I love to experience life and the world. To many it looks like I am defiant or full of challenge but really it is a zest for the experience. Maybe I have some kinesthesia issues. Recently during a scuba trip on Grand Cayman I was to find myself in a position I have rarely, if ever, found myself in. Near panic.
When you are a child, or young adult, being locked in a dark place is probably the closet to panic you get. The overwhelming fear of the unknown, a confined space, darkness, can usually evoke a pretty good shriek from many people whereupon you are released by teasing siblings or friends from your torment.
In scuba diving many people cannot do it. Whether it’s the water, a bunch of gear on you, breathing apparatus, or something more simple many people I speak with do not have what it takes to submerge themselves.
Being a Floridian I’ve always loved the water. My mother affectionately called me part fish for my comfort and never ending joy I found in pools or the sea. I started diving in 1992 at Seacamp. While I have more skydives than water dives I have always considered diving like riding a bicycle. Once I learned it’s all fairly rote in my memory. Gear assembly and testing, signs, the only thing I have to reference is my dive tables.
Heading to Cayman this year I found myself with a sinus headcold. For the first two days on island I thought my eyes would never stop tearing due to the unwanted pressure in my head. We scrubbed a few dive days to allow this to work itself out. During which time my wife and I took to snorkeling and free diving. Free diving allowed me to test what parts of my head were clogged and not by having to equalize multiple times and varying depths.
On the third day my head felt clear with minimal if any pressure build ups. We decided to make a comfortable dive at [Eden Rock](http://www.edenrockdive.com/). Robin and I were buddies following my father and step-mother down to Devil’s Grotto (a series of little tunnels and such). Like normal I felt comfortable, breathing was zen like, everything felt good. Robin and I stayed down about 55 minutes in total.
We then went to lunch at the [Sunset House](http://www.sunsethouse.com/), calculating our surface interval we prepared for another dive. I wanted to see the Mermaid again and my new dive buddy Beth and I were going to visit the wall at about 60ft. We swam out to our marker with family, submerged, and slowly found our way to the Mermaid standing tall in waters clear to about 50-60ft. Taking pictures of my dad being a hooligan we turned and began to make our way to a sunken deployment craft.
We descended further and I began to swallow what I was thinking was salt water. I began to think there was a light leak in my mask and somehow during breathing I was inhaling water. Diversionary thoughts began to enter my head as this sensation increased over the next few minutes. My mind was starting to echo really stupid thoughts of, ‘Sure would suck to have to emergency ascend’, or ‘How do I breathe again?’. Slowly but surely my mind began to get on a tear as this fluid—drinking—sensation built. My heart began a sympathetic response and began to race.
With Beth in the lead and my father next to me I motioned that I needed to stop. I was starting to hyperventilate at about 45ft and my logical mind could not for the life of it get my emotional self under control. I knew I could breath, I knew the life line of tubes connecting me to my can of air was worthy so I sank to my knees, motioned unease and held my mask and my mouthpiece. I know stupid things happen in the moment so I just sat there with my eyes closed, letting the sine wave of panic pass through me. I motioned that my heart was racing but how it was perceived I can only guess. I was blowing so many bubbles I went from 2400psi to 1700psi in moments.
We split the group up, Beth to go with my step mother Page and I would return to shallower waters to exit with my father. We turned and parted ways. A few minutes later my heart stabilized, the fluid in my throat stopped running, and my logical self retook control of my senses. I communicated with my father and we tooled around for a few minutes more then exited for what would be a short 27m dive.
When I took my mask off I found out I had a nose bleed, my medical father thinks I had sinus rupture and I was swallowing the drainage / blood from the blow out. What an amazing and frightening experience.
When you find yourself in an alien environment, or maybe just out of your situational comfort zone, and your body begins to abreact at something it can’t internalize properly it feeds your emotional mind a lot of dark fodder. The more I try to be my rational, logical, normal self, the more tenuous the feeling of actual control is when a situation is spinning out of your control.
The best thing one can do is stop and hold on. We are a thermodynamic device so inputs will be cyclical and responsive to what is happening. If you can ride out the wave you will probably see yourself safely through to the end but going all out emotional, or reptillian mind, will only cause you harm. Can you imagine if I had bolted to the surface? I would have put myself from a bad situation to worse in heartbeats.
The next best thing you need to do is extract yourself from the situation. Once I regained some function of mind the safest thing for all of us was to abort the dive. With clear instructions and good buddies I was able to make my way back to safer waters and further regain my faculties and composure. Am I disappointed I didn’t get to see the wall this time? Sure. Am I forever happy to have my health and know I can dive another day? Undoubtedly.
The older I get the more I understand that sometimes we have very little control of ourselves. When the amplitude of panic rises you have to be ready to react in safe manners. Whether it’s deploying a canopy, diving the seas, or driving the highway, you have to be ready for any situation and be ready to try and handle it, or escape from it, like a pro.
Here’s to a safe return and a new story to tell.