The divemaster who couldn’t dive
Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs when you least expect them so it should be no surprise that less than a week since the excitement of becoming certified as a PADI Dive Master I have been barred from diving for the next month ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!? well no apparently not.
I believe the Universe does know I’ve recently decided I want to be an instructor and spend the next few years of my life in the water BUT apparently does not care as it says no diving for you missy, not even in the POOL! because what would life be without little hiccups, ha!
It seems I have been suffering from what we now believe to be a type of decompression illness (DCI)(Colloquially referred to as the bends) There are several types of decompression illness with differing levels of severity, and one of them is skin bends which also breaks down into several different types and levels of severity. If you want the ins and outs here’s a link to a great article on them in Sport Diver with Dan (Divers Alert Network) who are the Gods of Dive emergency information. In brief all bends, skin or otherwise, should be taken seriously as they could be indicators for underlying issues and lead to serious complications. In most cases they are treated with oxygen and when possible hyperbaric recompression. Which is not so easy when you don’t know that’s what you’re having and you’re on an island with no decompression chamber but anyway.
A few weeks ago I returned from a perfectly lovely day of diving, nice dive profiles including slow ascents and plenty of surface interval between dives. When we returned to shore I quickly lost my vision, nothing too unusual there as I periodically suffer aura migraines except this one was coupled with a great deal of deep muscle pain/itchiness in my chest and abdomen and a growing flat blotchy rash. The consensus was that I was having a severe allergic reaction to something and I was dosed up on benadryl and ibuprofen and just to be safe put on oxygen for an hour or two. The next day other than a lingering tenderness I was back to normal and thinking nothing more of it, carried on with my life.
Until a few days ago when during the surface interval (the period you stay out of water between dives that is decided by dive tables and in my case an hour minimum) between dives I felt some pain at the top of my chest between my boobs. It didn’t bother me during the second dive nor on the journey back to Lembongan but by the time I was home it was a pressing painful, sort of itchy, purple, blue and red rash spreading across my torso, which as we now know is pretty classic presentation for the skin bends called cutis marmorata. The guys at World Diving were awesome as always and I was on oxygen pretty fast. Having ruled out an allergy, I was wearing the same swimsuit, wetsuit, BCD etc that I always do and having the oxygen decrease the rash a phone call to DAN heavily suggested DCI and required my staying on oxygen for at least more four hours.
Looking back now I am pretty certain I have had skin bends at least a handful more times including my first week here when I returned from diving with intense muscle pain in my abdomen. I didn’t notice a bruise like rash but I wasn’t looking, the pain was so bad I even asked the next day if my weight belt could have been too tight and bruised me. The other times I blamed it again on perhaps something being too tight or incorrectly positioned.
One of the main causes of having skin bends is having a PFO, bit of biology for you, a PFO is a hole in our hearts we are all born with which in twenty percent of the population never fully closes. And for most people that’s no problem, however without boring you or exploding your head with information, decompression illness is caused by nitrogen coming out of solution too quickly in our bodies and forming bubbles which wreak all sorts of havoc. Divers rid their bodies of nitrogen by safety stops, staying within dive limits and taking deep breaths which through our bodies magic pass the nitrogen through our lungs. In people with PFO, blood rich in nitrogen gets shunted back through the hole in the heart and not sent to the lungs for cleaning as it should and that naughty nitrogen causes big troubles.
A PFO is not always the cause of skin bends however DAN advised that I get tested with bubble contrast, so the next day waking up still with considerable pain we packed ourselves off to Bali and Siloam hospital where we learnt I have the blood pressure and heart rate of a resting athlete (😂😂😂as the laziest person I know give me a minute while I stop laughing) unfortunately the Dr didn’t get me to do a valsalva manouvre an equalizing move which highlights a PFO or a bubble contrast during the echocardiogram so DAN and the dive doctors we’ve been speaking to in the UK have advised I get another one done in the UK.
Which is why a week after achieving my Dive Master I am barred from diving for at least a month and until I have had a proper PFO test and a thorough dive medical and we can come up with a plan of action moving forward to ensure I am not having anymore skin bends.
So it seems we’ll be back in England next week for a while having some tests before getting back on schedule as soon as possible, you see I’m not ready to give up the dream just yet Xxx