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August 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Got a Medical Emergency? Call DAN Again and Again

from the August, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Most divers know if they have a medical emergency on a dive trip, the first call should be to Divers’ Alert Network. But one phone call may not suffice, especially in a remote area. You may have to call DAN multiple times to get help.

This point is illustrated in a letter from Undercurrent reader Judith Paulding (Port Washington, NY). She was finishing the first dive of her Bahamas trip with Blackbeard’s Cruises in late April when a male passenger suddenly collapsed. The crew called DAN and was told that transport to a chamber was needed. They ran the boat to Bimini and placed the man in the local clinic, but he was convulsing and going in and out of consciousness.

“We were told LifeNet would transfer, but then we were told it had to transport another diver first,” says Paulding. The crew called the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami, but they declined to get involved. “We were tied up at the dock at Bimini all day, but it took eight hours to get transport, and this is in an area with a lot of dive boats.”

DAN went through the proper procedures, says Joel Dovenbarger, vice-president of medical services. “Our medical department received one call from a person who was at the scene. We got a history of the case and agreed with their plan to take the patient to the clinic, and call the Coast Guard to evacuate the diver to the hospital. We asked that they call us back if there were problems.”

Following its protocol, DAN arranged for the diver to be accepted at the hospital and spoke with its attending hyperbaric physician. “I’m unsure who called for the commercial evacuation, but DAN was never contacted again,” says Dovenbarger. He checked with DAN TravelAssist, but it had no record of the case because it didn’t manage the evacuation. “Then I spoke with LifeNet and they couldn’t tell me who ordered the evacuation or any problems associated with it. When we are involved in a case and ask for an air evacuation, it is billed directly to DAN TravelAssist, but LifeNet had no information on that so it sent the bill directly to the diver.”

Dovenbarger talked to the diver’s wife, who also didn’t know who called LifeNet but believed most of the communication was via radio. “We could have moved faster but we were not involved except for a single phone call. No one called to ask for additional assistance once it became clear things weren’t going to work out.”

Lesson learned: DAN members shouldn’t hesitate to call if things aren’t moving fast enough, and they should make sure the air ambulance and hospital are also speaking to DAN. In this situation, one call was not enough because details may have been overblown or underemphasized as more parties got involved. That diver recovered but in the case of many diver maladies, particularly decompression sickness, any delay can complicate problems severely. Don’t hesitate to keep pushing. DAN should be your main contact, and it doesn’t mind multiple calls -- three people are always on call for medical emergencies, and DAN TravelAssist also offers 24-hour service call coverage.

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