In 1990 I became the victim of an idiot who couldn’t count and who didn’t understand Nitrox decompression tables. The consequences of which, was that I got a rather serious bend, and my diving medical, which was in effect my permit to dive, was revoked for two years.
I had been engaged in an MPI survey on Zuluf gas separation platform GOSP. It was summer, so too bright to carry out MPI during the day.
It was a succession of unfortunate events that led to me suffering the decompression incident.
The weld that I was inspecting was on an X node at 75 feet.
The first part of my dive went without incident. I cleaned the weld and set up the magnetic measuring tape and idents for my datum points.
When all was ready I called for my permanent magnet and the ink bag to be sent down via the work line.
However, when my gear arrived the heavy magnet had become wrapped around the bag, squeezing it empty and useless.
I reported this to the surface, but instead of just taking the bag back up on the downline to refill it, my supervisor ‘Mac’ ordered me back to the surface with the bag to have it refilled.
There is a danger here that I could get overly technical in explaining ‘No Decompression Time’ ‘Nitrox tables ‘and ‘Surface Interval’ but I’m not going to.
In professional diving one must have absolute faith in one’s supervisor, whether or not you like them as a person has nothing to do with it. Your life is in their hands and that is not an over dramatization, if he on the radio gets it wrong, the diver could literally pay with his life.
I didn’t like my supervisor, he was an arse, talked himself up loudly as a ‘hot shot’ hyperbaric welder, and I suspected that he was taking steroids to bulk up during his time offshore.
However he was running the dive, he had the decompression tables and the stopwatch, so while I felt maybe that I had been in the water longer than the ‘no deco’ time, I trusted him.
That was the first of the unfortunate events.
I came up to the surface and tried to hand the bag to the deck diver who met me at the ladder. Unfortunately his glasses were completely fogged over, because of the almost 100% humidity in the heat of a Saudi night at sea, made a wild grab for the bag and pulled the nozzle off.
The bag had to be repaired and refilled while I waited on the dive ladder. I did ask more than once about my surface interval and no decompression time, but he became short-tempered with me and dismissed my reservations.
It seemed to me like an hour that I was standing on the ladder, but was probably something like ten or fifteen minutes. He should have known that I was out of time and not, as he accused me of trying to get out of doing any work. He didn’t like me either.
My protestations were overruled and I was sent back down with the now repaired and refilled bag.
Decompression sickness is insidious and slow. I felt fine and got on with the job, and I saw the most incredible spectacle while I worked.
Before I turned my hat light out to take my readings by blacklight, a Manta Ray gave me an extraordinary exhibition of flying through the members below me, weaving left and right up and down through the forest of steel work, an incredible feat of manoeuvrability as a solo participant, but this one had a small replica of itself mimic and mirror the exact moves of the adult without being in contact with her back.
It was a staggering exhibition of coordinated movement.
I have often wondered since if that was a mother Manta Ray taking junior through his paces.
I don’t know much about Manta Ray behavior, do they tend their young? I still don’t know, but that’s what I saw. Even though the consequences of those unfortunate incidences were quite dark for me, I did get to see something amazing.
I’ll flip quickly through what happened next.
I finished the job and did a decompression stop at 10 feet on the way up and I was back in the chamber at 40 feet within the three minute allowance.
I did a normal decompression for my time and depth, but I should have done an omitted decompression treatment table, because of the time I spent on the surface mid-dive.
There is irony here because the treatment table was not appreciably longer than the normal decompression.
The upshot was, that after a night of fitful sleep, I woke up feeling shit and I was beginning to lose sensation in my lower legs. And so I found myself back in the chamber, then in a TUP (Transfer Under Pressure) module on the back of a pickup truck being driven to Algosaibi’s operations base in Tanajib near the Kuwaiti border, with Martin Peters, one of the few people in the company who actually knew what he was doing, astride the module speaking to me on the telephone.
I was inside a pressurized 8 foot length of 30 inch diameter pipe with bolt on flanges at both ends and a Plexiglas port roughly in line with my eyes, breathing oxygen through bibs.
I had been slid, craned, forklifted and finally strapped down for a drive across the desert.
I knew that if my module lost pressure for any reason, I would be dead, what’s to worry about?
There followed a two-week treatment table, created especially for me by the hyperbaric Centre, Aberdeen. In the Pressurized Habitat, in the warehouse.
It was pretty big compared to the chambers on the boats, but I could not stand up and the air conditioning unit struggled to cope with the Saudi Arabian summer heat, so sweat poured off me; I was skinny going in and like a skeleton coming out.
Mac had done a real number on me, and then attempted to falsify records to exonerate himself, but he was caught and sacked.
Then there was the neurologist in demand every day testing reflexes and sensation et cetera et cetera. Then the decision to send me home to have an MRI scans. Then the nineteen ninety World Cup where are Ireland got to the quarter-finals and I saw the penalty shootout in Dhahran airport, knowing that it was Ireland but not knowing the context. And then there was the huge long line of military vehicles on the highway to Kuwait. Initially I thought it was the Saudis showing off, but a lot of the vehicles had small pennant American flags flying from there their aerials. Ireland kicked their penalties into the quarter-finals of Italia ninety and I watched the buildup for the first Gulf War right there. In both instances not having a clue as to the momentousness of what I was seeing.
Saudi Arabia is a closed country, full of foreign workers from home they withheld news of the outside world.
The only thing on the TV whilst I waited for a decision on my future, was the king whoever, meeting this guy and that guy in his sumptuous palace somewhere. The narration was in Arabic with subtitles in Arabic, accompanied by John Paul Sousa or Monty Python martial marching music.
I arrived home from almost the centre of the Gulf conflict, without having a clue about it and to Ireland in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, incredible!
Two MRI scans confirmed that there were several lesions in my spinal cord and in the occipital lobe of my brain; these lesions are caused by nitrogen bubbles, trapped in the fibers of my spinal-cord, weeks ago when the person that I trusted with my life, messed up.