Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Under Pressure: Decompression Chambers

I have to admit, decompression sickness and hyperbaric medicine are two things I know very little about. They are both complex subjects, so I'm very thankful - and grateful - for the doctors who are able to utilize pressurized chambers and oxygen, a gas that we all breathe every single day, to save lives.

Decompression sickness (DCS) is a very serious issue for our sport. Originally coined 'caissons' disease' in the 19th century, it was first discovered in bridge construction workers who experienced joint pain upon returning from working in pressurized enclosures (caissons) at the bottom of rivers and lakes. Today it is commonly referred to as "the bends."

Here at the History of Diving Museum, we have two decompression chambers. The one below is located just outside our building and dates to the 1960's. It features a very simple cylindrical design and two view ports to observe the patient.

It is considered roomy compared to the collapsible chamber located inside our "Abyss" exhibit. This is an extremely rare chamber made by the German company, Drager. Its telescopic quality allows it to fit inside a small box and expand quickly for emergency situations aboard a ship. It also features two view ports for observation.

If you are interested in learning more about how hyperbaric chambers are used to treat the bends and other ailments, join us at the Museum on Wednesday, December 21st at 7pm. Dennis Holstein, Program Director for Hyperbaric Medicine and Would Care Departments at Mariners Hospital, will present a free program, "Hyperbaric Medicine: It's Not Just for Divers."

Manager of Collections and Administration
All photos courtesy of the History of Diving Museum