Thursday, 05 June 2003 00:00

Ever Had A Really Bad Day Diving?

By Myron Wintonyk

Myron Wintonyk is a moderately experienced diver with approximately 350 open circuit dives and is a relative newcomer to the Closed Circuit Rebreather (CCR). The following is his account of an incident, which happened in late May, 2003.

It was the first dive of the weekend. It was a near perfect day and I was ready to play with my new rebreather. The first dive was on the St. Paul. It was a familiar site and I'd been here many times before. What a better way to start the weekend? But things didn't start out that well. During an inspection of my gear just prior to the dive, I realized that my computer had a dead battery. This doesn't cause any real concerns though. Another diver had a spare and it was the same brand as mine so I was familiar with its operation. After this quick fix, the gear checked out fine.

Part 1

Because of the last minute gear change, I was nearly the last diver into the water. This didn't cause any concern as I didn't plan a long dive and I'd only be a couple minutes later than the other divers.

Unlike open circuit SCUBA, a rebreather requires you add diluent (in my case air) into the breathing loop as you descend. As I descended, I did have some difficulty breathing, so, I attributed it to not adding diluent fast enough. The problem abated somewhat by adding more air, more quickly. Once on the bottom, I realized that there was another issue. I had not switched from low set point of 0.7 PPO2 to the high set point of 1.3 PPO2. This had the effect of making PPN2 higher and I believe I was also suffering from high degree of Nitrogen Narcosis. I attempted to correct this situation, but I was having difficulty focusing on the task and was unable to locate the handsets to make the switch. At about that point, I became aware that something else was seriously wrong and that I was getting more anxious by the second. I signalled my buddy that I had a problem and had to ascend. Just then, I lost contact with the anchor chain and I was slightly positively buoyant. I swam back down to the chain and then I started to move along it towards the boat. My buddy grabbed me and started pulling me the other way. I turned to him and signalled again, I have a problem and I have to go up. He continued to pull me down. At this point, I remember looking up and thinking I need to go up and my buddy is pulling me down. I'm not going to make it. I thought I'm sorry Gisela (my wife), but I've failed you. I fully expected that this would end very badly. That is the last thing I remember before being revived on board.

I should note that the above paragraph was written from the perspective of a very disoriented person. I realize now that certain things didn't make sense. I kept finding things that weren't there on the way down. At the time, I thought that's odd, where did they come from. On the surface, the answer is painfully obvious. My buddy understood exactly what was going on and was pulling me towards safety. I on the other hand was swimming farther down, thinking I was trying to get out. It seems that when I lost contact with the anchor chain I tuned myself 180 degrees before I reacquired it.

Excerpt Trevor Jackson:

"Myron lost consciousness on the bottom at 42 metres at around 8.13 am yesterday morning. Beside him was his buddy Sean Inglis, who recognised there was a problem and started to drag Myron to the surface. Sean was joined by Rachel Murphy during that ascent. These two passed Myron to Robert Cook at 6 metres who brought him to the back of the boat. On the duckboard Myron presented with a slate blue grey face, foam oozing from every orifice, his eyes were wide open. He was unconscious and not breathing or responding to any stimuli. Myron was dragged off the duckboard and given immediate EAR by Dave Walton and brought into the lounge by Lars Van der Reijden, Damon Blackwell and Dave while Chris McEwan got the 02 ready. Myron responded fairly quickly to the EAR but took about 10 mins to regain semi consciousness. His gear was cut away and gradually he became more stable".

Some time later, I learned that Rachel herself was in trouble at that point. She had missed a lot of decompression on the way up due to the rapid ascent. She returned to do her now mandatory decompression. Unfortunately, she now did not have enough air to complete the lengthy stop. Vanessa Dillon arrived on the scene and shared air with Rachel to allow her to complete her Safety stop. After bringing me to the surface, Sean returned to do his decompression was well and burst his eardrum in doing so.

The next thing I remember was waking up in what appeared to be the lounge of the Esperance Star. I was lying on my side and I recognized the furniture and surroundings. Not knowing how I could possibly have gotten there, I believed that I was having a dream. Dave Walton was above me telling me that I'd had an accident. Bullshit I thought, "I'm having a dream and it's a weird one at that". I looked around some more. I recognized the people that I could see. I recognized the furniture. What the hell was I doing here? My back was hurting badly. I tried to lie flat. Dave would have nothing to do with this and kept me on my side. My throat was so dry I could hardly speak. I begged for water. I was told "No, the doctor says you can't have any". Bloody hell, what kind of dream is this?

Shortly afterwards, I saw a paramedic. She introduced herself and spoke briefly with me. I have no idea what she said. I remember thinking, "I don't know this person". Perhaps this isn't a dream after all. Maybe this situation is serious. It was about this time that I lost control of my bowels. Let me tell you, it was a very unpleasant feeling, lying there in my own faeces.

I asked the paramedic to repeat her name. She did. I could hear the logistics being discussed in the background. Where should we air lift him from? Front of back deck? Back. I was carried out and placed in a basket on the lower rear deck. They wrapped me in a blanket and then, I was winched up onto the upper back deck with the boat winch. The helicopter returned and started to winch me up. The wind makes me dreadfully cold. I hit my head on the landing gear of the chopper. I was too weak to push myself away from it. They get me into the chopper. I ask the paramedic what her name was again. She tells me again.

Part 2

At this point, I was certain that this is not a dream and it was real life. OK I thought, I appear to be in good nick. I'm in a helicopter on my way to the hospital. I guess I'll be OK. A few minutes into the flight, I started having difficulty breathing. My back hurt so much that it's very painful to breath. The problem grows rapidly worse. I would estimate I was taking 3 breaths every 2 seconds in an attempt to get air into my lungs. I am still on oxygen. I ask the paramedic what her name is, she tells me again. I ask how far to the hospital. She shows me her watch. No, how much longer? 5 minutes she tells me. I don't know if I can hold out. I'll try. I hear them radio ahead. I don't remember the words, but it sounded like they didn't expect me to be breathing when I arrived. Holy shit. This is serious.

Soon after we landed, they had me in the emergency ward. I was still not in control of my bowels yet, and there was shit everywhere. They strapped on a special mask which (as I understood it) forced oxygen into your lungs. Although I could not take any larger breaths, I was not as starved for air. I was still in severe pain though. They asked me if they I wanted them to call my wife. I told them to wait a couple of minutes. I was thinking I'd catch my breath and talk to her myself. That would be better. Obviously, I still wasn't thinking straight. They shot me up with drugs to make my breathing easier. They didn't seem to help, but at least I wasn't in immediate distress. Things happened rather quickly at this point. There were needles and IVs everywhere.

Now, they're talking about going to the Wesley for the recompression chamber. The next thing I know, I'm in another ambulance. I'm still on nearly 100% O2, but not the forced ventilator now. Once at the chamber, things slowed down again.

Various tests to see how I was neurologically (stand with your eyes closed, what date is it, and the hardest of all, what time of day is it? How the hell would I know? I've had other things on my mind

Into the hyperbaric chamber at 18 MSW I went for a couple hours on 100% O2 (2.8 PP02). I looked at the exact schedule, but can't remember it. Something like 20 minutes on, 10 off, 20 on, 10 off, 30 on, and then "ascend" to 9 MSW. 30 on, 20 off, 90 on. Sound pretty boring doesn't it? Well, it is during this time that I started to think that I was going to live through this thing. I began to wonder about the people who rescued me. I heard that Rachel is on her way to the chamber. I began to wonder what the hell I was thinking being down there. Simon Mitchell just happened to be in town and stopped by the chamber after hearing of my problems. After speaking with him and Trevor through the radio, the exact cause of my problems becomes clear. When I assembled my gear, I had not strapped the counter lungs down properly. This caused them to float over my head and increased breathing effort. Because of this, my body produced more CO2 and could not get rid of it. A CO2 "hit" is what I experienced.

About the time that I was released from the chamber, Rachel arrives for her treatment. I was feeling pretty good physically by then, so I spent some time talking with her. Again I realized the danger that my friends have placed themselves in to save my ass.

I spent the night in the hospital under observation. Presumably for secondary drowning and salt water aspiration and any other complications. I was released from the hospital at about 9:00 the following morning. I conferred with the hyperbaric chamber and was told that I did not require any follow-up treatments.

Later that day, I returned to the Esperance Star to retrieve my gear and I confirmed that it is assembled incorrectly. I can't believe that I made such a stupid mistake.

Although I am physically unscathed, mentally, I am in not in such good shape. The following few days are very traumatic. I find myself crying often which is not like me at all. On the following Tuesday, I contacted a couple of my friends who were there. After talking to them, I realized that it's not just me that's struggling with the aftermath. They are having difficulty dealing with it as well. As odd as it seems to me, some were worried that they didn't do enough. While I was thinking what else could they possibly have done. After all, I'm not only alive, but well.

Part 3

Everyone will need to deal with this in their own way, but it is apparent that it's not a simple thing. It's not just me that has to deal with this, but my family and my friends that were there too. I can only imagine the picture of me lying on the duckboard, "slate blue grey face, foam oozing from every orifice, his eyes were wide open, unconscious and not breathing or responding to any stimuli". My friends have to live with the image, after all, they saw it, "fortunately", I was elsewhere at the time.

There is no way to thank my saviours. There is no doubt in my mind that if they had not acted quickly and decisively, I would not be in the condition I am in today. Perhaps crippled, perhaps brain damaged to some extent, perhaps dead. The fact that I not only survived, but am at work on Monday is totally amazing. When I think about it for longer than a few seconds, I start to cry.

I am so sorry to have put people in such danger. I am so sorry for causing such stress to my friends. Killing myself I can live with, but Thankfully, their injuries were relatively minor in nature.

I am fortunate to be alive, and as Trevor said, there was luck involved, but as I see it, it was the fact that I was on board with the right people. After that, there was no luck (either good or bad) involved. I did it to myself. No excuses.

What have I learned from this incident? Well, the CCR is a serious piece of kit. This I knew. However, what I did not fully comprehend before was the fact that you MUST be able to concentrate and I mean concentrate on 10 things at once. If you can't you shouldn't be using a rebreather. I think it's that simple. I lost concentration and damn near died, probably should have died. So there are several questions for me to answer over the next 6 weeks while I'm out of the water Will I dive again? Duh .. yes, for certain. Will I dive a CCR or OC? That one is much more difficult. I certainly want to dive CCR, but to determine that, I must determine if I can concentrate on 10 things at once for an extended period of time. I have to look at myself, nothing to do with diving. Can I do this? I've failed once. If I fail again, the chances of such a good outcome are slim at best. I have 6 weeks to think about it. I'll keep you posted. If I decide I can't, perhaps I should have taken that $55 I was offered for the thing at the chamber. I hear Inspirations don't sell to well on eBay.

In closing, thanks to all involved. Trevor has mentioned many of them, but I know in my heart that Trevor himself had a big role too. If I had to guess, he kept everyone on task and made sure things got done (sound pretty easy). I owe my life to each and every one of these people. I downloaded my computer last night. I see that I was brought from 38M to the surface in less than 30 seconds. They could have killed themselves. That's a selfless act. I was on board and having CPR administered to me so quickly that there was no brain damage, meaning that CPR began with 4 minutes of me going unconscious. Damn that's fast. A few more seconds here or there and the result would have been somewhat less satisfactory.

Another quote from Trevor

"I would like to express my gratitude to the 6 or 7 people who together dragged Myron back from what should probably have been the end, in no particular order...Sean Inglis, Rachel Murphy, Robert Cook, Lars Van der Reijden, Chris McEwan, Damon Blackwell, Dave Walton....better shipmates could not be found".

I couldn't agree more. However, I'd add Trevor Jackson and Vanessa Dillon to the list as well.