Discerning, Diagnosing, and Dealing With Symptoms

Divers Alert Network has decades of experience helping divers in emergencies — and with decades of experience comes decades of stories and lessons you can apply on your upcoming dives. This story features DAN’s medical professionals assisting an injured diver who made a series of unfortunate and preventable mistakes.

DAN received a call via satellite phone from a person concerned about her bunkmate after a series of dives earlier that day. Her bunkmate was exhibiting symptoms that suggested decompression sickness: pain under her left breast and right shoulder, skin bends, numbness in her leg, nausea, and a brief loss of consciousness. The diver had a total of 40 lifetime dives and was completing her advanced open water certification. She was using rented equipment and was not familiar with the dive computer.

The diver had completed four dives to deep depths (80 feet and deeper) that day. Her symptoms actually began after her second dive, but she continued diving. At the end of the last dive she had followed the instructions of her divemaster, who insisted that she not fulfill her dive computer’s decompression obligation, which was likely a significant contributor to this apparent DCS event.

Of course, it’s crucial to follow your dive computer’s recommended decompression, and a dive professional should never encourage a diver to ignore safety protocols. Be aware of any symptoms after diving and take them seriously. Don’t wait for someone else to inquire about your symptoms — with DCS, time is of the essence. Ignoring symptoms of DCS can exacerbate a relatively minor event into something more serious or long-lasting.  Vet your dive operator, and when you rent equipment — especially a dive computer — be sure to orient yourself to its features and settings.

Although the DAN medics quickly realized the seriousness of the situation, the remote area the diver was in meant that the closest medical facility was 18-20 hours away. DAN promptly dispatched a speedboat to rendezvous with this diver, yet even the speedboat’s trip would take five hours. DAN helped facilitate the assistance of the local navy, which sent a rescue helicopter to transport the diver. The injured diver arrived at the medical facility in bad shape; she was disoriented, in hypovolemic shock, and had skin lesions and signs of spinal cord and brain injury. However, the diver gradually improved with treatment and continued follow-up care.

This story illustrates the importance of an attentive dive buddy, compliance with proper diving practices, and recognizing — and decisively responding to — signs of DCS. Having an excellent dive buddy, paying attention to any unusual symptoms, and ensuring whoever is leading your dive is qualified and following appropriate standards are vital.

DAN offers e-learning courses on a wide range of diving subjects, so you can be prepared for your next dive. DAN First Aid courses also offer training for a variety of emergency scenarios, so you can be prepared as both a diver and dive buddy to respond to any situation that may arise.

DAN takes the guesswork out of emergency logistics. Once a member calls the 24/7 hotline, DAN arranges whatever care is needed — including evacuations and complex air travel arrangements if necessary. Behind the scenes, DAN specialists coordinate medical care and transportation with local agencies, and in dive emergencies, DAN medical staff can even consult with local physicians who may not be familiar with dive medicine.

With more than 40 years of experience managing emergencies around the globe, DAN helps ensure you get to fully enjoy your travels. Learn about DAN World Membership & Coverage HERE.