Is DCI predictable?

A diver is airlifted onto a helicopterOn 1 August, our club dived the Spyros wreck. A safe profile was followed by all – but one of our members was airlifted and taken to the decompression chamber. Why did this happen? Here’s an account by club member Peter.

The dive started out well. The day was sunny and clear. On arriving at the dive site, there was a slight tide running. A full buddy check was undertaken on the boat by both M and P. The dive profile was based on watch/BSAC 88 tables. M had a dive computer in his watch; a check of the tables confirmed that 3m @6m would cover ‘just deeper/just longer’.

P descended first, followed by M. The descent took 6 minutes with regular checks being undertaken. The reason for the slow descent was a) equalisation of ears and b) acclimatisation to partial pressure changes. After all, neither of them are youngsters!

On arrival at the wreck, the visibility was at least 5m. They let go of the shot line and both finned a few metres to the wreck. Buoyancy and air checks with pre-arranged signals (T 100, fist 50 etc) were undertaken. A slow pace then ensued alongside the outside edge of the wreck, then onto the top and then into the open hold which had clear surface above it. A slight tide was still running when outside the wreck. Control of buoyancy by M was good.

At 100 bar, P signalled up, and a delayed SMB prepared by him. On signal, M inflated the SMB using his octopus. Release of SMB went well. A very slow ascent was undertaken to the 6m depth with short stop intervals on the way up to enable the SMB reel to be wound up to a taught position. Having undertaken the safety stop, a slow ascent to the surface was made.

On the surface, there was full inflation of the BC jackets and both divers then used the inflated SMB as a flotation device under their armpits to await pick-up by the skipper. All was controlled and relaxed. Retrieval back into the boat did take some effort as there was a slight tide still running which resulted in the physical exertion of both divers grabbing the rope and then making their way down the side of the boat to the lift.

Once in the boat, refreshments offered by the skipper including some cake. Shortly afterwards M experienced cramps in his stomach, knelt down and complained of pain. Initial enquiry by P was made as to whether he was allergic to anything or whether he had any trapped air. Less than 15 minutes after surfacing, M mentioned that he had pins and needles in his legs and a loss of sensation. DCI was suspected, he was laid down and put on O2.

There was no panic on board and all the training kicked in. The skipper called the coastguard, the DM coordinated activities and a symptom’s timeline/history was prepared to go with the divers along with the dive computer. HM Coastguard were fantastic and very professional as were the hyperbaric medical team on arrival at Chichester Hospital. They could not thank them enough.

Although M was on his back during the short flight to Chichester, P was seated behind the pilots and had a birds eye view of the surroundings including a spitfire doing acrobatics as they flew on by.

DCI is not predictable, it has no logical pattern to it and this illustrates the need for all divers to be vigilant at all times after surfacing from a dive.

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