The PFO I didn’t know I had (part 2)

Heart repeat pattern

If you’ve read our previous blogpost, you’ll be interested to find out about what happened to another of or divers …

4 of us set off to Cyprus to spend a week diving the Zenobia. As DM  said in the last blogpost, not particularly deep, with max depths about 40m. We arrived on the Monday and the first day’s diving was Tuesday. That evening DM hadn’t felt great and left early leaving Jeff, Richard and I to get on one and drink too much.

By Wednesday morning DM thought something was up and didn’t dive. Jeff and I binned the afternoon dive as the alcohol caught up with us. So with the knowledge of DM’s visit to the pot, we took it steady that evening and I didn’t drink a drop. Moreover on the Thursday I upped the settings on my computer to make it even more safe.

Two good dives with perfect profiles and extra safety margins later, Jeff and I are taking a stroll down the sea front. This is now about an hour after the dive and I started to get, what can only be described as itchy tits. I took a peek down by T Shirt and was alarmed to see a red rash developed with some purple mottling in places. Now I’ve never seen anything like this before and knew there was a problem. Not sure what Jeff and I must have looked like as I lifted my T Shirt and asked him to look at my man boobs on the sea front.

Here’s the thing! I have worked in the insurance industry for 25 years – you know whats coming here – yep you guessed it, I’d cocked up the travel insurance. In a rush I’d bought it for the wrong week and wasn’t yet covered. Now we were using Dive In Cyprus, which had informed me after buying IDEC insurance from Dive Master that they preferred customers using DAN insurance as that will pay for their own chamber, owned by the same company, which incidentally charges a hell of lot more than the state operated chamber. DM’s treatment would have cost £12,000!!!! I kid you not.


Before you go anywhere, check for yourself the procedure with access to the nearest chamber and what insurance the dive operation recommend. Even if I had bought the IDEC insurance for the correct week, chances are that it would not have covered me in the Dive In chamber due to their costs and that’s by their own admission!

In terms of what happened next, well the rash disappeared relatively quickly and in the absence of a spare £12k knocking around I went back to Richard’s flat to see what would happen. Despite being encouraged to dive the next day, I couldn’t now get insurance, without first seeing a doctor, so decided against diving for the rest of the week and of course got charged for it, which David didn’t. No surprise on the basis that they stood to get £12k out of his insurers.

I flew home with no effects at all and went to the dive chamber in London the next day. Apparently the majority of bends they see there are people who didn’t get them treated immediately, like me. The doctor took one look at the photo of my chest and said ‘skin bend’. Various tests later and I was in the chamber with a similar profile of treatment as DM. Again, in the case of what they call an “undeserved bend” the finger of accusation immediately gets pointed at a PFO.

Unlike DM I don’t have private medical insurance (thanks to a cock up by work – not me this time) so my treatment falls to the NHS. My doctor is pretty good so is happy to write almost anything for me and I was seen fairly swiftly at Croydon University Hospital. I was diagnosed very quickly with a PFO and second test later have discovered that the hole is small. To date I do not know whether it needs closing or not. In the absence of this I can’t be medically signed off to dive and therefore buy insurance. I am sure I could dive in the UK as treatment is free, but won’t be until I know for sure. I certainly can’t buy travel insurance to cover me at the moment.

Its a strange turn of events as I’ve been diving since 1996 with no real issues.

However, on a couple of occasions in the last year I have had itchy man breasts post dive, but the symptoms have always gone really quickly. The first time was after a deep dive to 70 metres, but again with perfect profile. At the time I was led to believe that this was probably Isobaric Counter Diffusion, which can be caused from switching from a mix rich in helium to one with little or none in it. The second time was in Egypt in this year. the interesting thing on all 3 occasions is the exertion after the dive directly, which fits with DM’s comments. On all occasions we were diving from ribs and certainly in Egypt and Cyprus we were de kitting in the water and passing heavy units up to be lifted on to the ribs.

This bring me on to LESSON NUMBER 2

Training often tells you that people deny the symptoms of the bends. For mild bends this just isn’t true. It’s more a case of just simply not recognising them. Not just in yourself, but others who have the symptoms. One thing both DM and I noticed is how the flesh hardens and feels different. I had a bit of this in my right arm, but thought it was just when my unit had slipped down my arm pinching the skin. It wasn’t!

I have to say in all of this the London Dive Chamber and both my GP and Croydon University Hospital have been excellent, although I did disgrace myself during the second test (TOE), but that’s another story.

Fingers crossed I’ll either be given the all clear or get closure (I know bad pun) in time to dive in Egypt!

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