John Campbell, the owner of DiveStyle, gave an excellent presentation on his experiences of the getting the bends, and what he has had to go through to return to being fit to dive. I don’t intend to go through the details here, if you want to understand that talk to John. Or if you have any concerns yourself, talk to a diving doctor (the Diver Clinic in Reading is one place to go). In any case, to summarise….
John is a regular diver, as well as being a PADI instructor. Back in the middle of 2009, he did some diving in Malta whilst teaching PADI deep and wreck courses which involved three dives on open circuit in the 30m range as is the nature of the course. This ended up with him getting a skin bend, which he recognised by symptoms and signs of abdominal pain, itching, soreness, redness and then a corned beef look with lots of pain. All of which occurred within an hour of diving. The upshot of this was that John was treated for the bend in the recompression chamber in Reading. The bend was put down to dehydration.
Then in Malta again, whilst doing a couple of 50-60m dives on closed circuit with a day’s break between them, he suffered the same symptoms again, which he recognised much more quickly and was treated in the recompression chamber in Malta. The doctor there indicating that he thought the problem was PFO.
So what is a PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale)? It is in essence an opening in the heart which should close at birth, but in approximately 25% of the people this doesn’t happen. This statistic may be an eye-opener, but of course it depends on the size of the hole… Many people dive for many years with PFOs with no apparent problems. The hole allows blood to pass through it bypassing the lungs which would normally trap the micro bubbles present in the blood as you off-gas.
There are a number of ways of testing for a PFO, but the way this was done for John was to form a ‘Bubble Test’ in which micro bubbles are passed into the blood system and monitored to see if they can be seen passing through the hole. (For those who are concerned about the ‘bubbles’ bit in the blood, it is entirely safe done the way they do it!!) This is apparently a very reliable way of identifying a PFO. And yes, John was identified as having PFO.
Back to Diving
So, John had a choice. Give up diving, or have an operation. Perhaps understandably, he went for the Op. This involved having a little umbrella type device deployed either side of the hole to cover and close it. This is inserted via a tube inserted in your leg and run up through to your heart.
John has taken a look back through previous dives, and in hindsight believes he may have had a small skin bend before. So, be aware of what your body is telling you. If you think there is anything unusual after diving, go on O2 and contact a doctor. One of the common symptoms of a PFO is major migraines with visual disturbance – the good news is that whilst John suffered these before they Op, they seem to have now gone away.
It has taken some weeks/months for John to recover, but the good news is he is now fit to dive again. He even feels he now recovers after diving quicker, and generally feels fitter and better (but that could just be his ego).
Thank you John for a very interesting presentation, which gave a good balanced view of your experience, bringing not only the serious side of the situation but a good deal of humour as well. A very enjoyable evening!!