Re: Diver Injured/The Facts (long & detailed)

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Posted by Ken Kurtis on September 10, 2000 at 23:56:17:

In Reply to: Diver Injured at Casino Point posted by Rob1 on September 10, 2000 at 17:44:29:

I was not only at Casino Point (UW Park) on Saturday with a class, but I was the diver (to whom Terry May alluded) who responded to the waving buddy and gave rescue breaths to the victim as we brought her to shore.

What follows are the facts as I know them based on what I personally did &/or observed, and conversations with the three buddies, the Chamber, and the medical staff at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where she's now being treated.

First, some corrections to Rob1's well-meaning but not totally accurate post.

1. The victim was 31, not a teen or "young" lady.
2. She was unconscious when she was brought to the surface and has yet to regain consciousnes. She was never "semi-conscious."
3. Maximum depth was 58' and only because when she drifted back to the bottom, she was in a deeper area than when she surfaced. The plan was to do the dive around 30-40' or so.
4. She was observed by her buddy doing a normal, not rapid or panicked, ascent.
5. No one reported seeing her at the surface. In fact, we believe she passed out within a few feet of the surface.
6. The Chamber is at the Isthmus, not in Avalon. Avalon has no hyperbaric facilities.
7. Treatment was for embolism and drowning, not DCS, based on the profile (58/12) and the reports of the buddies.

Here's what I know. (No last names given to provide some level of privacy.) And I'll add at the top of this, that this not only has NOTHING to do with solo diving or abandoning your buddy, but that these buddies did exactly what good buddies are supposed to do and it is their actions, IMHO, that have given the victim a fighting chance at surviving this ordeal.

Gail (the injured diver) had 20 dives under her belt but had not been diving in a year. She had planned to do an easy day of diving at the Park with her three friends Jean, Kim, and Chris. The buddy teams were Jean/Gail and Chris/Kim and all would dive together. They entered the water around 10AM.

Almost from the start, Gail had problems with her mask flooding and seemed not to be able to keep it clear. Perhaps 10 or 11 minutes into the dive (my estimation), Gail signaled that she wanted to surface. Jean signaled okay and went up with Gail.

At the same time, Kim was having problems with her reg leaking water and signaled Chris she, too, wanted to go up. They did, and arrived at the surface ahead of Jean.

Jean reports that Gail seemed to be doing a normal ascent. Gail was kicking on her own but was going bit faster than Jean, and got ahead of Jean. As they approached the surface (perhaps 10' deep), Jean looked down (at her guages or inflator) and lost visual sight of Gail. When Jean hit the surface a few seconds later, she immediately noticed that Gail was not there. She spotted Chris and Kim a short distance away and called to them. Chris was actually sending Kim in to shore because Kim was feeling uncomfortable about her reg (and unaware of the problem with Gail). Chris swam to Jean to find out what was wrong.

Jean then looked down in the water and saw Gail sinking (maybe 10-15' deep already), on her back, face up, hands and arms splayed, apparently unconscious. When Chris arrived, Jean asked him to get Gail because Chris was rescue certified and Jean felt he was stronger and better qualified to get Gail back to the surface. Jean estimates from the time she surfaced to the time Chris went down for Gail was perhaps 30-60 seconds. Jean then began waving her arm and called for help.

At this timne, I was with my OW class along the back center edge of the park, maybe 30-40 yards from where Jean would surface, in snorkelng gear (wetsuit, mask, fins, snorkel - no weights or tanks) going through the paces with my class - ironically - of surface rescue drills. I had just commented, "I doubt you'll ever have to do this in real life but we want you to know what to do," when one of my students said, "There's a woman waving for help."

I told my class to stay where they were and I swam over, expecting that it was the woman on the surface in trouble. When I got there, as Jean tried to explain the situation to me and I realized we were dealing with a diver on the bottom, I could see Chris starting to ascend with Gail.

I then bellowed at the top of my lungs to the shorline, "Get Baywatch over here right away. This is the real thing!!! We have a diving emergency!!!" I may have repeated some variation of this again as Chris approached the surface with Gail.

As soon as Chris hit the surface with Gail, I was at her head and gave her two rescue breaths. Betsy Suttle, who was assisting me, had followed me over and Jean, Chris, Betsy, and I dumped Gail's gear. I continued rescue breaths and we started towing towards shore. I'd estimate it took us perhaps 15-30 seconds to get Gail out of her gear. Another diver (John - ???) came out from shore to assist in the towing. Betsy dropped back with Chris and Jean and the gear. I continued rescue breaths. As we neared the shore some other divers came out and I told them to go back to the steps and be ready to lift Gail out of the water.

We arrived at the steps and Gail was taken from us, up the stairs, and laid down on the parking area, where the paramedics were already set up and waiting. They began CPR, resusitation, and other life-support measures.

At this time, Besty had swum the BC/reg/computer to the foot of the stairs and handed it to me. Before handing off the gear, I looked at the pressure guage and saw roughly 2000psi in the tank. I checked the computer and saw 58/12 for the most recent dive in log mode. We then handed off the gear to someone else, and I told them to give it to the Sheriff and not to turn off the air.

The parmamedics continued to work on Gail on the pavement for perhaps 10-20 minutes. (I have no exact idea.) She was then transferred to the Baywtach boat for the trip to the Isthmus. It's about a half-hour run. I could see, as the boat left the hrabor, the lifeguards continuing CPR compressions. As the boat left, Jean, Kim, Chris, and I all talked with the Sheriff's deputies, recounting and reconstructing what had happened (which is what I've relayed to you) and speculating on possible causes.

Gail arrived at the Chamber roughly half an hour after she left Avalon, and perhaps 45 minutes (estimate)after she surfaced. She was placed in the Chamber and treated for embolism as well as for near-drowning. At some point in this scenario (don't know if it was before she reached the Chamber or not) she was breathing on her own.

Around 3PM, Gail was transferred via helicopter to Long Beach Memorial Hosptial (which also has a hyperbaric unit - monoplace chambers). As of this writing (Sunday night 11PM) she is still at Long Beach but has yet to regain consciousness. She is still in a coma but shows some signs of response when stimulated. However, it's still touch and go and could still go either way.

Our speculation is that she embolized on the ascent to the surface and passed out before she ever hit the surface. She may have embolized due to water in the mask blocking her vision and inhaling/holding-her-breath while still trying to clear the mask on the way up but not being able to see and realize how fast she was ascending or where in the water column she was. I also believe this all hit her very suddenly and without warning so she didn't have time to think about ditching her weightbelt or inflating her BC before she went unconscious. But we just don't know for sure. But Jean is convinced Gail never broke the surface.

I would also speculate that she didn't have any air in her BC and may have been carrying too much weight, both of which would explain why she sank back to the bottom. But again, this is pure speculation as we've yet to recover the weightbelt to know exactly how much weight she carried.

The only thing I'd want to add is that the one of lessons here, for ALL divers regardless of certification level or experience (or lack thereof), is to remember that embolisms are the most serious scuba accident and happen when you hold your breath while ascending. And, unfortunately, YOU'RE the ONLY one who can force yourself to breathe. So you really need to be very aware, especially if you feel the anxiety level rising &/or you're ascending, of whether or not you're breathing properly.

If my presumption about too much weight is correct, this may also underscore a serious concern of mine which is diving over-weighted. It makes it much more difficult, or impossible, for you to stay on the surface if there's a problem. A weight check takes only a few minutes and is, IMHO, invaluable. I don't know that it would have resulted in a diffrerent outcome here, but it may have exacerbated the situation.

Anyhow, that's it. I'm in contact with both Jean and the hospital and will post any pertinent updates here.

Ken Kurtis
NAUI Instr. #5936
Co-owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.
Beverly Hills, Ca.

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