Decompression Sickness - My Experience - What to Learn from It
August 20, 2016

Lesson 1. Do not do strenuous physical activity when you are Nitrogen Saturated.

Lesson 2. Do not dive deeper than any of your previous dives.

Lesson 3. Buy DAN Insurance.

This was a case of a diver staying within his Dive Computer Calculations but still getting bent. Dive calculations are complex and cannot be applied to every person and every condition the same. For this reason, adjustments should be made for your situation and certain rules, such as the two lessons I outlined above, must be followed. I have been scuba diving since 1977 and it is easy to get complacent as the years go by without any mishaps. In the real world, this time is exactly when you should be paying closer attention to details since your body is getting older and less physically fit. It only takes one mishap to ruin your day and in some cases your life. So I am posting this information so that it may help others. Often Diving Accidents go by without good detailed information that others can learn by. I hope that other Divers can learn from my pitfalls.

I am Mark Primo Miller, 56 years old at the time of this writing. I was certified as a Scuba Diver in 1977. I have made countless "Air" dives since then being very active in the sport year after year ( This day's dive profile was not that much different from many previous trips with the exception that I broke my guideline of not diving any deeper than the previous dives conducted that day. This has always been a guidline more than a rule, but after this experience, it has now become a rule for me. What was different, was that I became physically strained immediately after a nitrogen saturation dive. Upon getting in the boat, the crew was anxious to move to the next location and cranked the engine and started hoisting the anchor. I dropped my tank and immediately went up front to pull up the anchor line. I believe this was the main trigger of DCS for me. If you are on a dive boat and notice someone not resting after a saturation dive, please speak up and don't let it happen. Tell them about my experience. I wasn't even thinking, I just went to do what I thought needed to be done. I was used to diving on my own boat where I would have been at the helm and my deck hands would handle the anchor. Now I know to be observant of what my help is doing immediately following their dives.

My initial treatment thus far has involved immediate Oxygen on the boat and then being placed in a hyperbaric container at Gulfport Memorial Hospital and experiencing a simulated 5 hour dive to 60 feet on 100% Oxygen. Every thirty minutes or so, I was asked to breath thru a separate face mask that contained straight air for about 5 minutes, probably to prevent Oxygen Toxicity. The good part of this treatment was that pretty much all the symptomatic pain was relieved very quickly. The hard part was the sleep deprevation inflicted following a long day out in the Sun. Following treatment, my symptoms had vanished. However, if they return, I was told I would have to endure a deeper dive at a chamber in New Orleans. The treatment was essentially the US Navy Table VI Treatment for DCI.

US Navy Table 6 used for treating DCI. Depth is on the vertical (Y) axis. Green is oxygen breathing, blue is air breathing.

I write this on the following day of the incident and may not even be out of the woods yet. But everyone keeps asking for details and it could also be useful for Doctors if I have to undergo more treatment. Currently the arm feels sore but not the previously experienced pain level.

I have downloaded my dive computer and posted the dive profiles below with an explanation of the dives.

Dive Profile #1. The purpose was to replace a Sensor that measures Oxygen, Salinity, and Temperature every 15 minutes. I had been working cooperatively with USM (University of Southern Mississippi) and MGFB (Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks) to help collect this data this past Summer. This was a dive on the Jumbo Barge at MGFB's deepest Fish Haven, FH-7. The bottom here is at 135 feet with the Sensor mounted on the bow at about 116 feet. This was a no-decompression dive.

Dive Profile #2. Following the above work, we went out deeper to hunt Scamp Grouper with Spearguns. We chose this species because our Government keeps closing other species. Our most popular and abundant species of fish, Amberjack, Red Snapper, and Triggerfish, were all closed. Unfortunately, Scamp Grouper inhabit deeper waters. We were diving the Louisiana 34 Cutoff Rigs in block MP243 very close to well known block MP265. This was one of our favorite locations to hunt Scamp Grouper. The water is deep (198 feet) but the structure of the cutoffs rise to about 115 feet. We often don't need to goto the bottom to spear these fish. My dive was successful as I brought up a beautiful Scamp Grouper. This was also a no-decompression dive.

Dive Profile #3. This was a similar dive to #2. I was once again successful and brought up a beautiful Scamp Grouper. This was also a no-decompression dive.

Dive Profile #4. This was the culprit dive. We had decided to drop anchor as we had a large chum bag full of Shrimp Cull we got from a boat on the way out. We dropped the bag down the anchor line and was hoping to attract some Scamp to it. My dive buddies, Bob Brown and Skip Roberts, went first and came up with 2 nice Scamp Grouper. I tended the boat and then dove solo after they completed their dive. Upon arrival I spotted a very large Scamp but could not get a good shot. Realizing the anchor may be hung in the wreck and that there could be a nice fish down there, I bounced down to the bottom and pulled the anchor out of a hang and layed it on top of the structure. I did not want to fight the weight to bring it up. I did not see any fish to shoot and with my computer showing 0 mins no-deco time, I decided to surface. By the time I reached 10 feet, my computer showed that I required a 2 minute Deco at 10. After fulfilling that obligation, I continued an additional 2-3 minutes for safety. Upon boarding the boat, I advised that we probably should get our anchor up before it got hung again. Skip began pulling the Anchor while Bob piloted. Since I knew what the situation was with the anchor, I went up and gave directions as Skip and I got very physical hoisting the line that was obviously hanging structure again. Somewhere into the job I felt pain in my left shoulder. Thinking I had pulled a muscle, I advised Skip to please finish the task which he did. We left that location and proceeded North toward home and State Water Red Snapper. After about a mile or two I realized my shoulder was not a pulled muscle and also noticed pain in my elbow and wrist. I had my buddies stop the boat advising them of my peril and thinking I should decend back into the water. They advised that they had Oxygen on the boat so I immediately started that treatment and the symptoms were significantly retarded. This verified that my problem was indeed DCS. I continued on the Oxygen for much of the ride north.

Dive Profile #5. After running over 40 miles north, we stopped on the Barataria Bay Pogie Boat in FH-13. I had recently replaced a flag there and wanted to see it and at the same time see if a shallow dive and some extra deco time would help my problem. I descended to the flag and then took a peek inside the wheelhouse. I was distracted some by a half dozen lionfish having a party in there and then proceeded up to spend time betwen 30 and 5 feet. My symptoms vanished and I boarded the boat claiming I was cured. However over the next few hours, the symptoms returned. Upon arriving at the dock, I began seeking advise and eventually visited Gulport Memorial Hospital for Hyperbaric Treatment.

August 23, 2016 Morning Update
One of the interesting things I noted from my experience was that there were no tests performed to verify DCS or to determine the severity of my condition. Everything was based on my description of symptoms. So I began to be very cautious about what I said about my pain and symptoms, but I did try to be accurate. Symptoms that pushed me into a more serious condition were things like my arm feeling heavy or having vertigo or similar sensations. I did not deny those symptoms I felt but I was careful not to emphasize them to push me into radical treatment. This may not be the best thing but I am just being honest. I felt much better after a discussion with my Doctor late Sunday and he assured me that my condition was no longer life threatening but more about rehabilitation and recovery. Being self-employed, I was concerned about costs and lost work time, causing me to resist going to New Orleans for further treatment. I was offered further treatments at the Gulfport Chamber and even scheduled one for Monday. However I cancelled that appointment when I woke up Monday because I was feeling much better. As the morning progressed, some of my symptoms returned and I began reaching out to other local solutions, like freinds with a diving business that had recompression chambers. Then I decided to go get a professional massage performed with emphasis on my afflicted left arm. I did not read anywhere about trying this, but it just seemed appropriate. The arm was sore and had pain and just seemed like it needed that to get circulation going again. I think it was a great idea and I left the 90 minute session feeling really well. I was worried that the symptoms would come back but they didn't. After another good nights rest, I really feel about 99% recovered. I don't think I require anymore treatments at all.

For those interested in who I consulted for treatment, Dr. Jairo Ulloa at Gulfport Memorical was my immediate care giver. He consulted with Dr. Keith Van Meter in New Orleans. Of course, I did some research online about my condition and I am providing some links below that I think were helpful to me and may be helpful to others.

Treatment Link by Keith Van Meter HBOT.COM

Good Write-Up on DCS or DCI

August 23, 2016 Evening Update
Facebook was busy today with people checking out this post. Some of them bashed me hard, others thanked me for sharing. I do want to make it clear that I share this to help us all become better divers and to learn from it. My thinking is now shifting from all this feedback. I have bad diving habits. I learned my diving back in 1977 using tables. There were no computers. I was taught that you ascend rather quickly to your deco stops so you can begin to offgas. Now it appears the trend is to start half way up and be very gradual. I get it now. Also, there are no requirements for refresher courses or taking advanced classes. I would always become frustrated when I traveled abroad and wanted to do an advanced dive only to be told they would not take me without advanced certifications. I would say, "I've been diving for 39 years and not just occasionally! Check my youtube channel!". Now I understand this mentality better. Experience doesn't make you a safe diver. I have been lucky for quite a while it looks like.

I would especially like to thank Barry Shively from Pensacola who is a dive intructor and dive master. He ran an analysis of my dives and used software that shows I was headed for trouble. He used what data I had on this post and generated this report. It shows my decompression dives are not nearly long enough. Just listening to your computer is not enough. We all need to learn good diving habits to go with them. While I am still firm on my theory of it being triggered by the anchor pulling, I was diving precariously close to deadly saturation. I will be changing my diving habits and hope that others spend some time to learn from this as well.

Barry's Analysis Report

August 25, 2016 Update
Only some barely noticeable pain in the top left shoulder and elbow. Strength in the arm has mostly returned. Some small numbness moved toward the back left shoulder blade. Recovery seems to be progressing well. Some questions on Facebook about increased risk with age prompted this link from my brother David. Good Read.

Ascent rate, age, maximal oxygen uptake, adiposity, and circulating venous bubbles after diving

August 30, 2016 Update
I feel completely recovered now. Ready to get back in the water soon. Click here for the Gallery of our Trip. I also posted the videos at the bottom of this page.

September 14, 2016 Update
This will probably be my last update on this page. I made my first dives after the DCS incident on September 4, 2016 (15 days after). They were shallow dives, the first one being only 30 feet, the deepest about 60 feet. I spent extra time at my safety stops. Everything went very well. I believe I am recovered now.

Here is the Topside Video of our trip.

Here is Dive #1 of 5 on the Jumbo Barge in FH-7 to exchange the USM Recording Sensor.

Here is Dive#2 of 5 on a Cutoff Platform Spearing Scamp #1

Here is Dive#3 of 5 on a Cutoff Platform Spearing Scamp #2

Here is Dive#4 of 5 on a Cutoff Platform hunting Scamp, bouncing the bottom, and getting the DCS Hit afterward

Here is Dive#5 of 5 on the Barataria Bay getting in water recompression. This is highly discouraged in the Diving Community.

Mark Primo Miller, P.E.