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Co2 poisoning in Honduras
On:Jun 06/02/14 11:32 AM
To: To Ange, Mike
It has been a year since last contact with you. Since then both my wife Laura and I have gotten IANTD advanced recreational trimix certified, got our basic padi wreck certifications and have purchased the TDI advanced wreck course to be completed in Pompano Beach in October. I was pleased to see that you are the author of the text for that class. When I told John Chatterton, the instructor, that you had trained me he suggested that I get your book Diver Down. We have and are enjoying it currently. I have a personal story for you that I hope that you can use to the benefit of all divers. We are working with DAN on this issue now and are in fact seeing Dr. Holmes at DAN’s referral here in Seattle today.
We got our Padi wreck cert in Roatan at XXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXX in early May. They were the only shop on the island that has helium and provided the wreck course that is prerequisite for the TDI course.
On the first dive, at 96 ft Laura became extremely disoriented and confused. She could not work her inflator, and began to swim with a slow robotic kick headed for the bottom, which was beyond her MOD. I sprinted after her, took control of her inflator and swam her back to the wreck at 95 ft. She obviously did not recognize me, did not focus her eyes on me, turned vertically upside down but kept the reg in her mouth. She did not demonstrate any traditional signs of stress or panic. Calm, but glazed affect. She had no buoyancy control. As I worked her up toward the surface slowly she continued to flip over vertically, absolutely upside down, and I repeatedly had to right her. At about 65 ft she started hyperventilating to such an extent that I thought she was free flowing initially. However she kept the reg in her mouth. She was breathing real fast but her eyes showed no fear or panic. We were diving doubles and she had enough air so we did a slow ascent. When Laura reached the surface she was retching. I told her to put the reg back in her mouth but each time she would take a few breaths from the reg she would puke. She had no idea what had just transpired.
When we got Laura back in the boat she had no memory of the dive after she got to the wreck. We were mapping the wreck and her slate showed two lines of writing that got increasingly illegible and then the last line just trailed off the bottom edge of the slate. Her map of the wreck also became progressively confused and illegible as it progressed.
When we got her back to the shore she was slightly dizzy at times. She still had no memory of the event. She did at that time use 100% O2 by reg. for about fifteen minutes.
In about an hour she felt OK to walk, had no pain, but no memory. Neurological exam was OK initially and continued to be OK. But no memory.
All I could think of was that she had for some reason she had extreme narcosis. This was a warm, clear water dive and she routinely dives cold dark waters of Puget Sound and Vancouver -weekly.
She was breathing 34 % EAN, as the shop could not seem to get the % correct. We wanted 29-30% for this dive. I checked that % with my own analyzer. Her tanks were out of sinc by several points with mine and the instructors.
She took the next day off.
The following day she dove and became extremely nauseated at depth. Once again the shop could not seem to get the % in our tanks to match the readings on their compressor settings. We were always higher.
I did notice that in the evening after the dive when we were practicing laying wreck line around our villa she would have short periods of minor confusion regarding simple tasks. This all seemed to resolve by the third day. However the shop never could get the EAN % correct, so we called off our planned normoxic dives.
On the last night on the island over dinner with our instructor he told us that the neighbors behind the shop periodically “roast beans” over a fire. And that when they do the shop has to shut down the compressor. Incidentally we lost a couple of dives because the compressor was broken, and, or had to be shut down for some reason. They also had generator problems constantly. The generator was in the same shack as the compressor. Our instructor also told us that they had just discovered that a “hole had worn in the hose to the compressor” within that shack, and that is why they could never get the EAN to match our requirements or my analyzer’s reading.
We did in fact see the owner of the shop come out screaming at the staff to turn off the compressor when ever they smell smoke. We did smell smoke. He made it clear that this was not he first time he had told them this. We did not grasp the implications of that emotional scene at the time.
The compressor shack was dark, hot, oily smelling, dirty and dusty and tropical.
When we got home we both developed extreme upper respiratory infections that were bad enough to seen by a physician.
When I told some expert diving friends about our experience they said it did not sound like O2 narcosis and referred us to DAN’s article in the Spring issue of Alert Diver. WOW! Her symptoms are a very close match for all the contamination possibilities, but right on the mark for Co2. She was difinitely close to losing consciousness at depth.
We are OK now but continue to cough up junk.
Laura continues to have no memory of the events from the time she got to the wreck until she got to the surface and breathed fresh air on that first dive.
DAN Dr. Hayes wants Laura to have a CT. Dr. Holmes at Virginia Mason Hyperbaric Medicine Department, whom we are seeing today in a few hours, will evaluate and take over the case.
Considering the sloppy operations at that dive shop (which I can go into detail later if you wish); the constant compressor problems; periodic smoke in the yard behind the shack at the intake point; the “worn hose hole”; and an initial set of worried statements made by the instructors about “bad air” when we got back to shore all now convince me that this was indeed contaminated air. The shop personnel seemed to suddenly change the story about “bad air” to “extreme narcosis” and worked hard to reinforce that theory.
Needless to say there is not much to be done about a shop in Honduras. I doubt they are ever inspected or accredited. The owner boasted how he just pays off (cheaply) tax collectors and officials anyway. I informed Padi of our bad experience but have not received a reply. But we do want divers to know about this shop, contaminated gas issues in general, and our own naivete. We have been lulled into complacency by diving out of an excellent shop here and we just lost track of the reality of possible contaminated gas. I feel very, very dumb. And I am still shaking regarding how close I came to losing my wife.
The shop here, Underwater Sports of Seattle, the oldest dive shop in the Seattle area, has been helpful in explaining possible issues associated with compressors.. They suggest a membrane system contamination, poorly maintained compressor, and old filters as likely culprits. And of course the smokey fires and worn hose issue. Our shop has subsequently O2 cleaned and ultrasonically cleaned all four of our reg sets and all hoses at no charge. They tell me that Laura’s long hose tasted and smelled strange. They could not identify the smell but thought it may have been somewhat sweet or smokey. They all took a taste and agreed. Everything has been swabbed out.
I hope you will be able to make use of this issue to inform other divers of these dangers.