The Rash

by

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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I was diving at a local quarry with a group of basic students on a hot, humid, summer day.. It was our second day of training. The owner of the facility came over to me and asked me if I would be willing to talk to an obviously agitated young diver. I agreed, but made it perfectly clear to everyone involved that I was a biochemist, not a  physician.

The young lady (a college freshman) was on her first weekend of diving. On returning home Saturday night, she noticed a red rash all over her body, Along with the rash was a persistent itch. Although she showed up on Sunday morning (having paid for equipment and the checkout, she was afraid she would  forfeit the fees paid), this student was concerned about more diving. The student and her instructor felt that she might have a case of the skin bends. The facility owner was then brought into the scenario and he suggested the girl and instructor talk privately with me.

It turns out the girl had done 2 dives on Saturday, to a max depth of about 24 feet with a 2-dive total of approximately 44 minutes of bottom time. No alcohol or drugs were involved. She clearly had a most pronounced red rash over most of her body which was still itching, especially under her bathing suit. Her concerns about the rash and "being bent" were clearly provoking a significant anxiety, even though her instructor had told her the bends was nothing to worry about. She was the only person in that group of divers showing the red, itchy skin.

I explained to her that skin bends, particularly in the chest region, was most often seen in dry chamber dives and that her limited time/depth profile suggested something other than the bends as the culprit. I told her the itching rash seemed more like a systemic reaction or allergic response to some environmental factor ... such as insect bites or stings, poison ivy or poison sumac, or chemicals in the water. She could not remember any obvious bites, stings, or brushes with poisonous plants. I also told her her that some folks had an allergy to chemical agents used in synthetic rubber and, perhaps, there was something in her suit that was responsible for an allergic reaction. Since I saw no rash on her hands or face, it seemed to me that the most likely problem was associated with direct skin contact with her wet suit. I suggested that if she wanted to continue diving, perhaps a layer of clothing between her and the wet suit would be beneficial.

About this time, the instructor's face turned beet red. I asked him what was the matter. He then meekly said that last week, some one had urinated (apparently rather abundantly) into the wet suit the girl had been wearing and he had been too busy to clean any of the rental wet suits. 

The young lady's demeanor rapidly changed from :"anxious"  to "pissed!"  (pun intended!)

The points are:  

1. Lack of instructor knowledge at some point in time becomes most apparent and costs the instructor the respect of the students. Loss of respect is often associated with lack of return business.

2. If you do NOT know something, say so, do NOT make up information. No one can know everything about all topics and the mark of a true professional is the ability to say "I don't know (but will find out for you)."

3. Never dismiss or demean a student's concern.

and, of course, the obvious:

4. After a day of diving, properly clean and dry all diving  equipment.  Wet suits should be rinsed and hung up to dry ... storing rental suits in a wet pile, during hot, humid weather, filled with body fluids is not the method of choice.

5.  Providing shabby equipment is NOT endearing  and will most definitely have a negative impact on future interactions with your clientele.

Addendum:

Over the years, I have seen (in my students or others) rental gear furnished in a truly dismal state. This has included regulators with frayed hoses, missing or improperly installed exhaust valves and octopus regulators that simply would not deliver air. I have also seen  b.c.'s with defective or missing over-inflation components and a few that simply would not hold air. In addition, I have seen weight belts with a non-functioning buckle, belts too-frayed to easily fit into the buckle and all-too-often grossly over-weighted. My "favorite" weight belt student abuse incident was when a student had been given a belt with 3 10 pound weights on it (this for a 5'2" 100 pound diver!).  I consider giving a student equipment with defective life-support products to be absolutely unacceptable because it places students and every one on the dive site into a potential life-threatening scenario.  I maintain that b.c's should hold air and regulators should deliver breathing gas! I also believe that thermal protection garments should be clean, free from odor,  intact,  fit properly, and be appropriate for the environment. 

I would like to add that, fortunately, not everyone rents poorly maintained gear. But, those who have put my students at unacceptable risk, never get return business. 

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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

  Copyright 2001-2022 by Larry "Harris" Taylor

All rights reserved.

Use of these articles for personal or organizational profit is specifically denied.

These articles may be used for not-for-profit diving education