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Saturday, 21 September 2019
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Trip to the Pot - Defizzing fun at Whipps Cross Print

The recompression Chamber
The recompression
Chamber at Whipps Cross

Emegency numbers:
Duty doctor: 07736 898066
Duty Supervisor: 07740 251635

Have you ever been to the pot? Most of you probably haven't, and that's just as well. Nevertheless, it helps to know what the thing has in store for us should we ever be so unlucky to need it. So that's was why Nick organised a trip to London Hyperbaric Medicine at Whipps Cross University Hospital. They run a PADI "Recompression Chamber Awareness Course", which includes a 'dive' in the pot to 40m and a talk on DCI causes and treatment.

Like most of our outings, this meant meeting at the shed on a Sunday morning at some ungodly hour. The drive up to Whipps Cross took us about an hour, so not too long, and it was worth the drive: When we arrived, we were given a very friendly welcome by the team Danny Wright and Steve McKenna, the Hyperbaric Supervisors, Elizabeth Hales, the Nurse and Chamber Attendant who would go 'diving' with us, and Dr Karen Richardson, the Hyperbaric Physician for the day, who would give us a medical briefing.

Getting ready
Jenny, Ralph, Femke, Nick, and Mark
are getting ready

Once we all had finished our teas and biscuits, it was time to sign the medical declarations and get changed for the trip in the pot. Since they administer oxygen as decompression gas, everything one wears in the pot has to be made of non-inflammable cotton and it does make you look like a bunch of surgeons from telly!

Blood pressure tested
Nick, getting his blood
pressure tested

With the proper kit donned, we got our medical briefing from Karen, and the ones of us who were taking prescription medication had to get their blood pressure tested. Then, all of us were ready to go. The computers went into a bucket full of water, and then it was time to start.

Liz, the nurse accompanying us on our trip, explained that in the beginning, when the pressure increases, it would get very hot, and on the ascent we'd get the reverse effect a proper chill. Also, we should equalise our ears much more frequently than under real water. Then the adventure started a big humming sound from the compressor, a swiftly increasing pressure on the ear drums, and everybody starting to feel really hot a bit like in a jungle full of buzzing birds the humidity on the descent is 80%.

You are carefully monitored
You are carefully monitored
while in the pot

When we arrived at 40 m/5 bar, Liz made us stand up to see if we felt any signs of Nitrogen Narcosis and yes we did! While Nick bluntly refused to get up, Femke and Mark made a brave attempt at adult communication, while usually sober Ralph and Jenny traipsed around giggling their heads off at the funny sounds of our voices they got distorted by the pressure. To sum up the experience: It was amazingly similar to being in the pub on a Friday night at half nine, when everybody had had a drink or two and people are getting jolly: We weren't too dizzy yet, but definitely not our usual selves. I felt like having had 2 glasses of champagne on en empty stomach very pleasant, but you want to watch it when you're down at 40 meters.

From the outside
The pot from outside. On the top left you can see the monitor for the inside of the chamber

Then we started the ascent. Just as we had been warned it would, it got very chilly. The decreasing pressure had quite a sobering effect it was as if you could switch off tipsiness. At 10m, we did a deco stop, breathing pure oxygen, and then it was time to get out and share the experience with the team outside.

The thing that most impressed us was the swift onset of narcosis, and the equally swift end to the effect.

From the outside
Comparing the computer readings

Now it was time for the second part of the course, a presentation by Danny on the causes and effects of DCI. Danny is a former Royal Navy diver, a very experienced paramedic and a diving instructor, and has been working as recompression chamber supervisor for many years. So while we were nibbling sandwiches and crackers from the canteen, Danny dished up some stories of incidents you would not believe if it wasn't for him telling you. And while we were listening in rapt silence to what in some cases did happen when safety precautions had been ignored, this gave the team the opportunity to monitor us after our trip in the pot, just to make sure we were all right.

Smiling sharks
Smiling sharks

After the presentation, we went back to the chamber and had our documents signed while Danny and the team showed us the various parts of the recompression chamber facility. Since it's a German make A Draeger Hypermed 220 all the labels and the computer programmes it works with are in German. On the chamber itself, the team have attached labels in English below the originals, but the programmes they have to use are German only I was well impressed. :)

another shark

Anyway, the most important parts of the facility are the rubber shark and his friends, the purple octopus, and the clownfish. The team use them to tease the people in the pot while they are doing their dry dive.

Compressor instructions

When all our documents were signed, and we had given our heartfelt thanks to Danny and his team for a great experience, we headed back to Guildford and the Waterside Centre. And guess what we found in one of the sheds the builders were just about to take down? Some very ancient Compressor Operating Instructions!

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