Yorkshire Divers - Night In The Chamber
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  • Night In The Chamber

    "You've got a skin bend on your shoulder and a suspected bend in the joints of your fingers. You'll not be going home tonight"

    Right about now the events of today started to sink in. I changed out of my clothes into a paper smock and sandals ("can't have any risk of sparks where you're going!") and was led towards the chamber. It was 7.30pm and all the attendants had been called in on emergency cover. I gave Andy a weak smile and clambered through the large pressure door and into the chamber.

    Twelve short hours earlier and Andy and I were heading down the M1 towards Stoney Cove. We were meeting another diver there to show him the ropes in Stoney Cove. Neither of us had met this guy before but Andy had been my buddy for a couple of years by now - we'd completed dozens of dives together and had grown to anticipate each other under water. We dived similar rigs and were always there for each other no matter what we came up against. More than anyone else, I trust Andy implicitly under water. We pulled into Stoney Cove shortly before 9am and met up with the other diver. After a coffee and a brief chat, it became clear that our new buddy had a number of open water dives under his belt but was interested in seeing the bottom of Stoney. With Andy and I there to guide him, what could possibly go wrong?

    Dive one started well and we slowly descended down the ramp towards the 20m shelf. Both Andy and I had been checking out our new buddy as we slowly progressed and he seemed in good shape - nice trim, slow and deliberate movement underwater and good bouyancy. A brief buddy check at 20m and final signals to make sure he was happy to go over the drop and down to the murky depts of the 35m basin. A very slow descent down, checks for any signs of narcosis (we were on Nitrox, he was on Air) and all was fine. We pootled around for a few minutes, checking out the landmarks before back to the wall and a controlled ascent back up to 20m. We planned to do this we me at the front using the wall and my depth gauge as guides for a slow ascent back up, while Andy took up the rear to keep an eye on our new buddy's ascent. Quite what happened next is still under debate. Next thing I knew Andy was tugging furiously at my fins - I turned around and saw there was just the two of us - the third diver was heading for the surface at a rate of knots in a feet first ascent. He went so fast I knew there was no way he was stopping anywhere on the way up.

    "$%&**" and other similar thoughts went through my head - I started rattling through calculations, deco obligations (none but we were close) and realised we needed to get up and see how he was. I knew I needed to control my ascent but still needed to get onto the surface as quickly as safety would allow. It took me just under 3 mins to ascend from 25m to the surface - quick but not ridiculous ... or so I thought.

    I surfaced about 100 metres from this guy and from where I looked, he appeared face down in the water. "Aw HELL" I thought and started finning furiously towards him. I should point out at this point that I was wearing a dry suit, heavy fins, a 12l twinset and stage bottle - I reached the guy in record time to find him casually lying on his back. "Thank God" I thought - as I checked him over, Andy surfaced and we tooka leisurely surface swim to the side to recover.

    We dekitted in water, got out and took the kit up to the car - it was at this point that I felt a nagging dull pain in my shoulder. I dismissed it as the usual bumps and scrapes I get from clamering in and out of my one piece harness and twinset. Besides, it was about 5c in the carpark so it was probable that I had pulled a muscle or something. I did remember to do a DCI check on the OTHER diver (but not on myself!! Denial anyone??).

    A quick coffee and a discussion about what had gone wrong before we decided .... wait for it ... TO DO ANOTHER DIVE!!!! Only a shallow dive down to about 20m, out to the Stanegarth and back. We kitted up and I still had a niggling pain in my shoulder and in my little finger on my left hand. We jumped in, descended and the pain disappeared instantly. "Oh FUCK" I thought - the reality of my problem hit me all in one go. I had a stage full of 80% nitrox so signalled to Andy I thought I had a bend and communicated my ridiculous plan to get out of it. I ascended to the MOD for 80% nitrox, got my bouyancy sorted and stayed there trying to off-gas for the best part of 40 mins - occasionally swapping back onto my backgas for a break before back onto the stage. When I finally surfaced I let Andy dekit me in water and pull my kit out while I clambered out and lay on my back resting. My pulse rate was rocketing and I desperately tried relaxing. I did a quick check and the pain definitely seemed to have almost gone. We got back to the car, changed and headed north towards home.

    On the journey I felt tired and the pain started to build again - my shoulders felt like they were sunburned and my little finger was numb - just as if someone had hit my funny bone. A quick call to an instructor friend confirmed it - I started to explain my symptoms and he interrupted "Here is the number for the chamber in Liverpool". We called the doctor on duty and he wanted to send a helicopter across to pick me up because the M62 might be busy!!! I managed to pursuade him we could make it across so he took my mobile number and Andy drove me across. At regular intervals on the 2 hour journey the doctor on call at the chamber called me for an update on my symptoms ("We can have a helicopter with you in 20 mins if needed") and eventually we arrived.

    "It'll be nothing" I assured Andy as I went into get examined. "We'll be on our way in under an hour".

    Well, not quite - within minutes I had my diagnosis and was changed and entering the chamber for a 4 hour treatment on US tables.

    I guess before I enter the chamber its worth going over a couple of bits. The first thing I would like to mention is the absolute professionalism of all the staff at the chamber. I later found out that all these people were called in specifically to treat me. There was the doctor on duty and 5 other members of staff. The staff at the Wirral recompression chamber all work there 9-5 treating much more worthy patients than me - people with severe burns and breathing difficulties etc. They had finished their 8 hour shifts and then got called back in to treat me.

    I felt a complete fraud - even after arriving at the chamber I felt nothing more than a couple of numb fingers and some sunburn on my back and to see these people setting things up was humbling. I was definitely in denial at this point. The doctor took me in for an examination. Now, I had had the presence of mind to print off my dive profiles (just to prove I couldn't be bent!) and passed them across. I was diving with a Suunto Stinger set on conservative mode and the printout showed I had missed no stops (apart from a safety stop at the end) and so I was confident I was fine. His assistant took my profile and ran it through the US Navy tables for comparison. For those of you who don't know, the US Navy tables do not take surface intervals into account and the next bit scared the shit out of me. According to my Suunto, in conservative mode, I was still clean. According to US Navy tables I had missed 18 mins of stops. 18 MINUTES - What the hell?

    Within minutes the Doctor had diagnosed a skin bend in me shoulders as well as a bend in my finger joints. I got changed into my smock and entered the chamber.

    The facilities at the Wirral are second to none - for a start its run by the neighbouring BUPA hospital. Now, I'm not implying that NHS staff are ugly BUT the nurse that went into the chamber with me was a stunner (made a mental note to arrange some private health insurance about then). Downside was that her boyfriend was operating the chamber. Ah well, at least I could look

    So, into the chamber which, by all accounts, is on the large side (it is normally used, as I mentioned, to treat a number of patients during daily sessions). The door was sealed and I realised this was it - I had a bend and it was serious enough to have 6 members of staff called in to deal with it. 

    "Lie on the bed, put on your mask and breathe easily. We are going to take you back down to 18 metres for O2 treatment for 4 hours before bringing you slowing back to ambient pressure.". What happened over the next 5 hours was one of the more surreal episodes in my life.

    The nurse was superb - "What are you in here for?" I asked. "To keep you company" she replied with a smile. I later found out that she was there primarily to burst my eardrums with a syringe if I had problems equalising on the way down ("You needed treatment or it could have got worse" she later admitted. "If bursting your eardrums meant you got it then thats what would have happened"). I lay on the bed, put the O2 mask on and tried to relax. "Taking you down to 18 metres" said the voice on the intercom. The first thing I noticed was the temperature rising within the chamber as we were pressurised down to 18 metres. "Try and breathe normally" said the nurse. I was but it was weird - at the equivalent depth of 18 metres, I found it difficult to breathe normally but soon found a rhythm that was to continue for the next 4 hours - 30 mins on O2, 5 mins air breaks.

    I had brought a book to read but having some company in the chamber with me was much better. I felt so apologetic it was unreal - I mean, I ended up in here because of a hobby. I had caused these people who, I'm sure. would have much prefered to have been at home, to be called back into work after an 8 hour shift to treat me. What a twat!

    I told the nurse I felt a total fraud and she replied "I felt like that the first time I had a bend" - Jesus! "You're a diver?" I asked. "I dive but that wasn't what happened" she replied. Apparently, as a chamber nurse, she gets a bend once or twice a year just by being in the chamber with patients. "There is no logic to it" she replied. "Sometimes, its your time". Right about then, my respect for her and her team rocketed. Not only did she come in on call to treat me but she was knowingly risking a bend herself to do so. Fuck - right about now I felt about an inch tall.

    The treatment continued - 30 mins on, 5 mins off, 30 mins on, 5 mins off ...

    "You hungry?" she asked. I'd not eaten all day so "Yes, starving" I replied

    "What do you fancy - Indian or Chinese?" she asked,

    How surreal is this? The staff outside passed two menus in through the airlock and we ordered food. When it arrived, it was passed through the airlock and so 50 mins later she is eating Tandoori Mix ("I'm on the Atkins don't you know") and I'm tucking into a chicken fried rice.

    4 and a half hours later and its time to start coming back to 'the surface'. The air is slowly drained and eventually we are back at atmospheric pressure and I gratefully hear the chamber doorseals break.

    I am so grateful for the dedication of all the staff at the Wirral chamber, as well as the others in the UK. What would have cost me about 15,000 in other countries got billed to the NHS (at least I got value for money from my National Insurance!!). The total lack of any blame from any of them ("These things happen") was truely humbling. The treatment I received was second to none and I am and will be eternally grateful to each and every one of them for their kindness and friendship in what was, for me, one of the scarier moments of my life.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. divekent's Avatar
      divekent -
      Thanks mate that was very enjoyable to read I have experienced a skin bends but this was about 15 years ago did not have the level of help that you had him for about four years afterwards occurring skin bends but now I am very careful and cautious all of what I do on my dives I find now if I work under water I think very on each they could occur again the last five years I haven't had one and is very worrying I'm very pleased that you got that level of attention that is the benefits of the NHS and people moan about the NHS all the people that give you this type of attention are very dedicated for your rehabilitation and I like to thank those people on behalf of other divers that do not realise that dedication that they give.
      safe diving Eddie
    1. Lofty!'s Avatar
      Lofty! -
      Yeah, what a brilliant read, thanks for taking the time to write it! Have you forwarded this onto Suunto just to see what their comment is? 18 minutes of stops is an awful lot to miss, slightly worrying really since so many of use rely on computers!
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