DCS and Denial

Decompression sickness (DCS) can happen to any diver. In fact, in most cases it occurs after dives that were within the depth and time limits of the diver’s computer. And when out-of-the-ordinary symptoms occur, it’s not uncommon for divers to ignore them, hoping they’ll go away on their own.

DCS is often unpredictable, but regardless of the dive profile, a diver who has symptoms after diving should be evaluated by a doctor. If you ever suspect DCS, trust your instincts and don’t delay — contact DAN, and make arrangements to be seen.

Brett started diving in his mid-40s and became hooked on it — always searching for warmer dive destinations to get him out of the cold and landlocked midwestern U.S.

Brett traveled to Cozumel and was amped for opportunities to dive. The first dive of the vacation was intended to determine everyone’s skill level before a week of diving. The 50-minute dive was easy; they went to a maximum depth of 75 feet and performed a slow ascent and a three-minute safety stop. Brett dived with nitrox 32.

Despite the ease of the dive, Brett felt tingling in his right foot and a dull ache in his knee as he was stripping off his wetsuit. DCS immediately came to his mind, but he brushed off the idea —after such an easy dive it seemed unlikely that he would have DCS.

Brett dismissed his initial concerns and did a second dive after an hourlong surface interval. The next day, Brett performed two more dives. Although the sensation in his foot stopped, his knee continued to bother him. As it didn’t feel like muscle or joint soreness, Brett still didn’t think it was a symptom of DCS.

But Brett’s nagging thoughts of a dive injury persisted, so he finally decided to call DAN and get the opinion of a trained dive medic. After discussing the dives and symptoms, the medic instructed Brett to go to the local hospital.

The DAN medic called the medical facility ahead of time, and they were ready for Brett when he arrived. After some tests, the doctor confirmed Brett had a mild case of DCS. Brett was immediately put on IV fluids and 100 percent oxygen and given treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.

After one overnight stay at the hospital, Brett’s symptoms dissipated, and he was reevaluated and discharged. The rest of his trip to Cozumel was spent above water.

Even easy, uneventful dives can result in DCS. If any out-of-the-ordinary symptom arises, it’s always in a diver’s best interest to stop what they’re doing and call DAN. While it may be easiest to wish the symptom away, being proactive and acting swiftly is more effective. Waiting can often worsen the situation.

“I should not have waited until the second day to get treatment simply because I thought it was impossible for me to have DCS,” said Brett. “If you think you have DCS, there’s a good chance you are correct. Just because you followed every rule and dived conservatively doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you.”

For only US$40 per year for an individual or US$60 per year for a family, DAN takes the guesswork out of emergency logistics. Once a member calls the 24/7 hotline, DAN arranges whatever care is needed — including evacuations and complex air travel arrangements if necessary. Behind the scenes, DAN specialists coordinate medical care and transportation with local agencies, and in dive emergencies, DAN medical staff can even consult with local physicians who may not be familiar with dive medicine.

With more than 40 years of experience managing emergencies around the globe, DAN ensures you get to fully enjoy your travels. Learn more about the benefits of being a DAN member.