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Crew did their best to save diver who died from bends

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Deep sea diver Sharmarki Douglas died from decompression illness, popularly known as bends Deep sea diver Sharmarki Douglas died from decompression illness, popularly known as bends

One of the crew members who was on board when deep sea diver Sharmarki Douglas died from the decompression illness known as bends, said the team did their best to save him.

Douglas, a 31-year-old Old Harbour Bay resident died early afternoon on June 20 in the Pedro Cays waters after suffering from bends, a condition caused by the formation of bubbles of nitrogen gas that occur with changes in pressure during diving.

“Him come out of the water and was in the boat when him start complain se him a feel pain in a him joints dem. So right away di man dem decide to put him back in a di water fi get out the nitrogen out of him system (body). But him still never mek it. It (his condition) did gone bad a’ready it look like,” said the experienced fisherman who preferred his name not to be mentioned.

Bends is common particularly amongst divers but can also affect astronauts and aviators who experienced rapid changes in pressure from sea level.

Clearly Douglas had ascended out of the water too quickly after a quick browse on the Internet.

According to the website bends is caused when Nitrogen or any gas from a diver's air tank increases in pressure as a diver descends. For every 33 feet in ocean water, the pressure due to nitrogen goes up another 11.6 pounds per square inch. As the pressure due to nitrogen increases, more nitrogen dissolves into the tissues. The longer a diver remains at depth, the more nitrogen dissolves. Unlike the oxygen in the air tank a diver uses to swim underwater, the nitrogen gas is not utilized by the body and builds up over time in body tissues. The underlying cause of symptoms throughout the body is due mainly to nitrogen bubbles being released when the diver returns to sea level and blocking blood flow and disrupting blood vessels and nerves by stretching or tearing them. A clear example to illustrate this bubble formation process is that of a bottle of carbonated soda. A bottle of carbonated soda is filled with gas (carbon dioxide), which cannot be seen because it is dissolved in solution under pressure. When the bottle is opened, the pressure is released and the gas leaves the solution in the form of bubbles. A diver returning to the surface is similar to opening the bottle of soda. As a diver swims to the surface, the pressure decreases. The nitrogen, which has dissolved in tissues, wants again to leave, because the body can hold only a certain amount based on that nitrogen pressure.

If a diver surfaces too fast, the excess nitrogen will come out rapidly as gas bubbles. Depending on which organs are involved, these bubbles produce the symptoms of decompression sickness. The risk of decompression illness is directly related to the depth of the dive, the amount of time under pressure, and the rate of ascent.

It is one of many unfortunate misfortunes divers and their families fear.

“A regular suppm weh happen to man out a sea de enuh,” the man told Old Harbour News. “But most a di time nobody nuh hear bout it.”

“Man all dead inna mi hand from bends,” he added.

Just last year a diver from the community succumbed to the same illness.

Douglas’ relatives were contacted and immediately plans were put in motion to bring the body to the mainland in the shortest possible time. But their efforts to contact the Marine Police were unsuccessful.

The vessel with over 30 grief-stricken seamen on board, eventually return to mainland Jamaica on Thursday, docking at the Marine Police headquarters in Kingston.

The captain of the boat and other crew members were questioned by the police and the body removed.

“Plenty ice de pon di boat man. So wi just put the body in one of the small boats and cover him up with pure ice,” the fisherman explained to Old Harbour News about how the body was preserved. “The amount a ice we have out de, him cyan rotten before we come back a land.”

Meantime, increasing the chances of saving the life of a diver with a serious case of decompression sickness remains remote as it is a hugely expensive service. On medical boats equipped with decompressed chamber the service cost at least US$18,000 based on online checks made by Old Harbour News.

Here in Jamaica the island’s only decompressed chamber is situated in Discovery Bay, St Ann which is hours away from most fishing villages. Coupled with that will be the need to always have a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) helicopter readily available on standby.

Therefore, however, one wants to look at it the diver is always at the deep end.

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