After a scary incident in Kalimantan, a diver learns the hard way why it’s important not to push your limits and take care of your own safety.
Where: East Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Who: An expat living in Jakarta.
Experience: The diver had completed just under 50 dives.
Prior to the first of the two dives leading up to the DCI encounter, our dive instructor gave a very poor dive brief and indicated the maximum depth of the dive would be 18-20m. Unfortunately, the dive instructor then descended to approx. 36m, before we noticed. Adding to this, the Instructor ascended carelessly without proper safety stops.
Following this unplanned deep dive, the second dive involved a strong current. Our dive guide was moving us along the ridge extremely quickly, beyond a pace I found comfortable. I was struggling to keep up against the current, felt out of breath and started to hyperventilate. It was a terrifying experience. All I wanted to do was get out of the water, but I managed to stay calm and slow my breathing. The rest of the dive was uncomfortable and I began to get cold and shivery. When we eventually ascended the guide did not perform an adequate safety stop. By this point I was in no position to protest because all I wanted was to get out of the water.
The Onset of Symptoms
The symptoms started showing within an hour, but I put it down to fatigue. The following day I had three flights, the first on a small plane, which was not properly pressurised. After each flight my vision was blurred and I experienced a feeling of confusion. By the time I reached Jakarta I had nausea, confusion, blurred vision, tingling in my arms and legs, pain in my joints, lethargy and generally felt unwell. This is when I was sure something was wrong, but had I realised sooner, I would have postponed the return journey to Jakarta.
The diver spent a total of 12.5 hours in the chamber over a three-day period.
After the first session I felt some relief, especially with the pain in my arms. After the final treatment, I had extremely weird and uncomfortable neurological sensations all over my body, especially in my legs, which lasted several days. The feeling of confusion also lasted several days after treatment. It was a full week after the final treatment for symptoms to completely disappear.
The DCI experience was a big learning curve for me. I learnt that I should always, despite having a guide, trust my own equipment and experience. It is now very clear to me that I should have taken the following corrective action:
- I should have questioned the dive brief to fully understand the upcoming dive.
- A depth alarm should have been on my dive watch.
- The unplanned deep dive shouldn’t have been immediately followed with a strong current dive.
- The last dive of the trip shouldn’t have been a strong current dive.
- Upon feeling tired I should have clearly notified my group and rested: Wanting to keep up with the group is not an excuse to push past my own limits.
- Upon onset of hypoxia my dive should have been immediately ceased.
- Upon resurfacing I should have immediately commenced breathing oxygen to alleviate any symptoms. In my case, treatment was not started until returning to Jakarta, more than 48 hours after the last dive.
- I should have taken more action to alert the dive shop of the incident and my symptoms upon returning to the dive resort. Instead I listened to the advice of the dive instructor and my group and chalked my symptoms up to being tired.
- In the future, I will get more sleep and plan for fewer dives rather than more.
- I will allow sufficient time between my final dive and flying.
- Although the operation appeared reputable, the results were to the contrary. In the future I will do more reconnaissance work and ask fellow divers for advice on trustworthy dive operators.
- Unfortunately, even if the dive instructor had acknowledged my state, there wasn’t any oxygen available on the boat. Prior to diving I should have confirmed that the correct safety equipment was available, and I should have known the location of the equipment.
- Throughout the whole ordeal I did not have diving insurance, and this was something that really bothered me as I was going through treatment and recovery. Why had I not taken the correct precautions and signed up for DAN Coverage? It was a naive and rookie mistake to make. I am now a DAN Member. I never want to go through this ordeal again; having DAN cover gives me a sense of security should I need help.
I’m great now, although I still get a blockage in my left ear passage from time to time that is difficult to reverse. I was advised not to dive for three months, however I took extra precaution and waited six months to dive again.
Dr. Padma, the Chief Navy Doctor at the Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Benhil insists that at the first sign of decompression sickness, attention must be given immediately.
“There are many factors which can lead towards decompression sickness, including not getting enough sleep, consuming alcohol or being physically tired,” she explains. “If you have any tingling sensations, pain in your body, visual disturbances, vertigo, fatigue, lethargy, or a feeling of confusion, go to the hospital for a consultation immediately.”
The sooner you treat symptoms, the more chance you have of fully recovering. After treatment you are also told to rest, drink a minimum of three litres of water a day, not fly for at least 72 hours and, should you live on a high floor in an apartment, take the stairs very slowly.
REMINDER: All divers can call a DAN Hotline for advice, however, we can only arrange an emergency evacuation and cover associated treatment costs (Chamber, Hospital) within the limits of a Member’s coverage option. Learn more HERE