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ISSUE 22 ARCHIVE - AT THE CHAMBER

Chris Hipwood

Drifting in and out of sleep I found my head full of 3 days earlier doing the same sprawled out on a dive boat in the Andaman Sea. That was Boxing Day, and the two dives at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang had been great plenty of soft coral life, which had been scarce on recent dives and fish everywhere.

When I woke on that boat however, it was obvious something wasn't right with my right arm. I recounted the dives - well within limits and with relaxed safety stops - nothing untoward (other than missing the mantas two of the group had seen). It couldn't have been the Santa hat causing the tingling in my fingers or the ache in my arm either. Having had DCS before, despite no other symptoms or irregular profiles, I feared it had returned and back at the Dive Centre, I anxiously asked if they had some Oxygen I could suck on.

All the help you'd hope for from a 5-star outfit followed and I spent the next 3hrs in a kit room breathing oxygen, sipping electrolytes and listening to the hustle and bustle outside the door and with the centre manager checking on me every 10 minutes.

I felt fine. No other symptoms. Just the alternate tingling and aching scampering through my right arm. 3hrs and 2 litres of water later, and with the discomfort fainter than earlier, I left the centre in the dark on my motorcycle and headed for home. Crossing everything that those pesky bubbles had gone. A quick stop at the local Dive Doctor delivered the message I was expecting if it gets worse or no better head for Phuket and the dreaded chamber.

After a long sleep, my arm was almost normal. Not normal, but with my Sister's wedding 5 days away in England, it was normal enough for me to set off on the buses, boats and planes I had booked back to London. Occasional discomfort in my arm hung around, but my irresponsible rationale being that if I had issues on the short flight to Bangkok, I could seek treatment there before boarding a long-haul. Short flight was fine. Long flights were fine. Home.

The only actual similarity between nodding off that morning and 3 days earlier was the fuzzy ache in my right hand. As the train finalised it's crawl through London's Suburbs, I was awoken by excited January Sales shoppers and began to dread the day ahead. I had of course phoned the LDC when I returned to the UK who'd advised me to pay them a visit as soon as I could.

The whole day was a very different experience to that of a couple of years earlier at the Filipino answer to LDC in Cebu City. The hospital in well-to-do North London had art and Christmas decorations on the walls, rather than the peeling paint of Cebu.

Greeted by a friendly and professional team - from the moment I walked in the door I knew this was a bit of a different outfit to the one in Cebu! It didn't take long for the Doc to establish there were no neurological problems and that a course of HBOT would give me the best chance of getting rid of any remaining nitrogen and prevent any longer term damage.

A chamber 3 times the size of the one in Cebu, at a habitable temperature, with plenty of reading material and even lunch (!), made for a very different 6hrs in the chamber than the experience in what I can only describe as a small oven in the Philippines. Bill ensured breaks from the oxygen mask were filled with good conversation. Lillian ensured the chamber did what it needed to do.

All four (I include the chamber in that!) were fantastic. It's important to feel comfortable and looked after during any medical treatment and I certainly felt that. In fact, from the moment Lillian answered the phone the day before, I felt like I was being cared for and that phone number, a simple thing, is a fantastic thing for Divers in the UK to have.

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