Sunday, 14 June 2009

Divers - Decompression Sickness

It’s been a busy day for the recompression chamber over in Poole- also known by divers as ‘The Pot’.

This morning saw a diver airlifted by Rescue 107 from Swanage Pier, more as a precaution than anything else. Within 10 minutes the Helicopter was re-tasked to Lyme Bay to pick up a second diver who sounded a lot worse.

This afternoon and the helicopter was back to Swanage for a third diver who had to be lifted off one of the local dive boats – the skipper knows his trade well and his quick actions have saved many.

An explanation: Basically (very basic) when you scuba dive your body slowly absorbs nitrogen gas into your bloodstream, this due to the pressure. The diver needs to get rid of the nitrogen when returning to the surface - i.e. decompressing – this done by surfacing slowly and stopping at 6m for a number of minutes. Failure to do this can lead to decompression sickness (DCS) also known as the bends.

The nitrogen gas expands in your bloodstream and tends to settle around your joints, it hurts, and to relive the pain the casualty tends to bend their joints– hence the bends. A minor bend can be just a skin rash. More major symptoms can be caused by said nitrogen bubbles being trapped in the spine, the heart, or the brain- this is not good potentially leading to paralysis or death. All divers are extensively trained in how to deal with situations, and if in doubt the diver is sent for recompression – or potted.

Now with 3 incidents today you might think ‘blimey these divers are terrible!’, not the case. With more people sport diving and doing numerous dives the number of incidents does rise. Swanage and Weymouth tend to be hotspots but this is only due to the high levels of divers and the great diving we have. Thankfully it’s very rare to see someone with decompression sickness. I spent ten years as a diving instructor and with 1000 or so dives under my belt I never saw one person get a bend - thankfully.

Any divers reading this, by way of a reminder you can increase you safety margins by keeping hydrated, setting your dive computer on a more conservative setting, not smoking and cutting down on beer the night before.

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