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Oceanic Whitetip




Jane Bengtson

If in doubt... shout it out !

Spending New Year on my own after a traumatic relationship split earlier in 2012? Not me, I was off to the Red Sea on a Liveaboard to St Johns Caves.

I was determined to reach my 200th dive whilst I was on this trip. Unfortunately while I was unkitting from my check dive my zip on my wetsuit completely snapped off. The crew did their best to try and find a thin wetsuit for me

to wear over my semi dry so I could still dive.

The next dive at Elphinstone the crew spotted oceanic white tips under the boat whilst mooring up. With a very tight 1.5mm suit holding my 5.5mm together I was feeling very restricted. As I descended I knew I was feeling too uncomfortable to dive. I signalled to my buddies that I was aborting the dive and to continue without me.

Apart from being disappointed about missing the dive, I also faced not being able to dive for the rest of the trip. Eureka! I came up with an idea of removing the zip on my arm seal and attaching it to my back zip. The crew set about the delicate task of breaking and mending zips and I had a suit that I could use as long as I didnít unzip all the way down. My week of diving was to continue, but I wouldnít reach my 200th dive on this trip. I was going to be one dive short... Or would I?

It was New Yearís Eve, we had completed two dives before a long crossing heading north and we planned a Midnight Dive to count in the New Year. I also asked that if we reached the dive site early enough whether we do

a fourth dive (I could then achieve my 200th dive). It was agreed and the first dive was great with lots of things to see but I was getting cold about halfway through. As it was a circular dive I decided to continue until we were back at our mooring line. The planned New Year dive was about 4hrs later. Still cold from the previous dive, but so desperate to do my 200th dive I wasnít going to miss out. I kitted up and wasnít looking forward to jumping in.

We planned to sit on the sand bed at about 15m, holding hands and counting in the New Year with our torches. The dive lasted 35mins but the majority of it was motionless. I was frozen by the time I returned to the boat. At least I still had chance to complete my 200th dive!

The next morning was our last day of diving and the water temperature had dropped. On our swim back to the boat from the first dive, three oceanics were swimming just underneath the boat. Fantastic! I decided that on the second dive I would hang off the shot line and see if the sharks would come close for a picture. Several divers were hanging about but some decided to go with the current out into the blue. I was feeling a little tired after

a week of diving so decided to stay put. After a while I began to get cold so I swam for a bit but kept the boat within range. The current was still present as I signalled to a group of divers that I was going back to the shot line and stayed at between 7-8 metres for most of the dive.

I noticed I had a numb sensation in the hand that was holding onto the line. A circular area between my Thumb and Index Finger. I moved my arm and hand expecting it would disappear. It didnít. I decided to abort the dive after 40mins a little concerned that the patch of numbness

on my hand was still present and a little weird. However

I had only been at 7m and the dive time was well within the normal range. I was also diving on 32% nitrox, so this couldnít possibly be a symptom of a DCI!

Back on the boat denial set in and I ignored the symptomatic hand. I carried on with the hectic task of cleaning and drying out my dive kit. After about an hour the numbness was less apparent but the area felt spongy to touch. It did cross my mind that maybe I should plumb into the oxygen tank, but I didnít want to make a fuss and the symptoms seemed to be dispersing. It was time to enjoy the post diving drinking session with newfound friends.

On the flight home I noticed I couldnít get comfortable with slight sensations in my arms and legs, but no actual pain anywhere specific. I put this down to my body being tired after a week of diving. My hand had recovered, but felt a little tender where the numbness had been.

Back at work, I experienced a dull pain through my elbows. Being back in a medical environment my brain switched and I decided that it was best to discuss this with an expert. I spoke to London Diving Chamber. Due to the slightly confusing symptoms and delay in seeking advice, we decided to watch and wait to see if the symptoms would improve. Unfortunately that night things took a turn for the worse and I woke up with pain in my back (I was unable to stand up straight), arms and legs.

After Dr Firth had examined me It became apparent that

I was unable to complete one of the standard DCI tests.

It was decided that I should have a stint in the pot, a period just short of 6hrs. The whole team were fantastic, supplying me with books, magazines, drinks, food, good company and a portable loo. Within the first 20mins I noticed there was a 70% improvement in the pain in my back and elbows and was able to relax a little. The oxygen did make feel a little nausea some of the time, but once the flow was adjusted this feeling soon settled.

Finally we were ascending to 9m and I was reassured that it wouldnít be too much longer. My painful symptoms had disappeared and I was feeling much better.

After the treatment I was checked again by the doctor and was able to complete the test that I had failed prior to treatment. Another 2hr chamber dive was booked to help repair any tissue damage. For this session I was sharing the pot with several medical patients that were having Hyperbaric Oxygen for other conditions. Unfortunately I had come down with the dreaded flu and was unable to clear my ears.

Eventually I managed to get back to complete my final session. My ears were checked out by the doctor and I was given the all clear to complete the dry dive. There were four other patients, a trainee, a trained technician and myself in the pot for 2 hours so it was quite snug. No matter who you are sharing the pot with there seems to be an unusual bond between everyone. I can only put this down to the way the team introduces everyone to each other and the relaxed, professional atmosphere.

With no real cause for this DCI both Dr Firth and I thought it would be a good idea to get checked out for a PFO

(a hole in the heart). This is a fairly painless procedure where bubbles are introduced to the bloodstream and an echocardiogram is carried out while you perform different straining positions. I was given the all clear and no PFO was present.

I discussed with the dive doctor and the cardiologist if it was possible for me to have DCI symptoms after getting so cold on the previous two night dives. Both agreed that if my body is quite sensitive to nitrogen this could be a possibility. Especially if my metabolism had slowed enough to retain more nitrogen than normal.

Lessons to be learnt:

  • Donít keep any unexplained,

    strange sensations or unwell feelings that happen during or after a dive to yourself. Tell someone.

  • Use the emergency oxygen - thatís what it is there for.
  • Donít think it canít be a DCI just because of diving at shallow depths or using nitrox.
  • Donít be so rigid or have fixed targets about how many dives you want to complete while on holiday. This may cause you to make a bad judgement.
  • Always have a good book available for those unforeseen blips in life that we are sometimes faced with.
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