My dad worked on the Tyne Tunnel from 1963 to 1965, and due to this, often suffered with Caisson’s disease:
1965: FINISHED MINING WORK DUE TO CAISSON'S DISEASE: By Davy Cram.
I used to work in the Howden end of the Tyne Tunnel as a Miner and Eimco Operator, from 1963 to 1965. Con Docherty was my boss. I first became aware of getting the bends (known as ‘the niggles’) late one night after a shift in the tunnel. I found that I could not sleep because of pains in my knees. I got out of bed and walked the floor hoping to exercise the pain away. Some of my workmates had previously told me that such exercise could often take away the pains, but it didn't... the pain got worse. It eventually became unbearable. I got dressed as if ready for work and hobbled to the Ambulance Station, at Ushaw Road, Hebburn, which was just around the corner from where I lived. They were kind enough to take me to the Howdon site of the Tyne Tunnel, via Newcastle, because of course, that route was the only possible way to get to that spot and that was where the only compression/decompression chamber was situated at that time.
After having been recompressed to a pressure somewhat higher than the normal working pressure (which was normal practice) the pains immediately ceased. It took eight hours to finally decompress. It was then time again to start work on the next shift. I was alright for a few more shifts, until probably within a week an almost exact replica of the above occurrence was repeated.
That sequence of events gradually worsened, for it was not long before those niggles started attacking me, even before I managed to arrive home. My usual means of travel was to walk home from work at Howden, via the Jarrow Pedestrian Tunnel, to my home in Neville's Cross Road, in Hebburn - a couple of miles distant. If the pain returned to my knees before I could reach home, I would walk back to the compression chamber on the worksite to spend another eight hours there recompressing and decompressing, thus causing much concern and anxiety for my wife and family at my late return home.
The situation never ever got any better - in fact it got much worse. It got so bad that in the end I was not able to get home at all, spending all of my non-working time in the decompression chamber. I would go to my work in the Tunnel to discover that after finishing a shift, including decompression time, the bends began to take effect within minutes of initial decompression. I would then have to immediately enter the compression chamber for a further eight hours. It got really so bad, that after some weeks of this, it reached the stage where I would need to re-enter the chamber for a further, or third decompression, meaning that I would not even get home at any time during that twenty-four-hour period. I was in effect under compression for the best part of twenty-four hours. There were times when I was under decompression, that whenever it was time to start my usual shift of work, my time in the chamber would be shortened so as to lose no time at work. It meant that I was again working under compression, and so it went on.
When finally, this happened for about seven to ten consecutive days without respite, I was forced to make a complete finish at that job, terminating my employment with Edmund Nuttall.
I still get pains in the knees similar to, but not as severe as, those during those painful times. Since those days because of those pains, I have never been able to kneel.
One of the ambulance drivers whose job it was to take me back to the Tunnel Site, Donald Earle, still remembers the times that he took me there in haste, he also remembers that there was an urgent order out at that time, for all ambulancemen to quickly answer all calls for assistance from any tunnel worker having the bends.