“While DCS is commonly thought of as a bubble disease, bubbles are probably only the gateway to a complex array of consequences and effects.”
While the guidance provided by decompression models can be very useful, it is important for divers to keep in mind that dive schedules — whether they are presented in printed tables or on the screen of a dive computer — are limited in what they measure and in the assumptions upon which the model was constructed. Tissue compartment parameters can be adjusted, or new compartments can be added to an algorithm, if experience shows deficiencies in a given model — but in real time, the calculations are limited by the variables that are being processed. Algorithms can estimate limits based on time and pressure (depth) profiles for a given breathing gas, but they are not able to compute the impact of myriad real-time factors, including thermal status, exercise intensity, joint forces and a host of individual predispositions that are currently not well understood, let alone quantifiable in their impact on decompression stress.
Divers are often surprised when symptoms of DCS develop after dives that were conducted within the limits of their dive computers. It is important to remember, though, that while mathematical models predict outcomes, they do not guarantee them. The fact that a dive was conducted within the limits suggested by a dive computer (or a dive table) does not make a DCS hit "undeserved." The mathematical algorithms provide guidance that must be evaluated and tempered by a thoughtful diver.
Many divers are also unaware of the fact that dive computers make use of many different mathematical models, or versions of different models; there is no universal standard. A single manufacturer may even use more than one model, possibly in a single type of computer. This makes it extremely difficult to assess the nuances of every system.