My Encounter with the Decompression Chamber

Back in 1999 I was a avid SCUBA Diver.  Sometyimes we dove 5+ nights a week in our local dark emerald waters in and around Howe Sound.  Absolutely beautiful diving with lots of sea life.  However this post is not about the beauty of the underwater world but about having nitrogen bubbles coursing through my veins…aka the bends.  Since none of the people I know have had the ~luck~ to go for a ride I would give a quick description of my experience in the decompression chamer.

Well its true I played a visit to the deco chamber. Here are the details as are recorded in my report to DAN. Recreational night dive in Indian Arm off a new boat. It was a check-out dive for a dive shop that was looking to use this boat for weekly night dives. Pretty normal dive, max depth 95ft (31M) for approx. 42 min. Very safe, multi level profile, never came close to meeting any NDL (even on the more conservative Canadian Navy DCIEM Tables). All in all it was a very safe, normal, run of the mill dive…..except for seeing the juvi wolf eel 8)). So we load up the trucks afterwards and head home. I’m driving up Mt. Seymour Parkway here in North Vancouver and notice a slight tingling in my knee…”that doesn’t feel right” I think to myself and continue my trek home. So I arrive home and am sitting on the couch with my house guest Rebecca and actually say to her…”so should I go to the grocer or the hospital?” I picked the grocer as I didn’t think I could be bent from such a normal safe dive.

The next morning I get up and go to work like every other day even though I am really noticing a weird sensation now through my whole leg. I get to work and within about 15 minutes I’m talking to DAN (Divers Alert Network) and one of their oncall Medics. They state that they believe me to have a type 2 DCS hit and I should plan on visiting the local chamber at Vancouver General. So I call and talk with Dr. Richardson and he tells me to come right down and even wanted to send an ambulance for me….I declined as I was fine to drive.

I arrive at VGH’s decompression therapy center and I will say this about my first impression of seeing the chamber….I now became scared. The did a tonne of tests on me and stated that they believed me to have a DCS type 2 hit but could not conclusively say that it was or wasn’t. They decided that the best route was to send me through the chamber and see how I respond to the recompression. Shortest ride possible if everything went well was 6 hrs the 2 hrs of O2 treatment afterwards. Could be as long as a 9 hr treatment then 3 hrs of O2…depended on my reaction to the recompression therapy.

So they prepped me for the chamber, I had to change clothes and put on a non flammable pair of pants and shirt….something from the old Star Trek I think. After I had on my proper attire they closed the door and began to pressurize the chamber. Let me tell you this …it went from about 17 C to about 30 C in about 30 seconds…WOW. I had a nurse in with me and no I didn’t hit on her as the her was actually a very special guy named Scott. Scott was my companion for the whole trip…If something happened he was to be my only source of salvation. We had plenty of time to talk as he basically had to just watch my vitals and perform some tests to determine if the therapy was working.

The therapy is interesting in itself. Once the chamber finished its decent to 50 FSW they started O2 therapy. Basically this was administered through a O2 tent they strapped over my head and sealed around my neck. 20 minutes 100% O2 then 5 min 21% O2 (regular air). That’s it…that’s the treatment….for 6 hrs that’s what I did, 20 minutes on, 5 off, 20 on, 5 off..

After the first six hours they decided that there was enough of an improvement that they didn’t need the additional three hrs of chamber therapy…WOOHOO. I was free to go and apparently almost nitrogen bubble free. They said that they couldn’t be positive about my hit as it was what they call a “undeserved DCS Hit” I stayed within a safe profile and didn’t break any NDL’s. I’m not sure either if I was bent but I didn’t want to take the chance. I’m now somewhat grounded from diving until basically the end of July as a safety precaution.

Enough cant be said about the people who I had to interact with for this incident…from DAN to the chamber techs to the Dive doc at VGH….it has given me some more appreciation for what we do and the environment we do it in.

So the final point to state here is that you dont have to be doing serious “tech” diving to get bent. When we go below we are in a new world that demands more respect than most divers care to give it (me included). It’s now 4 days later and there has been no residual effects or discomforts. I’m safe and have alot of dry time to ponder all the nondiving stuff that bores our daily life…I can hardly wait to get back to the big blue.


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