Friday 16 January 2015

Human Error - Don't Blame The Rebreather

It all started as any recreational rebreather dive starts; got my gear ready the night before, ran the unit through the necessary checks, packed my bits and bobs, semi dry, towels, bottled water and headed off to sleep.
The next morning I woke up, loaded the car and drove to Cirkewwa, most of the usual suspects were already there or arriving, so between checking my unit and donning my semi dry I was chatting away with my friends and buddies.  Some divers had already entered the water, our small group would soon follow suit and dive the Rozi wreck.  
I finished my positive and negative checks and was about to continue further down my check list when I clearly remember that one of the divers asked me a question about his gear, I went over and we discussed the issue.  Once I returned to my car I put on my unit, grabbed my fins and gloves, locked the car and hobbled to the entry point to get in the water and relieve my back and legs of the strain of carrying a rebreather.
I wore my fins and with the help of another diver done my bailout tanks (air and nitrox), I grabbed my mouthpiece, I signalled that I would jump in the water and so I did.
The water was a bit choppy and I was struggling to clip the bailout back clips to the unit but eventually I managed, always breathing through the mouthpiece not to swallow any water.  I recall feeling slightly “funny”, at the time I thought I was sleepy and kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be feeling sleepy, I was in cold water about to start the dive – I made myself snap out of it … there was an instance when someone spoke to me, to reply, I removed my mouthpiece and then replaced it again …
That’s it …
My next memory is faintly hearing people call my name, a lot of shouting and seeing myself floating face up in the water (at the time I thought, where the hell is my rebreather?).  One of the divers was holding  my neck and head to ensure I was breathing, while a buddy who is also a doctor was shouting “Karla come back with us” and slapping my face … I was towed to the inlet, and carried by several divers to the concrete platform … I saw all this but I couldn't control anything of what was being done to me and what was happening … I felt extremely scared.
The divers who rescued me administered  oxygen and I recall I was feeling dozy and nauseous, which is normal for me when I breathe 100% oxygen at the surface – I tried to remove the oxygen mask several times and I tried to speak but I couldn't formulate the words, the level of fear doubled … I was coming and going I wasn't all there, all I could hear were snippets of words, "ambulance", "conscious", "oxygen", I was stripped from my dive suit and covered with towels still breathing oxygen and still thrashing about trying to get the oxygen mask off [I was later told].
The ambulance arrived and the staff loaded me onto a stretcher and off we whizzed to hospital … I remember being wet and very cold – the ambulance nurse used up all the blankets they had to try and keep me warm.  The nurse informed me that the oxygen in my blood stream had dropped, he kept asking me to speak but I couldn't formulate words the few that came out were slurred speech – I cried all the way to hospital, thinking to myself that was it …
I was rushed into the A&E department at the hospital, the nurses present were told by the ambulance staff that it was a diving related accident and they gave them my vitals … a lovely doctor came to see me and ask me some questions, I was feeling very disoriented at this point, my speech started to return to me … I forced myself to think how I had ended up in the horrible position – what had I done or worse what hadn't I done???
I was soon joined by a couple of friends from Cirkewwa who brought my clothes, personal effects and some towels.  They recounted what they witnessed – it was exactly as I had seen it … I still couldn't wrap my head around the fact that I had seen my rescue unfold and I was helpless.
Eventually after a lot of thinking it started to came back to me, the moment I was setting and preparing my unit I stopped on several occasions throughout the tests and once I had donned my unit and made my way to the exit point, I hadn’t turned it on !!!
I jumped into the water with a rebreather that was turned OFF, the breaths I was inhaling through the mouthpiece where not being injected with fresh o2.
Over a span of a number of hours the doctor took numerous tests, bloods, pressure, imaging and a brain scan, I was given several doses of saline solution via IV and eventually towards the end of the day I was discharged.
The guilt I felt after this ordeal was immense I had nearly lost my life over a moment of carelessness and distraction and I had scared the rest of the divers who witnessed the incident – Days later I met all those involved in my rescue and thanked them personally, I also explained what lead to my loss of consciences, explaining the importance of all the tests involved in setting up of a rebreather.
I don’t think I will ever fully put this incident behind me – I was lucky my buddies found me floating face down in the water when they did, more time in that state could have given me brain damage or worse still, killed me.
The following weekend I made it a point to get back in the water, to do an easy and pleasant dive – diving is my way of escaping the hustle and bustle of my work week, of personal stress, of worry and tension.  I am worry free when I’m diving I’m thinking only of my unit, my safety that of my buddies and the dive we are undertaking.
I always say that keeping rescue skills fresh is necessary – good thing that as a group of friends we believe in the same mantra and practise and re-do our rescue circuit frequently.
This was not an emergency drill but a real life incident – they didn’t call the customary “Pizza Pizza” which we use when we are training not to alert passers-by or other divers but “call an ambulance”.
I will never stop being thankful for still being around and grateful to those present on the day for saving my life and bringing me back.

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