Until now, only my family knew what was going on while I was stuck in a whole lot of crap in a smelly town of mainland Fiji. Now, I am back in the wonderful land of Oz, kissing the ground, relishing the delightful wonders of finally getting home safely.
So here’s the happenings of the past three months, if I didn’t actually experience it myself, I’d think that all this was made up. I wish.
Early Feb – Such hope & optimism for an enjoyable two week stay in sunny Fiji, living for free in a friends holiday house, swimming, diving, hiking, taking in the sights, basking in the splendour of a tropical island paradise.
Feb 12 – Two days prior to departure – eat some bad Tuna, most of the night is spent with a mass hysteria taking place on the interior of my stomach while all items rush for the exits. Very little etiquette is displayed, much pushing & shoving, however all items successfully accomplish their exit, present and accounted for.
Feb 13 – Moving out of my current apartment in Drummoyne, into a new one when I get back, in the meantime, all my worldly possessions will stay at a friends house for two weeks until I get back.
While moving my heavy latex wet noodle of a bed, I manage to be a complete success at straining a muscle in my back. So there I am, flat on the floor for a couple of hours until movement no longer causes mounds of pain and squealing like a little girl.
Oh the joy, I spend the rest of the day moaning, but not ‘good’ moaning, luckily I have friends who can aid with the stuff transporting to my friends garage. For the second night in a row I get very little sleep, I found one comfortable position hanging upside down, however this was difficult to sustain long enough to fall asleep.
Feb 14 – See the doctor and a physio, my back is in no shape to fly to Fiji, Monday 17th Feb becomes the new departure day. Ah well, no big deal, I spend the weekend resting, getting gradually better, I ate some almonds, they were nice.
Feb 17 – See the physio once more, feeling a little better, still with pain through the spine, shoulders & arms, however… “should clear up over the next couple of days”. No worries, I board, and fly to Sunny Fiji.
That evening… Due to the change in flight schedule, I’m unable to get out to the house that my friends are at, so I check into a little backpacker hostel. At first there’s denial for a brief period, then comes the unavoidable acceptance that I had managed to give myself a case of Decompression Sickness, or ‘the bends’ as it is commonly known. It turns out that diving from the previous Wednesday had given me a mild case, which was masked a little by the pain of throwing my back out. I could tell there was something not right but you just don’t suspect the bloody bends! I’d never experienced this pain in my back and just figured it was all about that, and referring down my arm, as back issues can was my suppose-idge.
Anyway, so then the flight brought the ‘DCS’ symptoms hurriedly to my attention, the pain from my back incident was far outweighed now, outweighed by a beast, a beast with temper, a temper of a harsh nature, a harsh nature that was out to destroy everything in its path, a path to the land of chocolate. OK that’s enough.
DCS as it is commonly known is little bubbles in the blood stream that screw you up in several ways if not treated appropriately and promptly. In extreme cases it can affect people in various ways:
Mild cases of death
The only treatment for this wonderful condition is being placed in a hyperbaric chamber; breathing pure oxygen; and sitting in there for many hours while the pressure in the chamber is taken to a simulated depth of 18 metres before a very slow ascent back to the ‘surface’. This forces the bubbles in the blood stream back into solution. Once a person has gone through this treatment they cannot fly for a minimum of two weeks, and they cannot dive for a minimum of one month. If there are any complications with the treatment, minimum time before flying becomes six weeks, and no diving for six months.
There is a lot of uncertainty with the ‘bends’, much research is still being done, however it varies from case to case. One area of consistency is the very bad impact high altitudes can have.
Now I was quite a mild case at first, however flying to 40,000 feet had aggravated it a bunch, an achy dull pain, and sufficient tingling was present in my left arm, I knew the danger of delayed treatment, every hour counts.
It’s late at night, in a foreign country; don’t know anyone here (my friends house is several hours away), losing feeling in my left side, head spinning, plenty scary, and to understate the situation… not an enjoyable night.
I lie on the crappy bed in the hostel and count the minutes until dawn when I can make some calls & find out how on earth I can get myself out of this. “Where is the nearest hyperbaric chamber? Is this going to affect me permanently? Will it affect my brain? Is it affecting my brain??? Will I have to be helicoptered to another country for the treatment?” (This is the standard practise if no chamber is present in that location).
9am finally hits, make some calls… hooray, there is a treatment facility in Fiji. I spend the next week in and out of the hospital receiving treatment, I won’t go into detail, but to say the least, it was an extremely unpleasant experience. (Especially for someone who’s a tad claustrophobic.)
Each of the medical staff involved are baffled as to why the treatments are not doing the trick, the doctor recommends I stay near the hospital because the road to where I had been staying went over a mountain, and it may have been aggravating the DCS. I later find out that some people can simply become sensitive to altitude, to the point where even driving over high slopes has been found to bring the symptoms back. This becomes very pertinent to me.
Treatment continues, this is me sitting in an extremely small space, no cats being swung around in here, barely room to move, oxygen mask on my face, drip in my arm, simulated depth of 18 metres, full knowledge that 30 minutes is the minimum ‘escape’ time from this tomb, fighting off anxiety, hours & hours. Had some more almonds.
So I remain near the hospital, days later, I feel better. Treatment ends, finally it’s all over, definitely a little worse for wear, shaken, but very happy it’s all over. I can now sit down and wait out my two weeks until I can fly, then get back and rehabilitate. It’s all over! It’s all over! It’s all over! It’s all over! It’s all over?
It’s soooooo not over.
… That’ll do for now, I’ll share the rest of my lovely DCS adventure shortly in part 2.