Analysis of my DCS

by Capt J.T. Barker
Ostfriesland Dive July 5, 2004

This page was created to help answer a lot of the questions about my DCS hit. While it may not answer all questions it should be enough to explain what happened. The photos to the right were taken by Dan Wright. The first 2 are of me (JT), the next 3 are of Greg, and 1 of Arron Wallance. The rest are of the airvac and 2 of me in the chamber.

For those who are concidering these kinds of high risk dives, there is a saying. "It is not a matter of if......just when".

The Dive:

This is a brief run down on the dive. Actual mixes, times, planning, details, etc. are reserved for future publishing as I see fit.

Monday July 5, 2004

Divers Greg, Tom, and myself descended together down to the wreck which has a max depth of 380ft. We did not intend on going deeper than 350ft on this dive. The purpose of the dive was to document the wreck with video for a future project.

The descent was a little slower than previous dives made to the wreck. Once the wreck came into view I could see the bow of the “Ostfriesland”. This was exciting because it is an area I have never dived before. I broke over to video the hull and marine life while Tom dropped down to 350ft or so to video the very peak. Greg who was diving the wreck for the first time was just “soaking it all in” I’m sure. Within 4 mins of bottom time I began to lose gas out of my reg (2nd stage) between breaths. I began to tighten the resistance control knob and with each time I tightened it, it would work for a short time but then kept returning. I was losing gas, but not at an alarming rate. Within 3-5 adjustments of this during filming, the reg became hard to breathe and made a very high pitch sound. The amount of gas the reg must deliver at that depth is massive and with the restrictive adjustment I was placing on it to lessen the loss of gas was causing the loud sound and making it hard to breathe I’m sure. I scootered over to Tom and signaled my reg. problems. Hearing the sound he immediately offered me his reg. I refused and I went on my back up. I called the dive: Greg was signaled and we all returned to the anchor line to ascend and began our deco, well short of the max 20 min bottom time we had planned. The above had nothing to do with the onset of DCS I had AFTER the dive, if anything it limited the on gassing time to a minimum. While the dive was very stressful I was not stressed out by this and it was so uneventful that Greg did not even know anything was wrong. No one would know if I didn’t tell it, but calling the dive is the correct thing to do when equipment or something else is in question.

The deco:

I had not bothered to look at my depth and temp during the dive. I tend to only focus on the time during such dives. I did not look at the temp until at 270ft and it read 41. Further readings I took showed the temp dropping until I got a low of 37. This did not rise until around 190ft. There was a current and then became little or nothing from 150ft up. I began to experience “lightness” and dumped all gas out of my DS(drysuit) and wings. It continued to get worse and I disconnected my DS to ensure that I was not having “leak by” causing this, I showed Tom so he would know what was going on. I also kept dumping my wings to ensure no gas was leaking in there, which was not. This became a constant battle throughout the deco and resulted in heavy usage of arm power and more deco gas than normal.

The shuffling of scooters and stage bottles with the support team did not ease this predicament and it was not until after my deco schedule was complete that extra weight was brought down to me in the form of a weight belt, which I refused. I had already done more deco than needed and was attempting to remove some pain that I was feeling in my left arm. I took the pain as a muscle problem or hit due to the constant pulling down motion with the left arm I needed to do to remain horizontal. In an attempt to relieve stress on the arm I wrapped my right leg around my own hang line and let my arm relax. I felt and saw no advantage to this and decided to surface. Deco was “over” complete and I surfaced complaining over several things when they are not perfect…..normal for me.

After the dive:

I needed no assistance removing my gear, DS, and thinsulate 200. I hooked up my own 02 to breath and took 2 “aleive” for the pain in my left arm. Greg surfaced first and Tom right behind me. Discussions of the dive began; the decision to move over to the Ocean Venture for a dive was made. I was breathing 02 and 10 min. had passed when it hit me. I became very dizzy and light headed. I laid down on the floor, I heard bubbling in my ears and announced “someone better watch me”. My world was now upside-down, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath. I needed help…….. I could not open my eyes, I lay curled up on the deck, I felt NO pain. I breathed 02 between vomiting. The CG was called. I had been the one who was in charge of training for the boat crew . Never did I think it would be put to the test on me. This was Capt Becky first airvac and I am told everything was perfect. . I did not think I would die and since it was me having the airlift, I requested photos be taken. We have agreed to not let this be done in the past for the protection of the victim. I was able to open my eyes once on the chopper. Within 30-40 min. the worst had past, I arrived at Sentara Leigh Hospital and I don’t have a time line, but said to be the quickest ever made by the staff there…..they were ready.

ER Sentara Leigh:

Removal of my polartec was done, vitals taken, chest x-ray, and I.V. started. Quickly taken to Hyperbarics where I was asked a list of questions while they waited for the x-ray results to confirm no embolism. Once they arrived I went into the chamber for a table 6 treatment……..6hrs.

Within minutes of reaching 2 ata I began to feel better and settled down for the long haul. I emerged from the chamber feeling good, so good in fact that talk was only of a test the next morning and would be discharged.

Midnight: I was awakened by the nurse taking vitals as she took it for a second time……72/60 I felt really bad. They called the Dr. he had them pump fluids in me and placed me on 02. I did not sleep.

Tuesday: July 6

Morning came and they put me in the chamber for a cycle of 1hr on 02 -10min air -1hr 02 then 4hr SI. An examination of my ears found that bubbles could be seen in my left ear, it is not clear to me as to what he actually saw and no other Dr. saw this. I could not walk well, balance was all off. I had not had to pee in over 24hrs worry was my kidneys not funtioning. After the first treatment I was examined by a neurologist, which I passed. I felt better after the second treatment. I was then taken to have an MRI which was negative. I finally had to pee.

Wednesday: July 7

I awoke to light-headedness and was placed in the chamber again for 2 rides. The analysis of antibiotics supplied to me by my family DR. for an unrelated condition showed that one caused dehydration and I now believe I should not have been diving while taking it. I had asked my DR. about this and he had given me the OK to dive. I was examined by an ENT with a full hearing test, I have no hearing loss, but still have “thick-headedness” and lightheaded. After the second ride I felt fine.

Thursday: July 8

I arrived at the chamber feeling fine and did one ride, I had reached a plateau and no further treatments were needed. My vitals were up if memory is correct 119/68. I was discharged at 12:21 with a follow up visit planned the next day with a ride should symptoms return. I still have some tests to take now that I am discharged.

Friday July 9

The visit back to hyperbaric chamber resulted in only an examination which I passed and no chamber ride. I had a total of 6 chamber rides

Diagnosis: Inner Ear Decompression Sickness both ears……primarily the left

Primary Cause: High Gas Loading Dive and Dehydration (caused by medication)

Secondary Cause: Buoyancy Control

The lightness I experienced during the deco part of the dive is I believe because of an extra polartec worn under my thinsulate 200 as I was expecting very coldwater.

Only on 2 other dives have I worn the extra polartec. Those dives were to the “Bow Mariner” which had a significant current top to bottom and leveled me out during deco. Like a flag in the wind.

I will be out of diving for AT LEAST 30 DAYS, MAYBE LONGER.


I would like to thank all those who wished me a fast recovery and the flowers sent to me.


Capt J.T.


Black & White photos taken by Dan Wright.
At rest in the chamber.
To my enemies: Which I hope are none :-)