Jacqui’s Helicopter Ride – July 2013

I had arranged a weekend in Swanage for some club members and myself in July 2013. Seven of us arrived on Friday evening and after a pleasant meal, which for three of us included oysters, we all went off to bed. Saturday morning arrived hot and sunny and we met on the pier, checked in with Divers Down, kitted up and boarded The Spike. Our first dive was The Carantan, at 30m to the sea bed. The ride out was a little rough and my husband Steve felt rather seasick by the time we arrived but soon recovered and we all had a lovely dive. We returned to shore and Steve decided to have a sleep before the afternoon dive, the rest of us had lunch and relaxed during the surface interval.

Our second dive was The Aeolian Sky, sitting at 30m. This time we were on The Skua and were joined by a group of three divers and a lone diver. By the time we reached the wreck Steve was very unwell, it turned out he was suffering from heat exhaustion and food poisoning, so he lay on the deck in the recovery position and sipped water.

The rest of us buddied up, I dived with Simon, Dave with Kirstin and Alan with Alex his son. The three went in together which left John, the lone diver who followed Simon and I when we went in. After about 20 minutes I felt a pull on my fin, John had been following us and indicated to me he was returning to the surface, we watched him rise to the side of the wreck and then continued our dive. We had a fantastic dive, both of us felt very comfortable with our kit and buoyancy and relaxed in the water. We had agreed not to go into deco so as my computer showed deco approaching and Simon indicated we should ascend and then put up his DSMB we returned to the surface.

 We were last to return to the boat and as we exited the lift we were each told to sit down quickly and dekit. This we did with some help, we were then told that John had made an uncontrolled ascent from 20m and a helicopter had been called. I looked around and saw the deck looked like a Practical Rescue Management training session with Steve lying almost comatose in the recovery position, two of the 3 divers leaning over the stern being sick, Alan and Alex looking very shaken as they had become separated. John was lying on a bench with oxygen being administered by the third of the 3 divers. The skipper explained that all the kit had to be moved and stowed to the starboard side of the boat and all the able bodied divers did this. John was being stubborn about not needing oxygen but revealed that he hadn’t dived for 7 years and had borrowed his DSMB which he didn’t know how to use and had become tangled in it and so shot to the surface. Simon and Kirstin were also now helping calm him and keep him lying down. I started to roll up a DSMB and felt a pain in my shoulder, I told Kirstin and she said I should lie down. Within seconds the pain had spread to my chest and I was given nitrox to breathe while the skipper was told and another mask was attached to the oxygen and I was moved to lie beside John. The pain in my shoulder and chest spread rapidly, I started to lose my vision and breathing was becoming difficult when I was told that the winch man was taking me, a helmet was put on my head and straps were put under my legs and around my chest and I felt a tugging sensation and then a lot of noise and I was in the helicopter. I was still in my drysuit and was asked if it was okay to unzip me and apply electrodes, I said yes and the next thing I remember is the landing and being moved to a stretcher, and ambulance and then the hospital and chamber, by which time I could barely stand, couldn’t see or speak properly and had a lot of pain. John was also airlifted and joined me at the hospital. We were put in the chamber together with a medic and spent the next seven and a half hours being recompressed and decompressed.

When I emerged from the chamber I was told that the doctor suspected that I had a PFO and would need a contrast ECG to determine if I did and when I would be able to dive again. I was devastated! The doctor suspected a PFO because of the visual disturbance/loss of sight that I experienced both during the DCI and also when being recompressed on oxygen. She also pointed out that our dive profile, ascent rate, deep stop and safety stop were text book and that it was the exertion on board within the first 15 minutes of the end of the dive and suspected PFO that had caused the DCI. 

The contrast ECG showed I had an ASD (Atrial Septal Defect) of 1cm and the surgeon informed me I was lucky to be alive! I have now had the hole repaired with an emplatzer and await another contrast ECG to hopefully be allowed to dive once more.


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