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Make Time Fly During Decompression

How do you deco? Find out how divers are spending those long hangs.

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By Amanda White

As a new diver, I’ve always wondered what tech divers do underwater during those long decompressions. It blew my mind when I would hear about 30-minute bottom times and six-plus hours of decompression. Some of the time there is nothing around, and the divers are just hanging there in blue water for hours!

Not all of us spend hours decompressing on dives. But, if you’re curious and mystified like me, or are looking for a new way to pass the time during those long hangs, here are some ideas from deco divers that I polled.

Are You Down for a Game of…

Times flies when you’re having fun, right? And one classic way to pass the time is games. Some divers are playing games like, rock-paper-scissors, tic-tac-toe, and hangman. With wetnotes, divers can even play things like Sudoku while 30 meters below the surface.

Submitted by Dan Nott.

Some divers even take things a step further with mini travel checkers and chess boards. Or they pass the time by taking photos of themselves and their dive buddies.

Photo by Brian Richardson.

She Swims with the Fishes

Some people are lucky and their decos can take place along reef walls or other environments teeming with life to see and explore. They may even get a visitor while hanging in the blue water.

Tech diver and explorer Louise Greenshields is loving her deco. “We’re totally spoilt over here in New Zealand at the Poor Knights Islands. We spend our deco searching out critters on the amazing reef walls that are here to enjoy 😉 #sorrynotsorry ”

Dr. Sonia Rowley is a research associate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who is studying deep reefs. She doesn’t complain about her deco. “I love every minute of it and I have a hard time mustering up the willingness to get out of the water,” Rowley explained to me. “Case in point: my recent research trip to Balls Pyramid off Lord Howe Island where I had the constant companionship of a lot of Galapagos sharks. They were extremely playful and every time I swung around there was a ‘sea of noses’ following my fins. It was very funny.”

Dr. Sonia Rowley taking a photo during one of her decos. Photo by Richard Pyle.

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

You can also make your time count by helping researchers gather data or completing more of your dive objectives during your deco along a reef or in a cave.

Dr. Rowley does this with her current research. “With regard to long decos, that depends on the dive site. Generally, I continue to work up the reefs and select study sites specific to this so more data and research can be achieved. If, however, it is bluewater deco then I play with the pelagics and plan my research, data analyses, gases for the following day, and take the opportunity to film the environment.”

Beto Nava and his team discovered the oldest human remains found in North America inside of the Hoyo Negro cave system in Mexico. He also conducts working hangs. “During the Hoyo Negro project we work on different tasks during the shallow part of our decompression, mostly from 50 ft/15 m and up. This helps us to increase our productivity by also doubling the time we work underwater, and it reduces the mental stress of a long decompression. We collect survey data for cartographic maps, like for example, line re-surveying, side walls measurements, and many others. Sometimes we capture images for 3-D models of sections of the shallow tunnels.”

Photo submitted by Beto Nava.

Time Passes with Your Friends, Harry, Ron, and Hermione

Kirill Egorov, a tech and cave instructor and avid underwater explorer, has mastered his decompression entertainment. “I use a waterproofed iPod shuffle to listen to audiobooks (Harry Potter; The Long Ships, and The Hollow Hills). I also read paperback books (Alamo and  Day of Infamy). Older books are apparently printed on better quality paper; “I managed to read them over multiple dives. The newer ones barely survive a single dive.”

He’s not the only diver to read books underwater. GUE President Jarrod Jablonski has also taken the time to read during deco. “I would read paperback books and freeze them between dives, which seemed to hold them together longer. However, these often came apart and usually within the last few chapters. I missed many endings to various books as a result.”

Submitted by John Kieren and taken by Marc Adolf.

Get Your Groove on at 9 Meters

There are also companies out there that make devices you can take with you to listen to your favorite tunes while underwater… how well they work is another story.

Jablonski is an avid explorer and has set world records in cave diving, so he’s spent his fair share of time in decompression.“I have used a variety of strategies and built my first underwater sound system in 1990. That was built with an old cassette player and custom light housing paired with normal headphones that I wrapped in balloons and dipped in a latex compound to seal. Sound quality was not great but it was a diversion. Later I would use proper, underwater headphones and a MP3 player.”

But even if you don’t have an underwater MP3 player, you can still enjoy some music. Mary Adams, a deco diver, passes the time by singing songs in her head. “I sing 80s rock songs,” she said. They’re 3 minutes long, and I also look for sharks and mantas.”

It may not be the same as belting it out in the shower, but it can definitely pass the time.

via GIPHY

Namaste in the Water

Something as basic as just pondering your thoughts or taking the time to meditate can also be a good use of your decompression. Who knows, maybe you will solve one of the world’s pressing problems during deco.

Dive instructor Rich Walker uses this time to relax in his “nothing box.” “When I get to 6 m/20 ft and settle into my decompression, I go to my “nothing box,” open it, and immerse myself in the nothingness. I can stay there for hours. It’s my most powerful ally on a long decompression because time just slips away, much faster than watching the clock, reading a book, or reviewing the dive. Everyone should cultivate their nothing box.”

via GIPHY

Watching Blue Planet While in Big Blue

John Kendall, a dive instructor and photogrammetry guru, has spent his fair share of time in deco. “I have a (ridiculously expensive) waterproof android tablet that I use to watch movies during long cave deco. For open ocean it’s a bit harder, so then it’s normally a matter of just trying to both stay neutrally buoyant and awake.”

I wonder if there is a record for the greatest depth someone has watched a movie at? One or two movies and your deco is over.

Gershwin the Bear Explorer with Kendall’s tablet before a dive. Photo submitted by John Kendall.

It’s like a Clubhouse for Divers

Some technical divers are lucky and they get to spend their long decompressions inside of a decompression bell like those used by commercial divers.

Richie Kohler is one of the explorers on several of the recent expeditions to the Britannic that was lucky enough to have a commercial diving bell available to make his long deco tolerable.

Photo submitted by Richard Kohler. Photo by Michael C. Barnette.

“Our approach to combat boredom on our five to eight hour in-water decompression obligations has certainly changed over the past 11 years since my first Britannic expedition. In 2015 and 2016, Britannic operations had the opportunity to use the Russian Geographical Society Vessel, U-Boat Navigator, which had a diving bell for our operations. The clear acrylic dome provided a space where two fully geared divers could stand and be out of the water from the chest up. The bell had a camera and microphone for real-time conversation and observation of the dive team. The bell also had a hot water system that we used to warm our hands and heads during the long hangs. We could play music through the bell and there were various snacks inside the dry area (Swedish fish was a big hit) that we had not been able to enjoy before.

The team took turns standing out of the water, feeling the tug of gravity, easing jaw aches by leaving the loop out, and taking an air break in the bell. And the rotation of four divers taking turns in the bell also helped wittlle away the hours. We still had an in-water support diver watching the dive team and we practiced and prepared for a possible unconscious diver scenario where we would get the stricken diver in to the bell and out of the water quickly. The bell was a cozy little shack and I think it has ruined me for any future long decompression obligations.”

Photo submitted by Richard Kohler.

Others, particularly cave divers, are convinced that decompression habitats are the ticket. Some of these even have WiFi, which brings a whole new level to updating your Facebook status.

Andy Pitkin, one of the divers on the KUR Twin Dees project, is one of the few divers to have had the luxury of a WiFi habitat. “We try to be as comfortable as possible, and hopefully that involves use of a habitat. We have taken this to quite a level with watching movies on an iPad and even rigging up a wireless access point so we can get internet access down there.”

Twin Dees habichat December 8th 2018 from Andrew Pitkin on Vimeo.

All of these divers are part of a team that is also keeping track of their teammates, the time, the depth, the environment, their gas, and any other factors that could influence their safety while at the same time trying to entertain themselves.

If you do something fun or intriguing during your deco stops that isn’t listed here, let us know at indepth@gue.com.

Header Image by Julian Mühlenhaus.


Amanda White is the editor for InDepth. Her main passion in life is protecting the environment. Whether that means working to minimize her own footprint or working on a broader scale to protect wildlife, the oceans, and other bodies of water. She received her GUE Recreational Level 1 certificate in November 2016 and is ecstatic to begin her scuba diving journey. Amanda was a volunteer for Project Baseline for over a year as the communications lead during Baseline Explorer missions. Now she manages communication between Project Baseline and the public and works as the content and marketing manager for GUE. Amanda holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, with an emphasis in Strategic Communications from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Undergoing PFO Surgery as a Team: Deana & Bert’s Excellent Adventure

People like to give GUE a hard time for their uncompromising focus on team diving. But a pair of divers from GUE Seattle has taken it to a new level: getting their PFOs fixed together. The team that bends together, mends together? Instructor and tech diver James D. Fraser willingly tells the tale.

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by James D. Fraser
Header photo courtesy of Dr. Doug Ebersole

This is the follow-up to the story that ran in InDepth December, 2019: No Fault DCI? The Story of My Wife’s PFO

It has been a year since my wife Deana had a decompression illness (DCI) hit in Bonaire requiring her to do a Table 5 recompression profile in a hyperbaric chamber. At the time of my previous article’s publication, Deana had a Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE) bubble study and found out she did have a small to moderate patent foramen ovale (PFO). Two physicians offered similar options for Deana to consider when it came to her diving activities: 

  • Stop diving, as this eliminates any risk of DCI in the future.  
  • Modify her dive profiles to be more conservative: diving only once per day, diving nitrox 32 using air tables, and/or extending her decompression profiles and safety stops.
  • Have the PFO repaired, knowing it is not a guarantee, and continue diving as conservatively as possible. 

Deana had initially decided to wait on doing a PFO closure until after our daughter’s wedding in March 2020, but she realized very quickly that being “conservative” was not in her nature. Deana had already returned to diving within 12 days of her hyperbaric chamber ride. In the 46 days since her treatment, Deana had already done another 15 dives to depths of 90 feet; being conservative really was proving to not be an option for her. Diving was just too much a part of her life. 

Deana with Dr. Ebersole. Photo by D. Ebersole.

In mid-November, Deana reached out to cardiologist and tech diving instructor Dr. Doug Ebersole for a second opinion on the bubble study and his advice about her options. Dr. Ebersole gave Deana the same response as the other physicians; but, knowing Deana and her passion for diving, he suggested that she have her PFO fixed, since her plan was to continue diving. 

Deana also spent time talking to other divers who had been diagnosed with PFOs—some who had them repaired and some who had decided against it—in order to get a more complete picture from both a patient and a doctor point of view. One of the final conversations that pushed Deana to have her PFO repaired was with a coworker who was a nurse practitioner in cardiology with knowledge of PFOs and diving. Her coworker was pretty blunt, stating, “Why are you playing Russian Roulette? You have worked in cardiac and know the risks.” 

Some of these risks include Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE), Venous Gas Embolism (VGE), and cerebral embolism. That was the final “Aha” moment to tip the scale and get Deana to schedule her PFO repair, since “Russian Roulette” was exactly what Deana was doing based on her diving activities following her DCI hit.

Team Approach to Treatment 

Bert Berzicha, one of our GUE Seattle community members, also completed his TTE as a result of having had some symptoms of DCI in the past. The test confirmed the presence of a large PFO. Deana and Bert compared notes initially and discussed diving as a team on future dives using more conservative decompression profiles than other teams, allowing the other teams to get out of the water sooner. Deana, however, related what she had learned from talking with her coworker and changed her mind about diving conservatively and instead decided to get the PFO repaired. 

Bert and Deana with some of the GUE-Seattle Tech crew. Photo by Bert Berzicha.

Deana did not want to take the risk of neurological deficits that could be irreversible. Deana suggested to Bert that he come with her to have his PFO repaired at the same time. Bert continued to research the subject, looked at his work schedule, and decided doing a “team” procedure made sense. Just as a dive team shares a plan, resources, and emergency procedures, a medical procedure shares similar benefits when working as a team. 

It was time to plan a date for both of them to have the procedure. Deana and Bert both live in the Seattle area. Dr. Ebersole lives in Lakeland, Florida, so logistics included time off work, pre- and post-surgical care, flights, hotels, and transportation. Deana arranged to have her sister Jessica fly into Tampa from Dallas, prior to them arriving, so she could pick them up from the airport to make it to the hospital in time for the procedure. I was going to be in Australia on a business trip at the time, so I was not able to be there pre-surgery. I ended up reworking my return trip and flew from Canberra, AU to San Francisco, then on to Tampa, to land just an hour after their surgeries were finished and meet them back at the hotel. 

Even though Deana and Bert could fly home 24 hours after the procedure, they decided to stay the weekend just in case there were any complications and to take it easy. Deana, however, had a different take on “easy.” The morning after surgery, Deana was invited by Dr. Ebersole to watch a procedure that he and his team perform called the “WATCHMAN” procedure (less than 24 hours after post-op). Then we picked up Bert and Jessica, and jumped into the truck to do a 300-mile, five-hour road trip to High Springs, FL, to take a tour of the Halcyon facility and say “Hi” to Orie Braun, Lauren Fanning, and Mark Messersmith; stop in at Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) HQ to buy some swag; and drive down to Ginnie Springs to see where Cave 1 may take place in Deana’s and my near future. Not bad a day after surgery. 

Deana and Bert after surgery. Photo by James Fraser

It was at Ginnie Springs where Bert came to Deana and stated he thought he had active bleeding. We all paused and turned pale, knowing we were not in a great location for this to be happening, but after being assessed by Deana it turned out to be post-op bruising from the surgery. This did, however, make us stop and think, “We just drove 300 miles away from the hospital we had decided to be close to in case of complications.” I am sure Gareth Lock would find a really good human factors story in there somewhere. 



Deana’s PFO adventure Timeline

2019

  • OCT 8: 47 m/153 ft technical dive resulting in a DCI episode requiring recompression.
  • OCT 20: First dive post-chamber ride to 16 m/52 ft
  • OCT 29: TTE Bubble Study; “Deana has a small to moderate PFO”
  • NOV 17: Dr. Ebersole receives Deana’s TTE study for a second opinion 
  • NOV 21: Deanna dives now to 28 m/90 ft
  • DEC 4: Last dive before PFO repair. In the 46 days since her hyperbaric treatment Deana made 15 dives: “Conservative Not”
  • DEC 12: Deana and Bert have PFO procedure
  • DEC 13: Lakeland to High Springs road trip

2020

  • JAN 27: First dive post closure—15 m/49 ft and spaced dives 2-3 days apart
  • FEB 15: Started doing multiple dives daily no greater 15 m/50 ft
  • MAR 8: PFO follow-up; OFFICIALLY cleared by Dr Ebersole to dive
  • MAY 7: Dives now pushing 30 m/100 ft
  • MAY 31: First Tec dive to 33 m/110 ft 

Since May, Deana has done 120 dives in 2020 with a max depth of 52 m/170ft, which she did on September 12. Deana has gone back to no-restriction diving and has completed 16 technical dives since this summer. Some of these have been assisting with photogrammetry dives.

  • 46 m/150 ft to 52 m/170 ft: 3 dives 
  • 40 m/130 ft to 46 m/150 ft: 5 dives 
  • 30 m/100 ft to 40 m/130 ft: 8 dives 

Getting Personal With PFOs

COVID-19 has prevented us from doing a dive trip this year, which is the one main test we still have yet to do: repeat the scenario that always led to her getting DCI, which was three consecutive days of recreation and tech dives, to see if she experiences any recurrence of DCI symptoms. 2021 will hopefully open up this opportunity, or by that time Deana will already be training for GUE’s Tech 2 course. In either case, Deana and Bert are both very happy to have had their PFOs repaired; both have seen improvements in their health in other areas such as endurance, no longer being easily winded, and, in Bert’s case, less headaches, which he had prior to the PFO closure. 

James, Deana and Bert. Photo courtesy of James Fraser.

To get a PFO repaired is a personal choice, and no one should ever take surgery lightly as it has its own risks. Divers with PFOs need to do their own research and consult an interventional cardiologist, such as Dr. Ebersole, who understands diving. Only then can they make an informed choice based on their own unique situation whether or not a PFO closure is right for them. This article is meant to show the process and outcome of two very experienced and ambitious divers who made the choice to have their PFO repaired and the results of that decision.  

(PFO) Free At Last! Deana after completing her first dive to 52 m/170 ft in Lake Crescent, WA diving the Warren car. Photo by Bert Berzicha

Additional Resources

Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine: The effectiveness of risk mitigation interventions in divers with persistent (patent) foramen ovale  by George Anderson, Douglas Ebersole, Derek Covington and Petar J Denoble. 2019 Jun 30.

Alert DiverPFO Study Update by Petar J Denoble

Alert Diver: Cases studies of divers who had their PFOs closed with transcatheter-applied occluders: Divers with Holes in their Hearts by Petar J Denoble 2010

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James D. Fraser is a GUE Fundamentals and Rec 1/2 Instructor, PADI MSDT, and NAUI Scuba Instructor, and has been diving in the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years. James currently lives in Seattle, WA, with his wife and dive teammate Deana Fraser. As a member of the GUE Seattle Board of Directors, James is able to share his experiences and work with Deana at growing the local diving community sharing their passion with all who are interested. James recently embraced technical diving, becoming certified as a Technical 1 diver with GUE. James and Deana have had opportunities to travel all over the world to experience their passion in amazing places such as Egypt and the Maldives. James currently works as a Cyber Security Director with a Fortune 500 Defense Contractor and has been a residential construction business owner and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). 


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