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Anchor chain

ISSUE 11 ARCHIVE - AT THE CHAMBER

Hit by an anchor! By Jacob Leverett

"8th June, 2005. F*****g Hell! Hit by an anchor. Going to be interesting. Need to go to the chamber tomorrow".

Not really the best diary entry I have ever made, it is, however, perhaps one of the most important days in the twenty-four years of my life so far. This is a story that I have heard many different versions of. It's become a little bit of a myth and become embellished and exaggerated, but that's what happens to a good myth. It has travelled around the world with the diving season and it seems to me about time to get to the truth about 'the Thai Anchor Catcher'.

Back in 2005 I was a twenty-one year old Divemaster in Thailand looking to get some dives under my belt, have a bit of an adventure and just generally be young. Hanging out, making some friends and pondering the dizzying heights of being an OWSI were my priorities.
Travelling Diver
The dive that ended this idyllic adventure was at eleven metres and lasted about twentyone minutes before it was rudely interrupted by an anchor coming out of nowhere. Most dive computers and tables put the risk of DCI at this depth as minimal. Most instructors regularly bob up and down from deeper during a course. Nobody is sure if it was the super fast ascent, a rogue bubble or some physiological difference which made this different. What we do know is that an anchor struck me on the leg and forced a rapid ascent.

The boat crew scooped me up, gave me some oxygen and tried to work out what the hell had happened. The immediate concern was the rather painful looking blob of purple bruise that was steadily swallowing my leg.

A motorbike ambulance collected me and off we went to the medical centre, where the initial decision was that I was fine, just shaken up and had a sore leg. As the evening went on things got a little more crazy. Lights seemed to get brighter, dots appeared in my vision, I started to feel sick, my shoulder and neck were aching, and one of the most intense headaches known to man kicked in.
Getting an ill diver off of a small island, in the middle of a storm when the majority of the infrastructure in South East Asia was still recovering from the tsunami was a huge logistic nightmare. The initial treatment at the nearest chamber was some twenty four hours after the incident. The Thai chamber wasn't the somber medical experience that we are used to in the UK. Watching pirate DVDs and getting takeaways sent into the chamber wasn't what I had expected.

After being treated and discharged, it soon became apparent that things weren't quite right. It wasn't until after a few days that I began to realise I was forgetting things. This is an odd bit, if you suffer memory loss, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that you've forgotten stuff. Being the other side of the world to my friends and family it was difficult to notice the short attention span, the undue aggression, the confusion, generally being lost. People just thought I was "a pretty weird kinda guy".

DCI has a number of different symptoms, and not all of them are recognised by everyone. If you pick up your manuals or look back through the consent forms the risks of scuba diving are paralysis, coma and death. However, because of the anatomical complexity of the central and peripheral nervous systems, signs and symptoms can be variable and diverse. Symptom onset is usually immediate but may be delayed as long as thirty-six hours.

My own immediate response was that I was alive, conscious and moving so it couldn't be diving related. But something was up. Being admitted to a Thai hospital was a completely different experience to the chamber. Lobster, mini bar and luxury soaps, this had more in common with a five star hotel than medical treatment. Thai doctors weren't sure what to do, all they knew was that the insurance company were paying, so the more tests the better. Doctors in Australia, the US, Malta and the UK were disagreeing.

I was sure something was wrong, and as each test came back with no explanation it became clear that the only real change was that particular dive. My mum, also a diver, was back in the UK and knew the guys at London Diving Chamber and went to them for some advice. The team was positive that the symptoms were DCI related, and felt that because of the delay in original treatment damage could have occurred to the nervous system and that although this would not get any worse, a course of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy would significantly speed up recovery.

Convincing others in the medical profession wasn't as simple. I now had a Royal Thai Psychologist attempting to convince me, through the use of their translator that I was medically fit, I was just lonely. I'm still bemused as to how loneliness can lead to memory loss but that's what I remember them saying.
Ocean Leisure
Repatriation was a complex situation. The diving insurance was claiming the symptoms were not diving related. Travel insurance claimed it was diving related, so I was not covered under their policy. Eventually a UK doctor negotiated a repatriation.

I had twenty eight treatments at London Diving Chamber, spread over a period of six weeks, followed by over a year of rehabilitation. At my worst, I wasn't able to cook for myself, I'd get lost in places I should know, I couldn't properly read or write as my memory was so short. I had strange blackouts and suffered all sorts of other difficulties. I was totally dependent on carers, mainly my friends and family.

I still struggle at times, I've developed coping strategies. I know that I'll never be the same as I was before the injury. But the treatment I had, that was fought for on my behalf, has made me who I am today.

This year London Diving Chamber doctors have signed me fit to dive again and getting back into the water some four years later is a daunting but exciting time. DCI effects everyone differently, it can happen at shallow depths, on short dives and it can happen on any dive.

The London and Midlands Diving Chamber Teams' 24 Hour Advice Line: 07940 353 816.
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