A diver in Peru had a lucky escape with extremely unfortunate
consequences following a failed diving expedition in his home state. Alejandro
Ramos Martínez, an experienced diver from Pisco province, fell victim to
Decompression Sickness (DCS) following a deep-sea dive.
DCS might be more commonly known to most of you as The Bends, famously the title of a Radiohead album. It occurs when divers come up to the surface too quickly following dives to extreme depths, causing inert gases which have formed in the body to swell in size and overwhelm the system. When Radiohead released their album, they had been considering breaking up due to the pressures of sudden fame, hence the name.
In general, the condition causes dizziness, nausea and headaches but in extreme cases can result in death. Around seventy percent of cases result in joint pains, mostly in the shoulder, and 10-15 percent result in neurological conditions (usually minor headaches) but occasionally symptoms are far more serious, sometimes fatal.
Martínez, an experienced diver of edible seafood, made the near-fatal mistake of rising to the surface too quickly, causing nitrogen bubbles to build up in his system and swell in size, leaving him with an added 30 kilograms in weight in the form of large balloon-like sacks which can't be surgically removed because they are attached to his flesh. He also suffers from hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure, and joint pain causing him excruciating pain.
He is unable to work and can only get through the day by taking intense painkillers prescribed to him by doctors. Meanwhile, the Peruvian has been informed that he'll need to have a prosthesis installed due to the damage caused by his sudden weight increase. His case is being researched by doctors due to its unique nature.
They have also been working to reduce the sacks in Alejandro's body using a hyperbaric chamber. So far, they have been able to reduce the nitrogen bubbles by around 30% but believe he will need around 100 more sessions to reduce them, although he will then have to undergo a procedure costing up to $100,000 (£76,500), something the unfortunate diver doesn't exactly have to hand.
Once common, research and modern diving equipment have made the bends a rarity. Unlike humans, other mammals like seals, dolphins and whales do not (or very rarely) experience the bends. The main reason is that they are essentially holding their breath while diving, whereas us humans tend to use pressurised gas when going down to deep levels. In theory, they should still suffer the same symptoms, but it's believed psychological adaptations have helped the sea critters avoid the bends over time.
Unfortunately for Martínez, until the nitrogen bubbles in his system are sufficiently reduced, he won't be eligible for the complicated (and expensive) treatment to restore his body to something approaching its physical form, while diving again for a living is completely off the cards.
Words: Ronan O'Shea
Featured Image Credit: CEN