Decompression sickness (DCS) after freediving is very rare. Freedivers simply do not on-gas enough nitrogen to provoke DCS. Thus, very few cases of DCS in freedivers have ever been reported, and these have involved repeated deep dives in a short time frame.
Regardless of how, when or in what type of diving, DCS does happen, and it’s important to be prepared for it. When a dive accident such as a case of DCS does occur, insurance from Divers Alert Network can be instrumental in facilitating medical care. With more than 40 years of experience in the dive industry, DAN is well equipped to help individuals in a wide range of scenarios — even scenarios that may not be on your radar.
Freediving record holder and DAN member Andrew had spent months preparing for a freediving competition in Indonesia with a goal to dive to 100 meters (328 fee). Once in Indonesia, Andrew devised a five-day training plan to lead up to the competition. For the first three days, he would dive deep but within his limits once each day, and then leave two days to rest up before the competition. Everything had gone according to plan until the third day when things started to unravel.
After he completed his third dive that day, Andrew gave the OK sign 22 seconds after surfacing — this was concerning because safety protocols allowed for a maximum of 15 seconds. Andrew was hypoxic — his body had inadequate oxygen. He returned to the dive platform and was immediately given oxygen — a common practice following deep dives. But these oxygen sessions often last for only 5 minutes — Andrew remained on oxygen for 30 minutes per a doctor’s suggestion. His vital signs were checked, and they were within normal limits
Once Andrew returned to his hotel, however, he felt tingling throughout the entire left side of his body and in several fingers on his right hand. Without much guidance about what to do, Andrew hoped some rest would be the cure.
The next day, his symptoms did not improve. Andrew decided not to compete and told the event organizer. That’s when the possibility of DCS was finally on Andrew’s radar.
Event organizers contacted DAN to help orchestrate evacuation and treatment, but evacuation to the hospital could not happen for at least another day because of the local airport’s hours of operation.
The next morning Andrew was taken by ambulance straight from the hotel to the airport, and after three hours of travel arrived at a hyperbaric chamber in Kuala Lumpur.
Andrew did not start receiving hyperbaric treatments until about 80 hours after his last dive. He spent nine days at a medical center receiving six hyperbaric treatment sessions for a total of 23 hours and 32 minutes. After each session, Andrew felt a little better until his symptoms were finally alleviated during the last treatment.
Andrew returned to the U.S., but his symptoms worsened. He worked with DAN again to coordinate additional hyperbaric treatments at a chamber in Florida. In total, Andrew received 11 treatments, spent 47 hours in hyperbaric chambers and incurred over US$20,000 in medical expenses. Fortunately, thanks to Andrew’s DAN dive accident insurance, the medical bills were covered. Andrew only had to worry about healing.
Since his unexpected bout of DCS, Andrew has changed his mentality with regard to freediving and training to ensure he does not have a repeat experience. “I learned that I should immediately call DAN when DCS symptoms appear, because the probability of a full recovery depends on how quickly you get your first hyperbaric treatment. I can rely on DAN for valuable help with evacuation, travel and dive-related medical expenses — and you can, too.”
DAN dive accident insurance is available only to DAN members, and it covers accidents and injuries related to diving and many other water sports as well as non-diving-related accidents and injuries. Coverage starts at just US$40/year, and from day one DAN helps take the guesswork out of emergency logistics. Once a member calls the 24/7 hotline, DAN arranges whatever care is needed. Behind the scenes, DAN specialists coordinate medical care and transportation with local agencies, and in dive emergencies, DAN medical staff can even offer consultations to treating physicians who are not familiar with dive medicine.