diving. We went out for a meal the previous evening and I had drunk a fair bit of alcohol (a pint of Guinness, half a bottle of red wine or so and a whisky) although I made sure I drank lots of water. I also ate something which disagreed with me, causing a few trips to the toilet in the night.

The schedule for the day meant an early start, breakfast whilst the boat went out with the second group and finally a dive on the Glanmuir, a wreck lying in 28m of water. So it was a cup of tea for brekkie and go! Nice dive, plenty of gullies and sculling about to be had. There then followed a leisurely breakfast and preparation for the last dive of the weekend. We had to dive on the slack which meant in the water for 12:30 sharp, a nice four hour surface interval. In and on the wreck no problem, and a nice wreck it was to boot! Big, plenty of dead mans fingers, few large fish hanging about. We approached the NDL times on our computers, so it was time to surface even though we still had enough air in our tanks.

A quick lunch and then time to head back to Manchester as Colombo, our driver, needed to get back before 8pm to get to work on his nightshift. Nutter. Personally I was looking forward to a curry and a glass of red wine as the bowl of soup I'd had for lunch just hadn't cut it! About three hours into our journey I started to get a slight tingling in my right wrist, slowly followed by pins and needles in the hand. After an hour I was pretty much convinced that it was DCS (Decompression Sickness, AKA "the bends"), which was paradoxical in some ways as being in denial that you for DCS is often stated as a symptom of DCS so thinking I had it meant... well, it meant there's a time and a place for philosophical niceties, and when it comes to potentially serious problem that ain't it. Now whislt some folks didn't think it was DCS, I was pretty much sold on it being DCS by that point particularly as it increased in intensity the higher we went. Nothing much to be done when you're hurtling along the M62 but I prepped the numbers for the UK diving hotline and rang them as soon as I got in.

Yup, as suspected, I needed to go to a hyperbaric unit AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!!! So, being based in Manchester I was offered Hull or the Wirral. Hmmmmm. Lemme think. I'll take the Wirral... I was told to expect a call back from the hyperbaric chamber there and one quickly came in from a very nice man by the name of Dave who pretty much told me I had what sounded like a neurological (ie type 2) DCS and to get in there AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Oooo-kay. I get the picture....

To the great and eternal credit of my friends it took just two connecting calls at 8pm on a Bank Holiday Monday to arrange the 50 mile lift. Phill had already had a drink, Russ and Andrea were about but jumped straight in the car for me. Love you guys, seriously. And I know you would've done Phill, but to fair, you were slurring evvvver so slightly when I got through to you. No judgement call there, if I hadn't have been diving I'd have been there with you. Although pople never seem to call me for an emergency lift do they... huh, what's your problem that you don't think I'd care enough, hey? Well I do! And just saying "But Bill, you haven't got a car or even a driving license and it was an emergency, I only had a few minutes before loss of blood would've made me pass out and possibly die!" is MISSING THE FUCKING POINT MAN!!!! And relax.

So, where were we? Ah yes, speeding, at the national limit of course, towards the hospital! Russ made excellent time as Andrea and I made small talk and we were soon there. Dave, who was the director of the unit, a senior paramedic and ex-commercial diver went through the first round of questions with me as we waited for the doctor to arrive. We went through a number of bits of information both concerning my general health (no, I'm not pregnant, I always look like this) and the events leading up to the main event itself. When the doctor arrived he went through a similar medical evaluation and questions. The consensus was that dehydration was at the root of it, mainly from the dose of squits in the night.

Next step was to put me into the hyperbaric chamber for a few hours. Russ and Andrea volunteered to come at pick me up when I was out, which was estimated to be 04:15 at the earliest (I was in for a "Table 62" session I believe). They were to ring the chamber at 03:00 and check I would be out then and not requiring an extended stay. I waved them bye-bye and prepared for my journey into the unknown...

The preparation consisted of selecting a set of green scrubs (none of that tie-up-the-back-exposing-the-bum malarkey, nosiree bob!), choosing my books and picking the types of sandwiches and chocolate to take in... Ah yes, Wirral hyperbaric chamber, you'll come out fitter AND fatter!!! And then Dave and I were in the chamber.

Now, let me explain some of the procedure here and just why, exactly, Dave would be accompanying me. The chamber was to be pressurised to be the equivalent of 18 meters below sea level. This would encouraged the pesky bubbles of nitrogen in my system to redissolve into my blood stream and be allowed to off gas naturally through my lungs. To further encourage this process I was to spend most of my time breathing 100% O2. Most of my time as for every 25 minutes on I had to have 5 minutes off to avoid oxygen toxicity, a lovely effect that can occur when you the effective pressure oxygen is greater than 100% (go look up your gas laws if you want more on this). The main symptom of oxygen toxicity is having a fit: hence the presence of Dave and the reason why nitrox diving is so conservative with PO2 levels.

In we went and the pressure dropped, causing the chamber to heat up a hell of a lot. When we stabilised at 18m equivalent on went the O2 mask for 25 minutes. Horrible thing, very uncomfortable, that last word summing up a lot of the evening. I'd not slept since 06:30 the previous day and wasn't allowed to sleep in "the pot" (as us hardy diving types call the hyperbaric, apparently) as I had to concentrate on breathing properly. My symptoms gradually lessened, with the writs pain going first followed by a gradual diminishing of the pins and needles in a tide like fashion down my hand towards the little finger. After a few rounds of treatment we "came up" to 9m equivalent and I went on the O2 for an hour, a couple of times.

Eventually we equalised and it seemed to have worked. Alas, some of the symptons returned pretty bloody quickly, albeit to nowhere near the same extent, so I have another two hour session tomorrow. I'm also pretty tired but I'm not sure if that's sleep that needs to be caught up on or another symptom: either is possible. Russ and Andy picked up, the stars, and I came home to find myself locked out of the house. But that's another story and I have pretty diving photo's to sort through!

I'll follow up on this tomorrow with any luck. Hopefully the session (a Table 60 session) will sort the rest of the niggles out and I'll be diving again in time for a planned trip to Mull in early October... I shall, of course, be properly hydrated by then, drinking juices and squash rather than water.

Kudos and thanks to the Murrayfield hyberbaric guys, you were fantastic. Russ, Andrea, that was friendship above and beyond the call of duty (particularly given the whole "Kidnapped in the Lebanon" thing I did on Russ a few years back) I owe you a meal and the movies (Tropic Thunder, yeah?). Phill thanks for caring and wanting to be there only to be constrained by those pesky UK drink driving laws (buy you a drink, yeah?). And thanks to everyone who's already sent your well wishes. It should all be OK now. Fingers crossed. You buy me a drink yeah ;)

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