Bent in Belize--Blue Hole Incident

Discussion in 'Accidents and Incidents' started by themagni, Aug 21, 2012.

  1. themagni

    themagni Surface Interval Member

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Canada's Pacific Southwest, BC
    This will be a long story, but it was expensive. Sometimes you don't get to hear what the story is,because not everybody lives to write about it.

    I'm a pretty intelligent guy. I am a Professional Engineer by trade. I dive conservatively and try pretty hard to stay on the safe side. I'm not a DIR Lord, more of a “dork diver”, but all my gear is in good shape, good repair, and I know how it works.

    I am in excellent physical shape. I'm 5'11”, 160#, I teach spin, practice yoga, and work out at the nearby gym several times a week. I bike to work daily. My cardiac output was recently measured at 20% above average /normal. So, healthy. I last dove about aweek before heading out for Belize.

    For the last couple of years, I've wanted to do some tropical diving. At home, water is 50F in thesummer, so full neoprene drysuit 30# of lead, and a 5#SS backplate. I packed my regs, wing (sans backplate), and fins. The Force Fins fit when I'm wearing my sandals. I know. I said I'ma dork.

    For a few years, my wife and I talked about Hawaii for our 15[SUP]th[/SUP] anniversary in 2013, and I'd dive a little there. She ended up going to Hawaii and other trips, felt guilty, and suggested that I take a trip on my own. I decided to go down to Belize. I got a cheap flight, cheap accommodations, and planned to pick up a la carte diving. One of the goals was the Blue Hole Trilogy, especially after hearing that the two dives afterwards would be some of the best dives of my life. I packed my gear so I'd be more confident with that deep dive.

    I arrived at my hotel at 3pm on Friday after flying and stopping over since 8pm on Thursday. On the way in, I stopped at Dive Shop 1 to book two dives for Saturday morning. That booked, I set out to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. I took a nap on a chair on the beach.

    When it was time for dinner, the hotel owner bought me a drink. I don't usually drink, but I accepted, and several other people wanted to buy me drinks as well. I had recently separated from my wife, and they felt sorry for me.

    I woke up feeling great, had a breakfast, even though it was a lot lighter than I usually get at home. I don't eat meat, dairy, or eggs, so the choices were somewhat limited. Dive Shop 1 picked me up at 8:30 to go out to the local reefs for a few dives. I saw sharks, rays, and even a turtle. Great dives, well worth the trip. Diving in a swimsuit? How... novel. I went back to the hotel, They told me how to access their wifi, sit in the bug andspider nest and try not to get eaten.

    The next day, I went with Dive Shop 2 to The Blue Hole. This was the dive that worried me the most out of all the trips, I commented on it in a different thread here. We went on a long boat ride out, it was choppy in the open water, but I had sunblock and a hat and I was heading out to do some of the best tropical diving in the world.

    We got our briefing on the Blue Hole. I commented “at home when we do group dives, we have nominal buddies. Are we doing that here?” “No, this is a DM-led dive.” They warned us that our computers would likely go into deco, and I ran my computer in sim mode the night before so I would know what it looked like. On the boat, strapping on my computer, it was showing “error” and “4 dives”. What the heck? I couldn't clear the display, but it fixed itself when it went into the water, as I assumed. It does that sometimes, it's how I fix it, like I said, my gear and I have an understanding.

    One girl had a BC problem. I could see what it was, the inflator ring was loose where it attached to the bladder, so I tightened it up, let her know it was good as new, and then told her “if something happens, I have 45# oflift. I can lift everyone here, it's probably the most ridiculously oversized BC in the ocean today.” She thumbed her dive.

    Clever girl.

    The plan was to drop to a shelf at 30 feet, then go over the wall to the stalactites. We did, we dropped down and down, and I was astonished with how fast the depth got there. I was at 80 before I knew it, then 100, then deeper. Deeper than the recreational limits, deeper than the deepest I've ever done, deeper than the “whoops” area on the NDL limit tables, deeper than I should have gone, deeper than they promised, deeper than the gentleman's agreement.

    152 feet. One hundred fifty-two feet. With a single AL80 with air.

    I know. And I know better, but it's easy to say that when you're at the computer at home and start talking about gases and tech diving, but it's different when you're in the middle of the ocean in Belize on a trip you've been looking forward to for years after riding a boat for three hours. I wasn't nervous. I trusted the DM, I trusted my computer, which was still set for 1000m (for cold) and I was good.

    The divemaster was deeper than me. I've got film to show it.

    And there were other divers there with fewer dives than I, and one guy with 4 dives before today. He ran out of air and used the DM's octo. The switch was done when ascending, close to 80 feet. Yes, we still had a deco obligation,and my computer showed me 8 minutes of rise time with a 10 foot ceiling. Egads Mag, you're in a deco dive. No training, one run through on the simulator, in the middle of nowhere. Good luck.

    Of course, I lived, we saw bullsharks, swam through the overhanging overhead stalactites? We went up, did our safety stop (which was really a deco obligation) for 10 minutes at 10 feet. We surfaced, left the blue hole, and when trying to get my gear off, a DM knocked my computer off my wrist and it fell to the ground. The battery was knocked loose and my diving day was over.

    Of course, that's what you'd say at the forums at home, or when you've got a few hours of, shall we say, enforced thinking time, but that's not what you say in Belize when you're about to do “the two most amazing dives of your life”.

    They didn't have tools to fix my computer, so I borrowed a computer from a french gentleman. It was in French, but I can read French. We did our second dive (after a long SI) and it went into deco as well. It was easy enough to understand, so I followed through until it said “no deco”, finished the safety stop, and went up to the boat. We reapplied sunscreen, went out and visited the boobie sanctuary, and had lunch. The lunch they promised, rice and beans, was not there. I didn't get lunch, instead having to settle for a couple of protein bars and a bottle of soda.

    We go to the third dive of the day, and this was nothing short of extraordinary. There was a turtle eating coral, gabillions of fish, an just astonishing views all over. We fought a mild current.

    The french gentleman's wife's computer broke, so I didn't get one. I didn't ...

    I think I have to apologize for this in advance, I'm sorry. Please put down any drinks you may have as you will require one free hand for a facepalm.

    ...even have a depth gauge.

    I know.

    I used a visual reference, stayed atwhat I thought was 30 feet, and assumed a 10 minute deco stop. (that's three untrained decompression dives in one day.) I was down for about an hour again (the second dive was about an hour too) and surfaced with 600 psi. I did note that the borrowed computer (which had been on three wrists today) said nothing about deco. I could read it clearly from about 15 feet above it. I had trouble peeing in the ocean. Ten years of drysuit training is hard to break out of, but I managed a little. I wasn't running too dry.

    On the way back, we rinsed off, turned in our gear, and dried off. I was shivering.

    Remember the part where I'm Canadian and I dive in 50F? I don't shiver in the water. I don't shiver after polar bear swims.

    We were given pina coladas by the crew. Now, I don't usually drink and I didn't get lunch, so I got hit hard and fast. I was the first to say “Tip! It should be $5 a tank!”so I got more drinks. I commented a few times that I couldn't feel my lips and the ends of my hands were numb too.

    I was too drunk to notice the problem. The crew didn't hear me and the rest of the cattle boat was not experienced enough to realize the problem.

    I got back to the hotel, had dinner, drank some water and OJ, and went to bed. I commented that this was the “best day ever”. And you know, it really was. I got to dive the blue hole, I saw so many incredible things, and basically did everything I wanted to do on this trip.

    A good night's sleep was all I needed,so I climbed into bed around 7:30 and closed my eyes.

    Perfect day.

    ---------- Post Merged on August 21st, 2012 at 05:34 AM ---------- Previous Post was on August 20th, 2012 at 08:55 PM ----------

    I was awake at 11:00 in full flight or fight response. It's a little different in me, my emotions shut down, my brain goes into over drive, and time slows down. My body woke me up with an urgent message.

    My head was clear but pounding.

    My stomach was sick.

    My lips and fingers were still tingly.

    “Oh no, DCS. I'm in trouble.”

    I put on bug spray, grabbed my laptop,and found the little wifi alcove at the hotel. I had a rare set of symptoms, matched a few, woke up the hotel manager, and called DAN. They told me to sleep it off as it likely wasn't DCS, but “call tomorrow” if it's still there.

    I drank another litre of water, took an alleve, and went to sleep. All told, I got around nine hours of sleep.

    I was still tingling in the morning. I didn't call DAN but cancelled my dives and went to the doctor. He ran a few tests, figured I had DCS, and I went in for a chamber ride. I did a six-hour stint and nothing changed. He wants to do a second five-hour stint tomorrow.

    Now, I didn't pick up DAN insurance. I had meant to, but with all the issues at home, I completely forgot to do it. There was only one thing to do, since I was getting close to“too late and live with it” Out came the MasterCard, and 6 hours and 6600 USD later I watched Mean Girls, American Wedding, and half of Cinderella Man. I talked with the nurse who rode with me.

    It's tiring to sit in a chamber. It's boring and it sucks. You change into the all-cotton clothes, remove all your jewelry, and pee in a bottle. Shy bladder + cute was really tricky. I couldn't eat the lunch they got me, so I had Gatorade. I ended up with something like 130 calories during the day. You can't bring in anything battery powered, so my laptop and walkman sat in my locker. I took my rings off. I kind of wondered when I would end up taking it off, but I wasn't expecting “just before you go into a deco chamber in Belize.”

    While I was waiting to see the doctor, I talked to an exchange medical student from London. As part of the NHS program, all doctors in the UK go to a different country to seehow medicine works there. “Can I get 100 mL of blah blah?” UK:“Sure” Elsewhere: “That's $4500 and takes six months to arrive.” We talked about the differences in health problems and electrical systems here.

    The doctor did a few other quick tests, and recommended another ride tomorrow. I said, “I can't possibly afford another five thousand dollars!” His response was, “come see me tomorrow. If you can't afford it, you can sign that you won't get treated, and you can take your chances.”

    That was it. No hug, no “are you okay” or anything. I've been crying most of the day. I'm scared that I'm going to die. Maybe today. They were mad that I didn't have my insurance info with me. Come on guys, have some slack. I'm not yelling at you, I'm crying. I'm stressed out and scared. I wrote out a freaking will on a blank piece of paper in a Belizian chamber clinic in case today's my last day. I wanted my separated wife to get everything, I know she and the kids would do okay. You know, in case I got Oxygen toxicity or had a brain aneurism or something else equally fatal.

    They wouldn't even let me use the phone to call my insurance company to see if it was covered. I had just given them SEVEN THOUSAND CANADIAN DOLLARS. “We can't make long distance calls.”

    I turned to the English woman and said in my trademark flat serious tone, “This is something else you won't see at NHS – someone having to pay for medical treatment.”

    After all was said and done, I walked to the water taxi (they wouldn't call me a cab either), and it was next door to the Dive Shop 2, and told them where I'd been. They'd heard about it, which was nice, and I gave them a full account of what happened. I called the insurance company, and they consider these treatments as “medically necessary”, and there's no preclusion for sports or diving, so they will probably reimburse me at the end of the day.

    I rode to the hotel, had dinner, and started typing. The story is long, I know, I've been typing for almost two hours, and the hotel is closed and the sun has set and I look like a jerk for sitting and typing instead of hanging out with the other guests, but thank you for reading it. It could be a lot worse. I did get a hug from the owner and his wife, and the owner was pretty upset that I was taken down that far, and that I wasn't looked after properly.

    Apparently there's also supposed to be a 50% discount if you get DCS with the local shops here, and I didn'tget that. I'm wondering if I'm being taken for more than a chamber ride too. The first person I met in Belize was the taxi driver, and he ripped me off.

    UPDATE: This morning I woke up feeling a lot better. There's still a trace bit of tingling, but my balance is a lot better.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
    fozzy, kaerius, teas and 25 others like this.
  2. WhatDidIJustRead?

    WhatDidIJustRead? Garibaldi

    # of Dives:
    Location: Dixie
  3. Canard

    Canard Divemaster

    # of Dives:
    Location: Victoria, British Columbia
    Thanks for the candid account of how easy it is to have a string of events lead to near tragedy. See you back in the relative safety of our cold water home.
  4. awap

    awap Giant Squid

    # of Dives:
    Location: Central TX
    maybe you are not as smart as you think. an engineer should have no problem understanding and using concepts like rnt.
    mictrik likes this.
  5. ScubaSteve

    ScubaSteve Wow.....what a DB

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Acton, Ontario
    Wow. That is quite the story. You will get lots of advice and criticism form others so I will just say that I am glad you are around to tell us your story. Here is to wishing you a complete recovery.
  6. paulw

    paulw Manta Ray

    # of Dives:
    Location: Austin, Texas
    I just don't know what to say, every diver should keep Dan insurance and for goodness sake call them and keep in touch with them during this issue anyway.
  7. Garth

    Garth Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: North Carolina USA
    No insurance
    Tropical location
    Decompression trust me dives
    Using multiple dive computers
    Using no dive computer
    Getting drunk after deco diving

    Dork diver?

    What a mess. I hope you have learned your many potential lessons on this trip.the whole Europe conversation about compensation for DCS chamber rides is ridiculous. I don't believe that the government should pay for someone's stupidity or a dive shops incompetence.

    Sent from my Shearwater Predator...
  8. beaverdivers

    beaverdivers ScubaBoard Business Sponsor ScubaBoard Business Sponsor

    Are going to do another ride in the chamber?
    openmindOW likes this.
  9. Duke Dive Medicine

    Duke Dive Medicine Moderator

    This would fall into the category of "expected hit". A couple of notes:

    1. You're going to die some day, but probably not today, and probably not of DCS.
    2. Because you still have residual symptoms, if at all possible, you should undergo another treatment today.
    3. It's a good sign that you've shown continued improvement even after treatment. Residual DCS symptoms typically resolve over time, though it's impossible to predict on an individual basis.

    Glad you are ok, and I'm sure there are multiple lessons to be learned here, all of which will be pointed out in 3 - 2 - 1.... (folks, for what it's worth, please go easy on this fellow. It takes a lot of chutzpah to throw yourself under the bus like this.)

    Best regards,
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
  10. Dive Bug Bit Me

    Dive Bug Bit Me Barracuda

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Cape Town
    We all do stupid things (me included) and stupid hurts. Not sure which is hurting more, your wallet or your body, but sounds like both should eventually recover. That is good.

    The Belieze blue hole is actually a bit of a crazy dive and rather pointless. To my mind, there is not much to see. A couple of stalactites (actually pretty ugly as far as stalactites go) and maybe a shark. I did it last year and it was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of my trip to Belieze. It is also an all or nothing dive as you need to be below 130ft to actually get to the stalactites. Put another way you start by planning to break the recreational limits that you have been taught and are then supplied with a 80 cu ft tank to do it. Serriously bad idea.

    I am not going to preach; you can seach for any number of threads on trust me dives here on Scubaboard.

    At least you seem to be on the mend, so here's hoping that all works out.
    stronj1, openmindOW, beachnik and 3 others like this.
  11. Dhboner

    Dhboner DIR Practitioner

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: Toronto
    You know you screwed up so you don't need a cyber-lecture. I'm really glad you are okay (we Canucks are tough). The most important thing now is to debrief and learn from the incident. Trust me you will get a lot of "lessons" from the folks here!

    Bob (Toronto)
  12. beaverdivers

    beaverdivers ScubaBoard Business Sponsor ScubaBoard Business Sponsor

    Yes, do another ride in the chamber.

    Also, make sure that you wait the appropriate time before flying.
  13. nimoh

    nimoh Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Rochester, MN
    Glad you are doing better, and thanks for the full account of what happened. Like you said, it is easy to make these decisions when sitting in front of a keyboard, and I'm not sure what I would have done in your position...hopefully after reading your story, I would thumb the dive.

    Incidentally, did they mention the 150' depth in the briefing for the first dive, or did it go deeper than expected?
    openmindOW likes this.
  14. pasley

    pasley Scuba Instructor

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lakewood, CA
    I hope you take the ride in the chamber and thank you for sharing. Thank you for warning us about the faceslap too, becuse I did do it. You are a good writer by the way. It take courage to talk about being bent. Many divers don't do it becuase the fear other divers won't dive with them like it was contagous or something. Been there done that, got bent on dive 12, still have a tingling in the foot 11 years later. Oh well, at least mine was an "unexpected hit".

    I have often advised divers to skip the blue hole. There are lots of good dives in Belize (I have only been there once on a cruise and dove 2 dives) but from the people I have talke to the blue hole is not the best. It is one of those tourist trap things, you go, feel like you got robbed and tell everyone else it was great because you don't want to admit you got robbed. (Just IMHO, so lets not highjack this thread to debate that). But is seriously a foolish dive from the start. My rule is in recreational diving never dive deeper than your tank. IE, 80 Cubic Foot tank, 80 foot depth limit, 100 Cubic Foot tank, 100 Feet. Simple to remember and alows lots of air for you and your dive buddy. Yes I have been to 110 feet on an AL80 and had plenty of air to get me to NDL and back safely on the surface. But my normal SAC is 0.45 (0.35 to 0.5 but usally around 0.43 to 0.45 cubic feet per minute). I have read that the normal SAC is 0.75.

    DAN - great organization and good insurance. Things it may cover that your health insurance may not are - cost of changing your plane tickets because you can't fly for a month after your treatment (if that is what you doctor decides) or if your doctor decides you need your family member wiht you they will fly them down, or fly your body back if the worst happens. Stuff like that. One diver I know lived in the mountains at 5,000 feet elevation. He had to rent a hotel at sea level for over a month as every time he tried to drive home he got bent. Remember that airplanes are usally pressureized to 7,000 to 8,000 feet elevation. So discuss your travel plans with your doctor.

    You already know what you did and what you should not have done. But just to recap for the sports fans:
    1. Dove beyond recreational limits
    2. Dove a DECO dive (and knew it before you started)with out training
    3. Dove a borrowed computer for dive two - Did this computer go to the same depth you did on dive 1? So the computer did not have accurate information to give you accurate information on NDL and deco.
    4. Did multiple DECO dives without training or proper pre-planning
    5. Did a dive with no timing device
    6. Did a dive wiht no depth guage
    7. Did a dive without using your dive tables to mannually plan the dive and no dive computer to do the calculations for you.
    8. Drank alcohol a which contributes to dehydration. Dehydration is increases your risk for DCS
    9. Drank a lot of alcohol which mask your sysmptoms of DCS (the pain pill does that too).
    10. Did not have proper nutrition for the dive or hydration before you started.

    What you did right
    1. Called DAN
    2. Took the chamber rides - and you are taking all the doctor recommended rides right (I did not and was back in the chamber the next week after a shallow dives to 40 feet. The second time I took all recommended rides)
    3. Shared your story with others hummor and candor.
    kaerius, rjk75, scuba andy and 4 others like this.
  15. nimoh

    nimoh Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Rochester, MN
    it is also possible that the DCS didn't come as a result of your decisions.

    I know of one person that has a predisposition for DCS due to a hole in her heart that was supposed to close up after birth, but didn't. Don't know the details, or even what the condition is called, but my understanding is that it is not all that uncommon (hopefully an expert can expand on this).

    This of course doesn't mean that I am advocating going on deco dives without training, far from it.
    rjk75 likes this.
  16. ScubaSteve

    ScubaSteve Wow.....what a DB

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Acton, Ontario
    I highly doubt that the OP's decisions on that day are not the cause of their hit. As stated, with the decisions that were made, this was a "deserved hit". I have no desire to beat up on the OP......hopefully nobody else does either. They know they made bad decisions and so far those have been pointed out in a civil manner. Hopefully the OP sticks around to participate and let us know how they are doing with their recovery.
    kaerius, openmindOW and socaljohn like this.
  17. electrix

    electrix Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Mesquite, Texas
    You certainly had a trip to remember, glad you are ok, best of luck on a full recovery
    kaerius and themagni like this.
  18. nimoh

    nimoh Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Rochester, MN
    I agree completely, and whether or not the bad decisions contributed, doesn't change the fact that they were bad decisions.

    I only meant to point out a possibility why the OP was bent, but yet others on similar profiles were not.
  19. rjk75

    rjk75 Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Ont. Canada
    I think you're referring to: Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO). There's a good description on the (Patent Foramen Ovale)
    openmindOW and nimoh like this.
  20. socaljohn

    socaljohn Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Southern Ca
    If nothing else, this story prompted me to sign up for DAN insurance. (Just printed out my temporary card) I have been meaning to but kept putting it off. Though my immediate plans do not take me to situations that should expose me to chances of DCS you never know! I do have a trip to Catalina for 3 dives in a day planned for Sept. I imagine the wifey will be pleased.
    I hope you make a full recovery.

    Peace, health and happiness BRO.
    rjk75, Kaamoss, Rainer and 3 others like this.

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