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Taylor Diving & Salvage: Emergency Surgery in Saturation

Discussion in 'Diving History: Tales from the Abyss' started by Oceanaut, May 29, 2018.

  1. Oceanaut

    Oceanaut Solo Diver

    Excerpted from The History of Oilfield Diving: An Industrial Adventure
    by Christopher Swann (Oceanaut Press)​

    The arrival of saturation diving in the offshore oil industry led to the requirement for a new category of employee, the diving technician. Charlie Duff, the first and certainly one of the best qualified, arrived at Dick Evans Divers (then the diving division of J. Ray McDermott) in the spring of 1968 having just retired from the Navy. Duff had a background in medicine and nuclear submarines, he had learned helium diving in first-class diving school and he had ended up at the US Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU): just the sort of person McDermott needed. Dick Evans put him on the payroll, but with the company's saturation system not yet complete he had nothing to do.

    After eight months of twiddling his thumbs, and needing something to occupy him, Duff accepted an offer from his former navy colleagues at Taylor Diving & Salvage. Almost immediately, he began going offshore, overseeing the divers in saturation from the control van and providing medical attention when needed. As he had done at NEDU, he made up his own medical kits, which contained everything he might need to treat a diving accident, including solutions for intravenous drips.

    The most alarming accident Duff dealt with occurred on one of Taylor’s early hyperbaric welding contracts. Daniel Boone, an experienced diver in his mid-thirties, was reading on the toilet in one of the chambers. The procedure for flushing the toilet was to open a valve, then knock on the chamber wall to signal for the opening of a second valve on the outside. Opening the second valve sucked the contents of the bowl into the holding tank, which was at atmospheric pressure. Except when flushing the toilet, the inside valve was to be kept closed, and instructions were posted in the chamber to that effect. Boone, however, failed to check the valve was closed. Either he called for a flush when he was still on the toilet, or more plausibly a diver in an adjoining chamber called for a flush and the tender flushed the wrong toilet. The toilets did not have seats, and although Boone was by no means overweight his bottom made a seal with the toilet, with the result that the violent pressure drop sucked out his small and large intestines.

    Duff was on the barge but away from the complex. When he heard what had happened he locked into the chamber, which was pressurised to the working depth of 240'/73M.

    The divers had laid Boone down on his side, his intestines hanging out. He did not appear to be in extreme pain; mainly he seemed to be suffering from shock. Duff administered a sedative and called ashore for a surgeon. While he waited, he kept the intestines moist with a clean towel and saline solution.

    Mark Banjavich, the president of Taylor, who was in his office, telephoned the company doctor, Dr Lynwood Carter, and told him to get hold of an ex-Vietnam War field surgeon experienced in operating under battlefield conditions. Carter lined up Dr Victor Tedesco, and together they flew out by helicopter from the hospital where Tedesco worked.

    When Carter and Tedesco locked into the chamber, they told Boone that unless Tedesco operated at once he was going to die. Decompression from saturation at 240'/73M would take approximately 60 hours; he would not last that long. There would be no general anesthesia. With a piece of plywood across the bunks on either side of the inner lock for an operating table, they gave Boone an intravenous anesthetic to deaden the pain, then cut him open from his breastbone to the top of his pelvis.

    Thus was performed, by hand-held diving light, the world’s first and only hyperbaric colostomy. (A partial colostomy in fact, since the colon was not removed. After decompression the colostomy was completed at a New Orleans hospital.) According to Banjavich, the operation was videotaped and subsequently reported in The American Journal of Medicine. Surprisingly, Duff reported that as far as he knew Boone was never in any great pain during the ordeal. On the other hand, Dr Carter is said to have commented that it was the worst experience of his life.After the accident, Taylor installed a seat on every chamber toilet, arranged so that it automatically closed the flush valve when it was put down.
    Last edited: May 29, 2018
  2. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    Yikes, that is amazing. I heard bits of this story from Mark Banjavich but he didn't go into this much detail. Mark still felt really bad about Boone and described fighting with Brown & Root's legal department to get a better and more rapid settlement. It never matters that the diver may have been partially to blame when a brother is injured that badly.

    That incident changed the design of hyperbaric toilets to make it mechanically impossible to sit on it and flush. Some used the external holding tank concept while others made the bowl into a pressure vessel and interlocked the "hatch" with the dump valve. Here is a hyperbaric toilet that sold pretty well for $6,000 in 1976.

    Last edited: May 29, 2018
    Sam Miller III and Asti Wilson like this.
  3. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    I was thinking about this. I wonder if the low Oxygen percentage during surgery helped prevent infection? I would think that would be a problem with any injury this severe, even in today's big-city trauma centers.

    Environmental control was pretty primitive in those early sat systems. Humidity and odors were a serious problem. Even today, they aren't nearly as good as nuclear submarine -- unless the operating room was in the bilge.

    Maybe @Duke Dive Medicine has some insight?
  4. MrVegas

    MrVegas Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Ohio
    That is one of the scariest stories I've ever read.
  5. Schwob

    Schwob Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Illinois
    Ouch, ouch, ouch & ouch...
    .... and gotta watch what I am reading while on the loo... albeit nothing pressurized here...
  6. northernone

    northernone Contributor Rest in Peace ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Currently: Cozumel, from Canada
    I am staring suspiciously at mine from across the room. OUCH.

    Amazing account, thank you for the retelling.

  7. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    A far less dangerous, but still unpleasant problem, is when the chamber is near the surface. I was on a new Germany-built system around 1975. The sanitary system would often clog in the last hours of decompression when the pressure in the chamber was very low -- lacking the force to drive the contents through the small chamber penetration into the tank.

    A toilet clog was discovered during a pre-dive check before the next team could be blow-down to working depth. The holding tanks on this particular system were fitted with a water supply to flush it out. A diver on the deck below the chambers opened the water supply valve to clean the tank and forgot to open the drain valve, causing pressure in the holding tank to build. Meanwhile one of the supervisors was looking down the bowl with the hull-stop valve open trying to figure out the best way to unclog it.

    You guessed it; pressure built up in the tank until the clog blew out the only open valve in the loop. That supervisor got a face full and the inside of the chamber was sprayed down in the minor blast. The super was angry enough to strangle someone but the diver cleaning the holding tank was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and the rest of the crew kept the secret.
    Sam Miller III likes this.
  8. Bob DBF

    Bob DBF Solo Diver

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: NorCal
    Submarines have similar issues, the pressures are different but the smell is the same.

    Akimbo likes this.
  9. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    Except for the flooding the boat part. That's even crappier. :)
  10. Bob DBF

    Bob DBF Solo Diver

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: NorCal
    Yeah, over beers I'll tell you a story. Would have got a medal but...

    Akimbo likes this.

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