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April 1998 Vol. 13, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Put in a Chamber by a Jellyfish

from the April, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Within 20 minutes of surfacing from an 18-minute dive to 85 feet, a diver in Indonesia experienced unusual sensations like electrical shocks. Over the next hour, the symptoms extended to involuntary muscle contractions, pins and needles in the hands and feet, and general overall pain and nausea. He was put on oxygen and transported to the hyperbaric facility at Surabaya Naval Hospital.

His dive was routine, with normal ascent and descent rates, although he complained of a minor jellyfish sting. The sting was painful and caused a small welt on his lip, but disappeared when he treated it with vinegar.

At the hyperbaric chamber, he was decompressed to 60 feet and felt better, but the sensation of electrical shock was still present. On ascent to 30 feet all the symptoms returned, so treatment was continued.

Two days after the incident, his diving supervisor, Australian Russ Gately, made the same dive and was stung on his hand and forearm by jellyfish tentacles entangled around a line. In the Journal of the South Pacific Underwater Medical Society, he described the pain as a red hot wire being pressed against the skin. On the surface he used vinegar and the pain and welts disappeared in 30 minutes. Soon, however, he experienced intermittent shocks from my fingers and toes, which progressed to violent muscle spasms, chest pain, visual disturbances, and generally feeling like I had insulted Mike Tyson.

He also was transported to the Naval Hospital, where his treatment consisted of large amounts of intravenous fluids, infused antihistamines, and cortisone injections with pethidine for the pain. Says Gately: Our divers now know that hyperbaric treatment of jellyfish stings is not appropriate. Our first aid kit now contains injectable antihistamine and corticosteroid. The species of jellyfish causing the sting has not been identified.

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