Sheephaven Under Pressure

Dec 27 2013 Posted by Office Administraton

2013-11-30 Under Pressure, Sheephaven SAC in Galway Hyperbaric ChamberSheephaven SAC had a different type of diving experience last weekend when we went to Galway to be the guests of Galway SAC in their first open day for the diving community in the new University College Hospital Galway Hyperbaric Chamber.

On arrival in UCH Galway we met John Sheahan along with his team of chamber operators and attendants at the site of the old Chamber. Here we were given the opportunity to see for ourselves what was previously available to divers who had been the victims of diving related illnesses. While it was undoubtedly a life saver it was very basic and a few years ago it was updated with a brand new state of the art Hyperbaric Chamber which John then took us too.

The new Chamber is situated in a purpose built suite in the main hospital building and is operated under the highest medical operating standards that would be expected in such a setting. The system is entirely controlled by advanced computer programmes that provide the optimum recompression conditions, along with backup systems to provide the highest level of redundancy in the event of malfunction.

The dive party was divided into two groups who were then instructed to change into the medical scrubs provided by the hospital. The GSAC personnel on site made sure that all in the Chamber were active divers – 3 green CFT ticks – and then made sure that we did not bring any product or item that might start or sustain a fire in the oxygen enriched atmosphere of the Chamber or its surroundings.

Once inside the Chamber the divers were compressed to 5 bar, a pressure similar to a depth of 40 metres and in doing so experienced the climatic conditions in the Chamber that occurs in such a situation. In contrast to a 40 metre dive in the water the inward rush of the compressed air into the Chamber was very noisy and initially totally dominated the senses.

Another obvious difference to a normal dive was how hot it got inside the Chamber as the compression increased, a product of dive physics – that is a pressure increases so too does temperature. Ordinarily the Chamber automatically compensates for this, but especially for us on the day the Climatic Control was turned off. However the most significant physiological change at the commencement of the dive was to the ears, with the Chamber being much more severe than a normal dive.

Under normal diving conditions the compression effects of nitrogen in the body cause nitrogen narcosis, or the narks. In the Chamber these effects were much more pronounced and very quickly the euphoria that Jacque Cousteau called the Rapture of the Deep took hold and everyone burst into a fit of giggles. Then when we got to 40 metres the pressure on our vocals cords produced the famous Donald Duck voices and the giggles developed into outright laughter for everyone in the chamber, albeit a very squeaky type of laughter.

We were allowed to bring in our dive computers, safely contained in a bucket of water and at 40 metres we able to compare their accuracy at depth. Then we began our ascent at no greater than 10 metres per minute until we got to the 3 metre mark where we conducted the mandatory CFT 3 minute safety stop. During our ascent the climatic conditions that we had experienced earlier were reversed, the air got cold and damp as the pressure reduced and the inflated  balloons that that we had  taken to 40 metres, which had shrunk away to a fraction of their original size due to the 5 bar pressure, began to re-inflate to their original size.

When we re-surfaced Dr Pauline Whyte, a Consultant Anaesthetist in UCH Galway and Co-Director of the Chamber provided us with a 30 minute lecture, where she explained the causes and effects of baratrauma along with a very interesting case study of a dive incident in New Zealand in 2000. In addition to treating diving related illnesses we were told that the Chamber is also used for 14 other medical conditions which benefit from oxygen enriched conditions, such as the treatment of gas gangrene. The purpose of the lecture was to both inform the divers present and also to give Dr Whyte the opportunity to monitor us closely before we left the care of the UHG Hyperbaric Chamber.

Throughout the day John Sheadan was assisted by GSAC Chamber Attendants Thomas Moore, Martin O’ Halloran, Kieran Flynn and Oisin Osborne, while the GSAC Chamber Operators were Tom Moore and Paul Foley, also in attendance was Jose Fabino UCH Galway Maintenance Department who was involved in the dive. To all of these and to Dr Whyte we send our very warmest appreciation for a wonderful experience and one that we would highly recommend to any diver.

From the Hyperbaric Chamber we went to the Cancer Care West lodge, Inis Aoibhinn, which is very close by and presented a cheque of €1,000 to Richard Flaherty and David O Donnell on behalf of Sheephaven SAC. This is to assist in the fundraising of the charity as it continues to give support to anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis and in particular provides accommodation to patients from Co. Donegal free of charge, while they receive their cancer treatment in Galway.

The money was raised in August when we conducted our annual John Mc Garvey Fin Swim from Burtonport to Arranmore and the club generously agreed to give a substantial portion of this as a donation to Cancer Care West when we were down there on Saturday.