Activity Report and Photos
to be a Volunteer Crew Member at the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber
and Photos © Elaine
Jobin with a special contribution © Mark
Tulin, may not be reproduced in part or whole without advanced
I never planned to become a Catalina Hyperbaric
Chamber Crew Member. One day, late in September, I received an an
e-mail from Ross O. that said something like "Hi, Beth and I
are attending the two day class to join the Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber
Crew - do you want to come?" I thought about it for a few seconds,
and, not entirely knowing what was involved said something like "Sure".
It all happened in a "Tin
Foil Hat" moment.
in October, I filled out the registration
form and went to the Mainland
Chamber Crew Training Class at the Aquarium
of the Pacific. I brought a copy of my C and CPR cards, a physician
signed clearance for Hyperbaric exposure, and a $25 check. Karl Huggins,
the Chamber Program Manager, presented two days worth of orientation
lectures, and, a simple decompression problem homework assignment
using a dive table that I'd never seen before (more on that
later, Ross O. helped me with my homework). The following weekend,
Ross, Beth, and I attended the Chamber
Operations Class out at Catalina. We also signed up to do 5 weekends
as "Crew Interns" together.
the first two weekends, I wasn't sure that the Chamber Crew program
was the right move for me. First, I had to consider that the required
30 days on the Island during the "Internship" year would
mean fewer dive trips and less personal time. Next, I was exposed
to massive amounts of new information and associated skills. Daily
training runs are followed by a peer group review, and, skill mastery
check lists that need to be signed by supervisors. I have a demanding
full time "real job" and this was taking on a second demanding
unpaid job. Lastly, I learned that I was expected to become comfortable
using several different dive tables that I had never
seen before (more on that later). It all added up to second thoughts.
stuck it out however, and now I'm about half way through the intensive
first year. I thought that this "Chamber
Day Season" might be a good time to share the experience
with this activity report.
of the people who were in my Mainland Class have been out at the chamber
for a week or more at a time. Several have been there so much, they
have already completed their 30 days and become full crew members.
Many, like myself must do it one weekend at a time, once or twice
a month. What ever way you do it, after a while, the Wrigley USC campus
starts to feel like a second home.
is an apartment in the dormitory complex for the Chamber Crew. I have
the option to stay there, but if there is a vacant dorm room I will
usually pay a small extra fee to get some space of my own, and then
live in both places. The crew quarters consist of a simply furnished
one bedroom apartment. There are two bunk style beds that can accommodate
as many as 8 people. It doesn't matter where you stay, sooner or later
you will experience a famous Wrigley ant
attack. Spare time is often spent netsurfing, watching DVD's or Satellite
TV, playing board and card games, spraying for ants, and cleaning
up to keep the ants at bay. Crew members have brought a variety of
comfort and cooking items from home for communal use. There are all
sorts of kitchen appliances and an outdoor grill. I could eat in the
campus dining hall for a small fee, but, I usually bring my own food
from home. This is what the crew apartment looks like. Occasionally,
I get some work done on my dive
trip reports here.
training runs, I can also hike, kayak, or snorkel. I haven't done
it yet, but sometimes Baywatch will offer boat rides. To SCUBA you
must jump through hoops with the dive safety officer. I haven't done
that yet either. Whatever you do, you must be able to drop everything
and get to the chamber quickly if a dive accident occurs. I find that
I'm always a little on edge when I'm "on crew" because at
any time these guys could show up with work.
during the first 30 days, a lot of time is spent leaning the things
that you need to know to function as a Crew Member. Every day there
is at least one training run with the Chamber. Training runs are done
under the watchful eyes of experienced Crew Members called "shadows"
and a Supervisor. Each day can bring a new mix of volunteers so there
is a lot of effort aimed toward getting everyone standardized into
the same language and practices.
are three crew positions that you must learn: Chamber Operator, Chamber
Recorder, and Patient Tender. Each position has a checklist of start
up and shut down procedures as well as a variety of skills that you
need to practice until they are second nature. The
Chamber Operator is the person responsible for doing all of the things
that make the chamber run. Checking and turning on gas cylinders,
starting compressors, checking oil, draining condensation, and much
more are all on the operators pre dive check list. The operator does
everything required to get the chamber up and running and must be
able to do it in less than 10 minutes. At Catalina, ascending, descending,
and holding steady at depth are all done by this skilled human. One
eye is kept on the controls and the gauges and the other on the chamber
occupants for signs of any difficulty with pressurization. Just as
on a real dive, an ear problem might require a quick stop and possibly
a small ascent to clear. The operator also keeps the chamber occupants
informed of what is going on and relays any necessary information
or instructions. This may sound silly, but for me, learning the "Operator"
position has been intimidating because I'm not used to turning big
valves, and, pushing buttons that create loud noises when things turn
on and off - I'm used to working with smaller, quieter things - to
me, the Chamber is HUGE. I guess that I'm getting used to it though,
recently I even caught myself listening for the "right"
loud noises. As the operator you learn all about the equipment in
these pictures and more.
Chamber Recorder directs and documents the execution of the dive treatment
plan. Carefully timing and documenting chamber movements, lock runs,
oxygen and air periods, and who is at what depth for how long, are
all part of the Recorders job. Chamber Crew, Baywatch, Doctors, etc.
can enter and exit the chamber during a treatment via the lock. The
recorder is the chamber "dive master" who uses all of the
information, and all of the dive tables (more on that later),
to reduce the possibility of a care giver getting bent. There is a
lot to learn to do a good job at this position. With a flurry of chamber
and lock activity, it can get confusing. On a few training runs I've
felt my brain cells start to fry. With time, knowledge, study, and
experience this position is supposed to get easier.
Tender takes the treatment ride with the patient. You do what is needed
to do to help the Baywatch paramedics, the physicians, and most importantly,
the patient. I was a little worried about how I would do as a tender
because some of the treatments go to 165 feet - I'd never been to
165 feet before and I know that on some days I get nitrogen narcosis
in 75 feet of real water. Finally, one day, it was my turn to take
the big ride. I learned that I think more slowly and that I don't
learn new things as well at 165 feet. But....I did manage to get all
of those little blocks in the right holes of the "shape box"
and it was a confidence builder. I experienced the environmental changes
that come with being in a pressurized gas environment. The air "felt"
thick and when I spoke I sounded like a high pitched Donald Duck.
I actually liked my time at 165 feet and all I can say now is "Hey,
Karl, when do I get to go back?". All of the things in the photos,
and more, need to be checked before a patient arrives. Besides getting
take a dive with the patient, one of the really fun things about being
the tender is you don't have to worry about the dive tables
(but, more on that later).
met a lot of new people during my training days. I was there on Christmas
Eve when we roasted Chestnuts on the grill. As we settled in to watch
a movie, the power went out. We munched on Chestnuts by candlelight
and reviewed how to operate the chamber on generator power. We fantasized
about hanging a sign on the chamber door saying "sorry we missed
you, please come again soon" and heading over to Two Harbors
to find some egg nog. But instead, we were there and ready to treat
a dive accident. Over time, there are so many shared experiences -
friendships grow. Mark Tulin, one of the Supervisors who has been
volunteering at the chamber for many many years, was kind enough to
share this view of volunteering from his experienced eyes.
Day/Night Support the Day to Help Insure that the Chamber is
having the chamber without anyone to staff it would probably not
do anyone, other than the chamber, much good. I am sure many of
you have heard stories about our chamber treatments. And some
of what others tell you may actually be true. But they're not
there. They are not the hands involved in the actual treatment.
We are. That's why I thought I'd introduce you to the human element
in the Chamber treatment equation, the Chamber Crew.
only thing the sixty odd (as in count and personality) men and
women comprising the crew have in common is that we are all volunteers.
Most of us are divers, yet some are not. Within our minions we
encompass a full range of ages, beliefs, occupations, and opinions
- especially opinions. Each person has his/her own reason for
coming on crew. For many, it is a chance to give something back
to diving. For others it is a chance to utilize their emergency
training. A few joined after being involved in a dive accident.
Whatever the reason, for at least twelve days a year, they show
up in case they are needed.
home away from home during crew time is apartment 110, a one-bedroom/four
bunk apartment just outside the back door to the cafeteria. The
apartment is equipped with all the comforts of home, including
satellite TV and DVD player. While treatments are our number one
priority, aside from mandatory daily training runs, we are free
to do as we please (hike, dive, swim), as long as we can make
back to the chamber within 20 minutes in case of a call. Part
of being on crew is accepting that you never know when you might
have to drop what you're doing and report for a treatment or to
assist the Baywatch Paramedics with a medivac.
time the crew does become its own version of a family, as joyously
dysfunctional as it may be. We have shared a lot through the years
- marriages (including crew members marrying crew members), divorces,
joys, sorrows, births and deaths. We have a bond that can only
come from shared experiences under some pretty trying circumstances.
While there is the satisfaction that comes from knowing you helped
an injured diver get better, crew time is not without its challenges.
I have witnessed great acts of individual heroism as crew members
step outside of their "comfort zone" to help others,
such as doing CPR while rapidly descending to 165' in the chamber.
I believe every crew member would say they have received much
more from the chamber crew experience than they have given. Too
often in our "normal lives" there is not a direct causal
relationship between our actions and an outcome. This is not so
on chamber crew. If you are over eighteen and want to help us
help make a difference, you are invited to come along for the
you know what I'm doing in my spare time and why there are fewer trip
reports this year, I have a small favor to ask. Please don't ask me
for dive accident details or information about anyone being treated
at the chamber. When people are sick or injured, they have a right
to privacy. When I signed up for this program, I signed a confidentiality
agreement. What brings people to the hyperbaric chamber, who they
are, how they are, etc. is information that stays at the chamber.
As hard as it can be, wait for the official reports - don't pester
your friends and acquaintances who you think "might know something".
Instead, please try and realize that the chamber crew is out there
because they care. If something has gone amiss in the diving community
it affects the crew too. The crew needs a pat on the back and a warm
hug, not 20 questions. What can you do to help a crew member feel
less stressed? That's easy - at least in my case - get them out diving!
need to quit writing and start work on the big dive table Recorder
position homework assignment that I have to complete so that someday
I can become a full crew member. It is one of the program requirements.
I've been putting it off because, well, except for the ones located
in the galley, I hate dive tables. It will take me several
hours, if not days to do a good job, and the experience of working
through it is supposed to make my future life as a Recorder much easier.
of this sounds like something that you might like to do - contact
Huggins and let him know.
to see everyone on Chamber Day. I'll be out at the Chamber, experiencing
the event from the "other side". Please dive safe!