Waking Up


Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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Divers have been known to exhibit, for no known reason, behavior that is contrary to survival. 

In 1980, as a still-novice diver,  I was with a diver along a sheer rock wall  at Flower Pot Island in the Tobermory Provincial Underwater Preserve at a depth of about 25 feet of water. We had been down for 18 minutes (following a 2 hr and 10 min surface interval from a wreck dive on the Arabia of 15 minutes in 40 oF water at a maximum depth of 108 feet.)  We exchanged "time-to-turn-around-and-head-for-the-dive-boat" signals (a touch to the watch and the "thumbs up") and the diver's "O.K." We turned around towards the boat and then my buddy immediately headed straight for the bottom. For a moment. I was frozen in time as the image of my buddy started fading into the deep blue. It was a total shock. I realized I had to go get him. The diver was near 60 feet before I re-established contact and asserted control. When I caught the diver, I grabbed his shoulder and rotated him so that I could see his face. It was as if I were waking him from a deep sleep. I looked at my depth gauge (58 fsw) and then using an under the shoulder carry so I could watch his eyes, I assisted him to shallower water. 

Because we had blown the dive plan significantly, we went to about 10 feet of water and slowly "finger walked" back to the dive boat. (The intent was to stay shallow and not do any physical exertion) When we arrived at the boat, we stayed under the boat ladder for an additional 10 minutes (purely as a safety measure) and surfaced. We did no more diving that day.

The diver, even when prompted with eyewitnesses' accounts, has no recollection of the entire episode.

The next morning, my buddy complained about "not feeling" right. This was his only complaint. Because we had a combination of a deep cold dive, followed by deep "bounce," I suggested he see a physician. The physician who examined him said his only neurological symptom was a "half-Babinski" reflex (This is a neurological test that runs a sharp instrument rapidly along the sole of a foot. A normal response shows rapid curling of the toes.) But, he pointed out  that some folks normally had this type of response. Because deep, cold water was involved, the physician decided to recompress. 

A few minutes into the treatment, his Babinski went to "normal." So, this was considered a mild DCS hit that occurred nearly 24 hours after the first dive.

There was no observable residual symptoms following the incident.

It is believed that stress (lack of sleep) following an emotional stressor (end of relationship) was a major component in this particular hit. But exactly what occurred at depth is still a mystery to me.

The points of this story are:

1. Joint pain is NOT always present in a DCS hit.

2. Sometimes things happen underwater for which there is no known explanation.

3. The OK sign is NOT always reliable. This is the second time (see  Battle Royale ) a diver showed me the OK sign and then behaved in a most self-destructive manner.

4. DCS signs are sometimes subtle, so it is necessary to closely observe divers behavior before and after diving to determine possible changes.

4. Whenever there is a any doubt, it is most wise to seek medical attention for examination.


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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 200 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

  Copyright 2001-2024 by Larry "Harris" Taylor

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Use of these articles for personal or organizational profit is specifically denied.

These articles may be used for not-for-profit diving education