Don’t be ashamed

A week ago a friend bumped into me and told me about Martina, a Swiss lady, experienced dive master and a friend of a friend of a friend, who was not feeling well after diving. Oh Martina, yes I do know her from a day of diving 2 or 3 months ago. She dived twice and after the second fantastic dive, back on board she got very dizzy after an hour when she got up and vomited immediately.

Into the deco chamber

At first she thought it was seasickness, although she usually never is. Once ashore she is still dizzy. Oegg! It was only two dives of 68 minutes at a maximum of 22 meters, and after 2 hours another to 25 meters for 60 minutes. And although a reverse dive profile is not very useful and does not seem deep or long enough to us divers, a dive doctor sees this as two very long and deep dives with a short service interval. Furthermore, she had not dived the week before and nothing strange would have happened before or during or after the dive, according to Martina. I immediately think of decompression sickness in the ear at the vestibular system and so I tell my friend that she should drink as much water as possible, oxygen if possible and go to a dive doctor as soon as possible for a check-up and of course I immediately give a phone number of a good doctor. The message is forwarded to her through my boyfriend and through her boyfriend, and when I try to speak to her myself, it all seems to be very difficult.

You should know that I am currently in Egypt for work and communicating via via is very common here, although I have serious doubts about it in this case. I ask if she can keep me informed and give my phone number with the request to call me. For the next few days I hear nothing, until late last night when I hear everything again through the same friend.

Apparently her complaints are less, but a few times a day she is still just as dizzy. Big ouch! She didn’t go to the doctor, hm that’s a shame and a bit stupid, just a little bit. This time she manages to call and I speak to her directly and so I’m on the phone for almost an hour. In my best German mixed with English I explain how important it is to go to the doctor. Decompression sickness does not always or always go away, it can strengthen or even cause lifelong damage to your body and result in an end of diving career, the worst nightmare for every passionate diver. She waves it off with a laugh, because the dizziness goes away in a few minutes and her boyfriend jokes in the background that he’s the only doctor she needs (‘yeah right’ pops up in my head, I don’t need to know all that). And so I ask her, ‘But if you’re not worried, why are you contacting me?’ Well her laughter is gone in one second and she hangs silent on the other end of the line. Ah! So she is concerned. Well I am not a doctor, but through my work as a dive guide I am gradually building up some experience. I think it really is a case of decompression sickness and because decompression sickness and dehydration are often seen together, I tell her to drink well. No coffee, no tea, no alcohol, but water with rehydration salts, preferably with oxygen and there it is again: to a dive doctor as soon as possible!

Fortunately, she agrees this time, so I don’t let a blade of grass grow over it and call the doctor immediately. I realize it’s almost midnight but I don’t care and luckily I have the doctor’s private number. As soon as she answers she sounds a bit hazy, hihi I called her awake, well it’s for a good cause and the doctor doesn’t object. And so I briefly explain what is going on with Martina and we get an appointment for tomorrow around noon. I’ll send a few whats-apps to Martina and step finally dead tired in my bed. And while my thoughts slowly fade into the background as I fall asleep, I just ask myself: Why is it that people always express their concerns late at night or at night about possible deco illness problems? As if it doesn’t bother them during the day or they just don’t think. I have ideas about that, but let me save that for another time.

Plus some hyperbaric oxygen

After a wonderful night’s sleep, I woke up this morning around eight o’clock. My first thought goes to Martina and I grab my phone to ask how she’s doing. In the meantime I make some fresh coffee, fry some eggs for my breakfast and after an hour I get a response from Martina. She says she is fine and we agree when and where we will meet. Ultimately around noon we go to the hyperbaric center when Martina tells me she didn’t sleep well last night because she kept on worrying. I would do the same myself if I should have gone back to the doctor for a week. And now the monkey comes out of the sleeve and she confesses that she is terrified of doctors and that when she is scared she jokes a lot. Hmmmm that explains a lot and in my response I explain to her that the doctor is not there to hurt her or make her problem worse. Whatever you do on a dive or before or after, no matter how stupid it is, and afterwards it’s always easy to talk to, the doctor is there to help you. So please, if you feel or notice anything strange or unusual before, during or after a dive, even if it has been 2 days, do not hesitate and see the dive doctor as soon as possible. Ultimately, it can happen to all of us regardless of age or license. It’s just not an exact science and yes we all have a bad day and sometimes make stupid mistakes, although we often know better afterwards. That’s part of being human and diving.

Not long after, we’re in the doctor’s office and Martina is really tense. After the necessary balance test and other investigations plus an interview I learn that she only slept 3 hours the night before, drank only coffee and cola and was therefore not properly hydrated, did not eat breakfast, and jo-jo-ed a lot during the dive itself. That looks like the recipe that led to the dish of decompression.

Martina is ashamed because she is an experienced divemaster and she just should have prepared better. There is no need to be ashamed, says the doctor, although it is understandable, and she tells us a story from her own diving collection. As a dive doctor and decompression specialist and diving instructor you might think she knows, she says. About 10 years ago she went diving with her son, a nice day on the boat where the original plan was to dive at Abu Nuhas. This reef is known for its wrecks including the Giannis D, the Carnetic, and the tile wreck believed to be Chrisola K. Maximum diving depth 30 meters but can only be dived with calm water and wind conditions. And that day there was a strong wind and the plan changed, with the first being a shallow dive at a different location of 15 meters max. When the wind suddenly dropped considerably after returning on board, it was decided to sail directly to Abu Nuhas, but that meant that they would not have lunch until after the second dive. And without thinking, everyone, including the doctor, agreed and happily jumped into the water for a second and much deeper dive on one of those beautiful wrecks. But that positive vibe quickly disappeared when she realized that she had broken all the rules without even thinking about it. Stupid, stupid, stupid! First a shallow dive and then a very deep one, plus a very short service interval because lunch would be after the second dive and she hadn’t eaten or drank anything. As a result she did not enjoy the dive at all because her mind was thinking of the risk of decompression sickness and she could hit herself. Still she finished the dive because her son visibly enjoyed the dive and she did not want to cut it short because of him. Once back on board it hit: she felt very bad and in no time and just like Martina nauseous and dizzy. She was so ashamed that she pretended that everything was okay, even to her own son who was concerned. 

It really can happen to all of us, she says, and almost everyone feels some shame when it does. But whether it’s your own fault or not, whether you’re ashamed or not, whether you’re sure or think it’s something else, or just like most doubt, whatever it is one thing comes first in diving and decompression sickness; always expect that you have it and, especially if you suspect the slightest chance, go immediately to a specialized doctor. Because before you know it you are no longer allowed to dive or you will be left with something for the rest of your life. 

Hmm… wise woman this doctor and as for Martina it is expected that all discomforts will disappear and that she will be able to dive again in a few weeks. One thing is certain, she will never forget this day.

Love life… Blow bubbles…