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Brian Cameron


Brian Cameron

I felt that I wanted to write about my recent experience of visiting the dive chamber at LDC having been treated for DCS after a rapid ascent.

I am relatively new to the diving world and therefore an inexperienced diver, and having not dived since August last year in Mallorca it was safe to say that I was very keen to get back into the water.

I had read many articles in Tanked Up from divers getting into trouble after a long break and my own diving school warned me of the need to be extra vigilant given my inexperience and time out of the water. So it was off on a trip to NDAC in nice clear water with an experienced dive buddy to sort me out and to ease me back into things.

It was a beautiful morning with the waters edge shimmering emerald green. The plan was for 2 dives, the first to be a gentle and gradual descent and ascent from the slope road, and the second from the jetty to maximize time investigating the wonderful attractions at the site.

The first dive went exactly as planned, a little cold but I felt at ease very quickly. Managing the dry suit on the slow ascent with a safety stop at 5m, we exited with a smile on my face from ear to ear. Plus a hot chocolate and a bottle of water to wash down a less than healthy lunch at the café, then it was off down the hill in the transit van and back to the water's edge.

My mood had by now become one with a little overconfidence "I've got this licked" I thought, well as it turned out, I hadn't. A giant stride entry and we were soon at the diving bell at 18m picking up where we left off. It was at this point that I thought it was a good idea to experiment with adding air to my suit to help with buoyancy. This is, after all, the best and most effective way of controlling altitude and keeping warm. Becoming less dependent on my BCD and more confident with my obvious natural born talent to dry suit dive I put this tedious exercise to the back of my mind and instead enjoyed the dive and the enormous fish swimming effortlessly above our heads.

Having sat in the APC, plus dived around the light aircraft and some of the other attractions it was time to make our way to shallower water. I had noticed that whilst swimming through the containers my fins were skimming the top, I was finning at a bit of a angle (the air was getting to my feet). This was the first sign that something was not right, it was the fist sign and I ignored it!

Continuing the dive it appeared that the air management I thought I had mastered began to master me. With my posture almost vertical (feet up) I tried in vain to grab something and finned like mad to right myself. My dive buddy seeing me in trouble tried to help but I was going up and there really was little else to do to stop it! I had finned so hard that my feet had also come out of the boot on one leg which meant that on top of everything else, the surface swim looked rather odd!

We spoke about the event and went over what happened. With reference to my dive computer we surmised that the ascent was from around 12m and was most definitely rapid. On the drive home I felt unusually fatigued, more so than I had ever been after previous dives. Needless to say I was not great company as I drifted in and out of sleep.

At home, some 3 hrs after the dive, I began to feel a numbness in my left arm, more specifically in my hand and pain in my forearm and elbow crease. I searched the internet for DCS symptoms and although my experience was not 'classic' for DCI, with the rapid ascent, fatigue and this unusual pain it was becoming obvious to me that I should seek the advice of a dive chamber immediately.

I called the national 24 hour advice line and explained what had happened, my details were then passed on to London Diving Chamber as they were the nearest chamber to me. Dr Oliver Firth contacted me within minutes, a very impressive turnaround given it was now quite late at night. The decision was made to meet at the St Johns Wood Hospital in London and the chamber team were mobilized immediately. I was examined by Dr Firth and he suggested that I have the treatment, and as my symptoms were quite mild one treatment on navy table 62 should suffice but a follow up may be needed depending on the results.

Once at the chamber I met Bill and the team who explained everything to me very simply, the team were extremely friendly and helpful which was just what I needed as understandably I was feeling quite nervous. I was to be taken slowly to 18m and put on oxygen for 20 minutes at a time with a 5 minute break between each dose to asses any improvement. We would then take a slow ascent to 9m and repeat the exercise again but on longer sessions of oxygen. The whole treatment was to last approximately 5 and a half hours, much longer than I had expected.

The chamber was a little intimidating at first but one of the team was in with me for the duration and the only tough decision for me to make was to pick some reading material. Of course the latest copy of Tanked Up rolled neatly under my arm! As the chamber pressurizes it gets quite noisy so earmuffs are required for the descent, plus it gets quite warm too. To combat the heat and any leaky masks they also refresh the air every so often and the earmuffs go back on. After my first course of oxygen I felt little difference but after the second one I felt no pain at all, it was a miracle, the pain, numbness and discomfort in my left arm had completely disappeared!

The rest of the treatment continued and we finally ascended at around 5:30 in the morning.

A follow up examination with Dr Firth concluded my treatment as I had no other symptoms and I was given the all clear to dive again.

In closing I cannot thank the team at the London Dive Chamber enough. We are very lucky in this county to have access to such a dedicated and professional team at any hour of the day or night and all funded by the NHS.

I have learned a great deal from this experience, not just about how to better manage my buoyancy but the importance in this sport to recognise when something is not quite right and do something about it and seek help and advice immediately. People suffer from DCI in many different ways and it might be that you don't show the 'classic' signs, so if in doubt, pick up the phone.

Thank you again.

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