The gory details.
As I'm sure most of you have guessed, I got bent on my last dive. I should say latest dive, because it's certainly not going to be my last. There were a number of mistakes made here. Trust me, I know what they were. No need for anyone to point them out to me.
A little background first. I am a PADI certified rescue diver. I've been diving on a fairly regular basis since '99. My dive partner on this particular dive is a good friend of mine who also happens to be a NAUI instructor.
There were a few things that happened that could have been factors in my getting bent, so I'll include them as well. They're not the kind of things that you would normally think of as factors, and no medical professional told me they had anything to do with it, but you might as well know. I'll also say that two of our crew were nurses. One a retired cardiac nurse and one is currently an ER nurse. It's good to have friends like that when you've got this kind of trouble.
October 2010 we had bareboat chartered a cat out of Ft. Lauderdale to do some sailing and diving in Bimini. We brought a compressor with us to fill our own tanks so we weren't tied to North Bimini. We had been diving for a couple of days when I got bent. The day before we did 2 dives with the deepest at 95 feet. I parked the boat off South Cat Cay for the night. About 3:30 am I was awoke by the kayak that had been left tied to the stern and drifted between the hulls and was banging right next to my head. I got up and dragged it on deck, but did not get back to sleep. In the morning I had only a granola bar for breakfast.
We set off for our first dive of the day. We tied up to the same buoy that we dove off the day before. Everyone liked the dive, so why not? This time I didn't go over the ledge and kept my depth at about 45 feet. Only my partner (not the instructor on this dive) and I stayed shallow, the rest went deep. A very good, and uneventful dive later, and we're back on the boat. We sailed for about 3 hours while the compressor was refilling tanks. A beautiful sail and a good surface interval.
We reached the coordinates for our next dive, The Bimini Barge, right off North Bimini in 90 feet of water. The Buoy that's supposed to be there is missing. We've got nothing to tie the boat to. Determined to do this dive, my friend Brad (the NAUI instructor) jumps in with fins and snorkel to locate it. He finally locates it, but he has to be directly over it to see it. I'm ready to go, but without a mooring ball, no one else is comfortable doing this dive. I grabbed my gear, I hand Brad his gear and we go. The current is strong, so we immediately descend so we don't lose sight of the wreck.
Once on the wreck, we had a great dive. Lots of fish to see, and a pretty interesting wreck. We descended on one end of the barge and made our way to the other end. The current was very strong but if you stayed in the shadow of the wreck, you didn't notice it much. At the opposite end of the wreck, we found the mooring line. The buoy was missing, but someone had attached a lift bag to it. Unfortunately the bag had a hole in it so we couldn't re-float the line.
After making our way around the other side of the wreck, and fighting the current most of the time, we were finally back at our starting point. My SPG was showing 1200, time to go. The current was ripping, so I had a brilliant idea. We could go to the other end of the wreck and grab the mooring line and ride it up. With it, we could control our ascent and drift. Brad agreed. It seemed like a good trade at the time. A few hundred pounds of air in trade for a nice controlled ascent.
We made the swim to the other end of the wreck. It was faster to go a little outside the ship, but we also had to fight the current. We burned more air than I expected, but we still had just enough. We took the eye splice in hand and started our ascent. It was a nice easy ascent, piece of cake. Brad's computer started to complain that he's low on air. My computer is not so fancy, but I'm even lower. Still we're OK. Then we had a problem. The mooring line is caught on part of the wreck. We've stopped at 63 feet. We tried for a few minutes to free it, but our air levels said it's time to go.
When we let go of the mooring line, the real trouble started. The current that we had been fighting swept us rapidly upward. The ascent from 63 feet to 20 feet (where we controlled it) took about 30 seconds. Way WAY too fast. Brads computer was screaming at him the whole time. I thought it was his low air alarm had finally gone ballistic. It was his ascent rate alarm. I was paying too much attention to my air level and not enough attention to my ascent rate, otherwise I could have slowed it a little by kicking downward. Even so, by the time I realized what was happening and spun around to a head down position it would have been overwith anyway.
Once we stabilized at 20 feet, Brad popped his safety sausage and we hung at the end of his line as long as possible. I only stayed about 2 minutes. My air was gone. I was still breathing, and wish now that I just breathed it out, but I had enough risky maneuvers for one dive. Brad stayed down for another 4 minutes. Once on the boat, all was well. Brad was pissed because we blew the profile. He said we'd know in an hour how we did.
We pulled into North Bimini and made our way up the channel to the Bimini Bay Resort. We anchored in the little basin just south of the docks so we could steal some wifi.
A short while after anchoring I noticed a dull ache in my left shoulder. I had been seeing a chiropractor about this same sort of pain in the days before leaving home, so I didn't think much of it. About 10 minutes later I had a weird sensation in my left forearm. I wouldn't describe it as numb, it didn't tingle, but it just felt really odd. Almost like if I pinched my arm, I was pinching a piece of meat that was laying on my arm. I could feel it, but it's not like it was mine.
Brad was sitting on one of the bow seats. I made my way up to the opposite seat. I asked him to go over the symptoms with me again.
Pain or ache in the extremities. More likely on the left side and in the arm. (check)
Then you get dizzy. At the exact moment that he said "dizzy", my eyes started to dart rapidly from side to side. I still had my balance, so I made my way across the trampoline to him so he could see what they were doing. I bent over so he could see my eyes, and when I stood up I almost fell off the boat. Dizzy, check.
I did have DAN insurance, so Brad got on the SAT phone with them. After a few minutes of discussion, the order was given. Get the dinghy down. I crawled to the dinghy and got in. There were a couple of guys at the dock and they helped my out of the dinghy. One of them was a local who had a golf cart. At this point I couldn't walk if I had to, but I'm not missing a single second of the whole evening. It was a short trip to the clinic. When I got there I could feel that there was no blood in my face at all, but it's going to be OK because I'm at the clinic. A nurse came out the door to meet us, and I told her "Oxygen, NOW". We were shown to the back of the clinic where a gurney was set up and waiting. She put me on 7 liters of oxygen and got an IV going. My blood O2 level was extremely low and after breathing oxygen for a while the eye darting went away. If I talked to anyone, the O2 level would drop again and the darting would start. 15 liters of O2 fixed that.
The fine folks at DAN appear to be some of the least competent people on the planet. When you have a DAN insurance contract, it says that DAN must be contacted and they will make all arrangements for you. I don't know how it's possible for me to not hear them, but my wife tells me that we had both nurses and the doctor screaming at different people to get me off that island. The doctor was actually brought to tears at one point. Over 3 hours later, the air ambulance that DAN arranged to take me to Miami decided that they would come in the morning. A couple of hours later DAN relented and let the clinic arrange for an air ambulance to Nassau.
By the time I got on the plane to Nassau it was 3am. The ambulance would allow for my wife to go with me, but no one else. The doctor from the clinic told them that unless they wanted to go back to Nassau empty, they would be taking a second passenger, the cardiac nurse. The trip to Nassau is a pretty quick one in a King Air, and the pilot turned up the pressure to sea level. Once on the ground, the pilot got out of the plane and into the ambulance and drove me at an incredibly high rate of speed to the hospital.
I got stabbed, poked, and prodded for the next couple of hours. The blood gas test is the worst. They have to get arterial blood, not veinous. The arteries are deep and it took them a few tries. Then it was off to the recompression chamber. By now it was a full 12 hours since the dive. I would have liked to be in the chamber a long time ago, but what can I do?
I had been awake since 3:30 am the previous morning, it's now 6am. Tired does not describe what I was feeling. You are not allowed to sleep in the chamber. They actually have an attendant go in with you to make sure you don't sleep. I guess he could help if you got in trouble, but mostly he just made sure I didn't sleep. They showed movies with a projector through a tiny port in the end of the tube onto the inside of the door. It wasn't tall enough to stand, and if you even sat up, you got in the way of the movie. So I had to lay down with my head on a pillow and not sleep for 8 hours.
After emerging from the chamber, my balance was better, but not great. I could walk, but I had to work at it. We went to a hotel recommended by the chamber manager. I knew I had to eat because my last meal was a snack between dives. So a cheeseburger at the hotel restaurant and it was off to bed. A good 7 hour nap later and we went down to have dinner. Then it was time for bed. At about 3:00 am I woke to a very sharp pain about an inch behind my right ear. A few minutes later and the pain started to subside.
The next day my balance was much better, but not perfect. Patrick (our nurse) took a commercial flight back to Bimini. I managed to walk straight enough for the doctor, so she released me. The next problem was to get back to Bimini. The boat was in good hands, as we also had an ASA instructor with us, but he is a lake sailor like me and hadn't solo'd the gulf stream. I'm confidant that he would have been just fine, but I'm not sure he was all that excited about it. I just really wanted to get back to the boat, and as it turns out the rest of the crew was very down without us there. I was under strict orders not to fly over 1000 feet for 3 days, so that left us with 2 solutions. We could take a boat, or fly private at a very low level.
The best solution for us was the mail boat. It was cheap, and going to Bimini. It was also gone. I got on the phone and started calling flight services. Most were geared toward very wealthy people, with very nice planes and prices to match. Our cab drivers late husband was an airline pilot, so she turned us on to a pilot she knew. $850 later and we were on our way back to Bimini with a maximum altitude of 500 feet. A happy reunion with the crew, and then a few stern words from our nursing staff and we were back on vacation with only a day and a half lost.
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John USYacht 27 "Cora Lee"