Carbon Dioxide – Actual Case Discussed at Summit
Sponsored by the NACD, this year’s CCR Cave Summit was held at Camp Kulaqua last weekend. The expert’s roundtable is always the most popular part of the day, offering the audience a chance to ask all their burning questions. This year, the audience was divided with approximately one third being aspiring CCR cave divers and the balance already owning and actively participating in the sport. Beyond basic merits of individual units, the crowd was extremely interested in the topic of carbon dioxide and how it may be responsible for contributing to the deaths of CCR divers. As I have discussed previously in this blog, it is not something that can be determined as a contributing factor at the time of autopsy unless there was some sort of obvious mechanical failure in the rebreather or its preparation. Jeff Gourley shared a personal account about when a mushroom valve folded up in his mouthpiece, causing rapid carbon dioxide build-up that almost cost him his life. Literally moments into his dive, he detected that something was wrong and bailed to open circuit. He described difficulty in getting the mouthpiece into his mouth. After a few sanity breaths, he switched back and almost passed out. Luckily, his advanced training and well-practiced skills got him to the surface on open circuit. The interesting aspect of this incident was that he described the “hangover” as something that lasted all day long with a slow, delayed return to lucid thought.
I am grateful for divers such as Jeff who feel comfortable sharing their worst dives for the benefit of the community. We can all take away several lessons from this incident. Proper pre-dive checks will prevent most of these sorts of failures. Getting off the loop and staying off the loop are critical when you feel that something isn’t right. For the dive buddy or emergency provider – realize that a diver recovering from an incident of high carbon dioxide or low oxygen may be impaired for many hours afterwards. They may be walking and talking, but their brain and body chemistry will take a long time to recover. Photo: Jill Heinerth and Richie Kohler on a recent Sentinel rebreather dive in Florida.