Right Place, Right Time, Right Skills

When I took my initial Emergency Medical Technician training, the textbook section relating to dive accidents read something like this: “Scuba diving injuries are a special topic and will be covered in other courses. Call Divers Alert Network® at 919-684-9111 for assistance in a scuba diving emergency.”

I never planned to be involved in any scuba diving injuries, but it was reassuring to know that there was help if I ever needed it. Years later I found myself a newly certified scuba diver and wondered if maybe I had been wrong about never having to treat a dive injury.

I read up on diving emergencies and even took the DAN Oxygen First Aid for Scuba Diving Injuries course. Not until 2004, as a member of a public safety dive team, did I realize that I needed even more training. At about the same time, DAN announced the Diving Medical Technician (DMT) course. I enrolled immediately.

Right after the class I saw that a scuba resort near my home needed EMTs. Armed with my DMT training, I applied for and got a job on the lake safety staff.

“Don’t worry,” someone volunteered on my first day. “The EMT never does anything.”

I had three patients that day.

I recall another incident that brought training and preparation to the fore. A diver had surfaced and shouted, “I can use some help.” I signed and asked if he was OK. He returned the hand-on-head OK sign.

“What is the problem?” I called out.

“My buddy is on the bottom with no air,” he replied.

I directed some divers on the surface to descend for a quick search, while I radioed the remaining safety staff to begin a rescue. Divers brought the injured diver to the surface and then by boat to the dock where I had set up my equipment. The diver was unresponsive; she had bright pink foam coming from her nose and mouth. After suctioning and positioning her airway, I determined that she was not breathing and began ventilating with a bag-valve mask (BVM) connected to oxygen.

Fortunately, she had a pulse. We inserted a nasal airway. By then the injured diver began to breathe on her own. I timed the BVM ventilations with her own breathing to provide a maximum concentration of oxygen. By the time the ambulance and paramedics arrived, she had opened her eyes and appeared to be in great pain. I transferred care, along with my cell phone number and the DAN emergency phone number, to the paramedics, who took her to the local emergency department. I later learned she was diagnosed and treated for a lung overexpansion injury with a possible arterial gas embolism.

The training I received in the DAN DMT course enabled me to be in the right place at the right time with the proper skills to take control and turn this event from a sure tragedy into a favorable outcome.

© Alert Diver — Q1 Winter 2010