It'll never happen to me

I.

It'll never happen to me....Well, it did. I got bent. Me. An experienced and seasoned diver, with a state of the art computer, and a conservative attitude. I even got bent on my own mermaid!

A group of us got together to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the sinking of the Emerald Princess in Mermaid Cove. The Emerald Princess is a nine foot high bronze statue of a mermaid that I designed and crafted. It sits in approximately 60' of water south of Powell River, British Columbia. There were two nights of parties planned, and two days of diving. I am no teetotaler, but I did not consume a lot of alcohol (by my standards!) on either night. I got at least eight hours of sleep both nights.

On Saturday, I did 3 dives, one for 37 minutes, max depth 136', (only 8 minutes below 60'), with a two hour, thirty seven minute interval before doing two short dives, 7 & 9 minutes to a maximum of 28 feet. Then we went for the mermaid party. I consumed 5 alcoholic drinks over a five-hour period. The last drink was consumed 12 hours before the first dive on Sunday morning.

Here's how Sunday unfolded. Up at 8:00 am, after going to bed around 11:00 pm the night before. Felt great, had a good breakfast, including 2 cups of coffee.

First dive started at 10:00 am (over 18 hours after the last shallow dive on Saturday). Here are the actual dive profiles for Sunday:

  • Dive 1: 59' for 7 minutes - fast ascent
    • 18 minute surface interval
  • Dive 2: 65' for 14 minutes - long, slow ascent
    • 130 minute surface interval
  • Dive 3: 43' for 45 minutes - last 20 minutes shallower than 25 feet.

At the end of Sunday's first dive, I did do a faster than allowed ascent with a nervous novice. We were at 45' when we started the ascent. I went from 45' to the surface in 40 seconds. Obviously too fast, and no safety stop. I didn't notice any ill effects from this and went on to do my second and third dives.

After a long and happy weekend, we drove home. My left shoulder was hurting, but it always does after any activity. I damaged it badly in a surfing accident in Mexico, five years ago. Just as I was drifting off to sleep on Sunday night, I noticed a slight pins and needles sensation on my left cheek.

Monday morning, I woke up with a greater than normal amount of shoulder pain over a wider than normal area, accompanied by tingling in my left arm and hand, tingling and some mild paralysis on the left side of my face and head. At the emergency ward of the small coastal community near where I live, they ruled out a pinched nerve or a stroke, which left me with the only remaining, and quite unbelievable option - that I had bent myself! A quick call to the physician at the Hyperbaric Unit at Vancouver General Hospital, and I was convinced to go to Vancouver and get checked out.

When I got there, a quick medical, a neurological exam and, worst of all, an IV. I was whisked into the chamber for a USN treatment table 6. Down to 60' in five minutes - hold your nose and go! 2 hours at 60', then up to 30', 2 hours at 30', then a slow climb to the surface. This treatment included having a large plastic bag with oxygen flowing through it placed over my head, cinched up tighter than is comfortable, 20 minutes on 5 minutes off. Pure 02 at 3 atmospheres goes against everything they ever tell you. Some people have problems with it, but it has to be done. (At least I now know I have good 02 tolerance.) The nurse said I did quite well with the bag over the head. Some people have "confinement problems". I did notice some claw marks on the walls. I guess for some it's not so pleasant.

Four hours and fifty minutes later I emerged like John Glenn, hunched, tired, and a little humbled. Four days later, I am still exhausted, still have shoulder pain, and still have some weird tingling in my neck and face. I'm told this will go away eventually. I can't fly for 3 weeks, can't dive for 6 months, and can't have alcohol, caffeine, or carbonated beverages for an indeterminate period.

What happened?

According to my computer, I never had less than 28 minutes of NDT at any time on any dive on Sunday. Yes, I had a fast ascent, but my buddy Dave had an IDENTICAL 3 dive profile with me on Sunday, with the exception that he took 10 more seconds than I did to go from 45' to the surface. Dave is fine.

I take it for granted that diving is not a risk free sport. I know that many variables can add up to an "undeserved hit". Over the last 27 years, I have done way more radical weekends than this, and never had a problem. But, I am now 42 years old, I carry a few extra pounds, I am diabetic, I have a pre-existing injury, I consumed alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated beverages in the period before the dive. This was not an "undeserved hit" - I ignored the rules, thought I was too experienced to get hit, and paid the price. When I return to diving, it will be with a much humbler attitude, and a great deal more respect, both for the ocean, and myself.

II.

Two weeks ago, I completed my first dive after six months out of the water. The profile was 30' for 30 minutes, 5 minutes at 20', and 10 minutes at ten feet. Very conservative, but at least I'm getting wet again. After the dive, I felt an increase in the amount of residual tingling in my face and neck that while greatly diminished, has never gone away. My hyperbaric physician agreed with my diagnosis that it was just that the healing tissue is still hyper sensitive to pressure change. Within a few days it was gone, and as of today, I feel almost no symptoms what so ever - the best I've felt since getting hit. I am leaving for Grand Cayman, to celebrate the sinking of the second mermaid casting, and intend to carry on diving there for a week.

As a result of the hit, I have virtually given up alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, spicy food, and red meat. I've lost about 20 pounds, and generally am in better shape. It was a pretty expensive wake up call. Now that it appears that I will be able to resume some diving activity, I feel I got off lucky.

Simon M

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