Be Informed, and Stay Calm

In September 2015 I was excited to join my favorite dive instructor, Chad Kent, and Gorden Grooms, a divemaster in training, for a shore dive at the Mukilteo Dock near Seattle, Washington. It was my fourth dive in my new drysuit. We walked into the water and swam out a bit to descend, but I was underweighted and could not get down. Determined, I attempted to descend several times, breathing out harder than I probably should have. Gorden went back to shore to get some additional weight for me, and we set off.

Although my mask was leaky and required repeated purging, the first 15 minutes of the dive went pretty well. I was finally getting the hang of drysuit diving, and I was loving it. Despite the 53°F water, I was warm and didn't have to spend much energy to get to one of the site's most interesting features: the geodome. While exploring the structure at 77 feet, I suddenly felt out of breath. I stopped and held onto the dome to steady myself and catch my breath. After waiting for what seemed like a couple of minutes (but was not that long, according to my dive computer), my breathing worsened, and I signaled to Chad that I was having a problem. He immediately led me

Even when in distress, it’s important to keep your regulator in place.
Securing it can be the difference between a bad situation and a potentially
life-threatening one.
on a slow ascent toward the shore. I was coughing into my regulator, so I held it in place with my hand to keep from spitting it out. When we got to about 20 feet, my vision was narrowing and becoming gray, so I signaled Chad to go up. He added some air to my buoyancy compensator device (BCD) and drysuit and towed me to where we could stand. Then he removed my BCD and helped me get to shore.

I was coughing up foam with every breath, and my lungs were rattling. Gorden called for an ambulance. I told Chad I felt like I wasn't getting any air at all, but he replied, "No, you really are breathing." It was the best thing he could have said to help me relax. I felt like I was about to pass out a couple of times, but I fought hard to stay conscious.

I religiously read the DAN® Facebook posts and mentally practice every scenario as both victim and rescuer. A similar scenario to this one had appeared a month or so before my incident, and I did exactly as I had practiced. Plus, I had a calm, skilled rescuer who helped keep me from panicking.

By the time the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, my buddy had helped me out of my drysuit. It costs more than my entire wardrobe plus my dishwasher, so I greatly appreciated his efforts to save it from being cut off by the emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

When the EMTs arrived, they immediately began administering oxygen, and we headed to the hospital. My condition befuddled the doctor at the emergency room. Fortunately I was able to find the scenario I had read on DAN's Facebook page and show it to him. He contacted DAN and confirmed the diagnosis of immersion pulmonary edema. He gave me a diuretic, and I continued breathing oxygen until I was breathing comfortably. I remained at the hospital overnight for observation and was released the next morning.

Blood tests indicated high creatinine, a high white-cell count and high blood sugar, which was surprising because I had not eaten. Later that day I had a battery of stress tests. I work out daily, so I was not surprised that my heart and lungs were in excellent condition. The doctors could not identify a significant contributing factor to my immersion pulmonary edema.

I take all the additional dive training I can, and after this incident I completed a rescue diver course. It has been extremely valuable for me to read and internalize DAN's regular Facebook posts. During an incident, it's important to remain calm and access everything you've learned.
The Rescuer’s Perspective
By Chad Kent

The dive was a bit of a struggle at the start, but after we adjusted the weighting things proceeded smoothly. Sheila was having a few issues with her mask flooding and was stopping frequently to tilt her head up to clear her mask for the first part of the dive. It finally got easier for her, and we reached the geodome. We were swimming around it

As one of the primary channels for connection with our members, the DAN
Facebook page offers advice, scenarios and quizzes to help you be more
prepared to deal with diving mishaps.
looking for the resident wolf eel when I saw Sheila holding onto the structure. I went over, and she indicated she wanted to go up immediately. Making physical contact with her, I looked her in the eyes to see how she was doing. Panic was setting in, so I maintained my grip on her and continued to make eye contact. I motioned for her to take some slow, easy breaths. She tried but shook her head.

Holding on to her, I started a slow ascent while heading back to shore. She again signaled she was not getting enough air. I grabbed her BCD strap with one hand and her inflator button in the other, keeping my eyes on her to make sure she kept her regulator in her mouth. We continued upward, and once we were on the surface I inflated her BCD and drysuit, making sure not to overinflate them. I had Sheila take off her mask and take out her regulator. It was evident that she was in distress, so I told her to focus on breathing while I towed her to shore.

When we could stand, Gorden and I removed her BCD and helped her to shore. Gorden called 911 and let them know we had a diver who was having trouble breathing. While waiting for the medics, we removed the rest of her gear. Sheila wanted to lie down, but I told her sitting would make it easier to breathe. She was coughing up frothy white sputum and speaking in one- or two-word phrases. I could easily hear the gurgling in her lungs. Fortunately, the medics arrived quickly and started giving her oxygen, which seemed to help. They took her to the hospital for treatment.

I stopped by the emergency room to see Sheila, and she was sitting on the gurney, smiling and looking much better. Over the next few months she kept me informed of her visits to various doctors and their diagnoses. She was eventually cleared for diving again, which was great to hear.

Sheila's training and knowledge of how to handle these situations were crucial to the good outcome. Had she panicked and bolted to the surface or spit out her regulator, thinking it was causing her to feel like she was not getting enough air, things could have been disastrous. It is difficult to remain calm in this type of a storm, but doing so made all the difference.

© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2018