…or how I spent 2hrs, 45 minutes of my vacation in a Hyperbolic Chamber
This past July I finally took a much needed vacation to the Turks & Caicos Islands to go scuba diving. I had been looking forward to getting back into the water since it had been two years since my last dive vacation. I was anxious to use my new camera and underwater camera.
Everything started out great. I arrived on the island of Providenciales on schedule and after the short cab ride to Club Med I joined my friends who had already been there for a week, for lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach…ahhh heaven!
The following morning I woke early firmly first day of diving. It felt great to jump in and once again visit with the undersea world. A couple of reef sharks showed up to welcome me back, as did a sea turtle. What more could I ask for? I noticed the abundance of Lionfish on the reef however. And, consequently, the scarcity of other reef fish.
I tried out various settings on my camera trying to figure out the best ones for shooting underwater. I guess it probably worked have better if I hadn’t just bought the camera the week before I left for my trip! Reading the manual once just didn’t prepare me for all the shooting options. After 3 days however, I was starting to get the hang of it
My fourth day of diving started out like any other dive day, except perhaps for the slight nauseous feeling that I still had since coming up the night before from the night dive. Once I got into the water however I felt fine. I usually dive with 3 other buddies. My usual buddy was off taking a specialty course so it was just three of us. At the beginning of the dive one of my buddies told me that this other guy “might” end up tagging along with us since his buddy, one of the instructors, might have to take care of a student who had trouble clearing. I should have known that this uncertain buddy situation was not a good idea. We all signaled ok and proceeded on the dive, which for me maxed at 114 ft.
We were swimming along the wall, and I was taking pictures when I noticed that two of my buddies were getting too far from me and the other guy, who I assumed was with us was way back and much deeper than me. I waited and motioned for him to come shallower. He didn’t so instead I swam towards my regular buddies to catch up.
Maybe it was the exertion of swimming to catch up and fussing with my new camera, but I seemed to be running low on air. I signaled to my buddy that I was low and that she should stay close in case I needed to breathe off her octopus. We starts to ascend to about 15-18 ft to do our safety stop while swimming towards where we thought the boat was. I tried breathing from her octopus but the hose was twisted and I couldn’t get comfortable so I decided to continue to breathe off my own tank. What I didn’t realize was that as my tank emptied, it got very light, and consequently so did I, and I ended up surfacing too fast. I remember seeing a red flashing ascent warning.
On the surface I felt fine and we proceeded to swim to the boat after signaling to the crew on board that we were ok. After a surface interval of about an hour I dove my second dive at a max depth of 58 ft for 50 minutes. Other than a bit of a current, this dive was uneventful.
About 3 hours after my last dive, I was relaxing on the beach when I noticed a pain in my right wrist when I tried to move it forward or backward. I immediately went to see Alain, the scuba doctor to see if I should be concerned. He put me on O2 for 30 minutes and gave me an aspirin. There was no change at that point so he decided that I should go to the clinic on the island where they had a chamber. The
Having left my stuff on the beach, I went back to get it and take a shower. By the time I started to walk back to get the taxi to the clinic, my wrist was feeling much better. I was on O2 during the 15 minute cab ride to the clinic and again at the clinic for another 30 minutes. Dr. Euan Menzies, the British doctor at the clinic suggested that I go into the chamber to be on the safe side, although he did suggest that it was possible that my wrist pain could be tendinitis. If after the first 10 minutes the pain went away completely, then I would stay for a US Navy TT5 which would be for 2 hours, 45 minutes. If not I’d need to stay longer. Thankfully that was all I needed.
To complicate matters, I had to share the chamber with another fellow diver who was not as lucky as I was. I only had what the doctor called “pain only” DCS, whereas my companion was affected neurologically, unable to move his arms.
The inside of the chamber was pretty tight with three of of inside (me, the other patient and a tender to look after us). In addition, due to the pressure at depth, it was also extremely hot. We had to wear oxygen masks to breathe, with “air” breaks every so often. Needless to say, this was not a comfortable experience. My yoga breathing came in handy to keep my anxiety level down.
We were brought down to 60ft and, just like we were in the water, I had to clear my ears as we went down to relieve the pressure. We stayed at 60ft for about an hour and a half (although it seemed much longer to me) and then were slowly brought up to 30ft. After a while I was told to go into the smaller outer chamber, where they would be able to slowly bring me back up to the surface, while the other chamber remained at depth. While the outer chamber was quite small and I was alone in there, sitting on the floor, it was much more comfortable than the other space. Because we were getting shallower, it was a lot cooler in there. After another half hour I was at the surface and finally released. Time spent in the chamber: 2 hours, 45 minutes. I don’t know how I could have handled any more time in there. I’m not sure if it is this way in all chambers, but I wasn’t allowed to bring in a book or ipod (no metal and nothing flamable) so it is basically just sitting or laying down, breathing oxygen through a mask and staring at the walls. Pretty boring.
Overall I will say it was a pretty surreal experience, one that I do not want to ever repeat. All I can say is after seeing the bill I am so glad to have DAN (Diver Alert Network) insurance! I still had to put a deposit on my credit card and had to put the bill though my insurance first but, once they deny it, DAN will pay. If you are a diver, DAN is something you cannot be without. Accidents can happen, even to experienced divers like myself. I was given immediate and professional care by everyone at the Menzies Medical Practice.
I spent the rest of my holiday on the surface, swimming, snorkeling, sunning and hitting a few tennis balls, but still wishing that I could join my friends under the sea. Oh well, next time…