On our recent trip to Cozumel I had an interesting experience. On our second day of diving I had an issue with my regulator. The regulator, which consists of multiple parts, is what enables you to breathe underwater. Pretty important.
First a little background.
Up until a few years ago I had never gotten sea sick, but it seems that once I started diving, smaller boats seem to make me a little nauseous. Specifically during surface intervals (SI) (the time on the surface between dives to allow an excess nitrogen release from your body). SI’s are generally spent sitting on a boat or on the way to the next dive site which can be brutal. I’ve spent a few feeding the fish. I’ve tried everything, ginger pills, bonine, etc. but this time I had a prescription for the motion sickness patch you put behind your ear. I got the prescription last summer and tried the patch a few days while at home to make sure it didn’t have any weird effect and it seemed fine. The first day diving in Cozumel I was fine without the patch, the sea was calm and the boat we were on was fairly large. The second day was calling for choppy seas so the night before I put the patch on. In the middle of the night I woke up a little dizzy, the patch was making me feel a little disoriented and nauseous. I know… isn’t it suppose to prevent that? Being a recovered alcoholic, I’m really, really, really careful about taking any medication and never take anything that makes me feel “different.” I don’t like feeling different, I like having a clear head and connected spiritually. So when I woke up a little disoriented I immediately took the patch off.
Upon waking to go diving around 7:30 a.m., I was still a little “off” but after breakfast and a little coffee I was fine. We got on the boat and headed out to the first dive which was scheduled for around 80ft. When traveling, the only SCUBA equipment we bring are our wetsuits, fins, and masks. We rent the rest (BCD and regulators), tanks and weights are always included as part of the dive packages. So basically we rent the most crucial part of breathing under water, the regulator. This is fairly common since carrying all this stuff while traveling can be a pain and most dive shops are good about changing out their equipment and have them serviced regularly. Once on the dive boat, you connect all your gear, turn on your air, put the regulator in your mouth and make sure you can get air out of it. That’s about all you really know at this point about your regulator, that air does come out of it.
For some reason on this trip I decided to wear a 5mm full wetsuit, which is pretty thick for tropical waters, but I don’t like getting cold. The thicker and newer the wetsuit, the more positively buoyant you are thus the more weight you need to descend. I was pretty sure I had enough weight (18 lbs), which worked the day before. So… I (along with the other 6 divers and my wife) get all our gear on and giant stride of the back of the boat into the ocean one after another like penguins. Everyone begins to descend as I’m clearing out and refitting my mask. I release the air from my BC and begin to descend… maybe. I’m not descending as quickly as usual… maybe I don’t have enough weight. No big deal, I’ll just invert a little and kick my way down. As I begin to invert and get farther submerged I notice my regulator isn’t breathing that easily, actually it feels as if there’s a kink in it. I breath a little harder and continue to invert and start kicking. As I do, being almost upside down causes some water to come into my regulator and I sort of choke on it.
OK, this totally freaks me out and I immediately surface. Meanwhile all the other divers are now at about 15 – 20 feet while the dive master (DM) is hanging out to make sure I’m OK. On the surface I explain that my regulator is breathing “funny” as I’m coughing and switching over to my octopus (secondary air source). I’m sort of embarrassed. The DM says OK and begins to descend down to catch up with the other divers. Still coughing I look over at the dive boat floating about 30 feet away as the captain stairs down at me from a rocking boat and asks if everything is OK. I say or motion something like, “I’m not sure.” I think about getting back on the boat and calling it quits. I’m also thinking I feel a little disoriented because of the patch but I’m not sure. I realize that if I do get sick, I’ll be sitting on the boat for the next 45 minutes while the other divers finish their dive. That doesn’t sound attractive either. I’ve learned from experience, that the sooner you get submerged and relax the sickness and nausea will usually go away. All this is going through my head as I reposition my mask and test breathing out of my octopus. Seems to be breathing OK… let’s try this again.
This time I ascend using my octopus as my primary air source and hold onto it with my hand as I invert and begin kicking. My breathing is quickening as the anxiety is still in my head and I’m questioning whether or not I can do this. I’m still close enough to the surface and every part of my body is saying, “Go up, not down!” Besides freaking out, I’m beating myself up for freaking out, I can do this! I remind myself that I have air, everything is alright, just keep kicking. The farther I get from the surface the more I realize that if I get past a certain depth, there’s no going back. I look at my dive computer, 20 feet… keep breathing.
What is it… the NDL (No Decompression Limit)? OH yeah, well since this is my first dive of the day, 60 feet is the maximum no decompression depth I can get to and still do an emergency ascent without exploding my lungs… at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I should have refreshed my dive knowledge on the plane down here. I see my wife with her fingers in the OK sign, asking me if I’m OK. I sign back, “I’m OK” although I’m only partly sure. This dive is to a maximum of 80 feet so I know I’ll be past 60 feet for a while. I look at my dive watch, 45 feet. I can see all the other divers now towards the bottom and what a beautiful view.
God the ocean is so beautiful. Oh yeah, I’m 50 feet underwater and I’m breathing. That’s right, I’m breathing. I have air coming through this hose and into my lungs. I check my air gauge, 2800 PSI, I have plenty of air. I can breath and wow, look at all the fish. 60 feet and the current is starting to take me and I’m catching up to the other divers. I reach my right hand back behind my right hip and feel for the air dump that’s usually found on most BCD’s. Ahh, there it is; I pull it hard to make sure I’ve gotten all the air out of my BCD to help me continue descending. I still have the regulator in my hand holding it firm in my mouth. I think about maybe switching back to my primary and run through the procedure in my mind; take a breath, pull the octopus out of my mouth remembering to slowly blow bubbles while switching regulators (you never hold your breathe while diving, you’re lungs can expand and it’s not good), put the primary in my mouth, purge it, exhale any air left in my lungs and breathe. Wait… this one has air and I’m doing fine, you might inhale some water and you’re just now recovering from freak mode. Leave it alone.
Once I reached about 75 feet and stabilized my buoyancy I began to relax. I knew I was down here for the long-haul now and needed to get a control on my breathing to conserve air. I’m an air-head anyway and am sure my anxiousness used up more than usual on the descent. I don’t want to be the first one low on air, again. So I relax and tell myself I’m OK, that I have air (2500 PSI), and to just breathe normally and let the current do the work. God this is beautiful. I have air, I’m OK.
The dive ended fine and I didn’t have any issues the rest of the week.
Many times in my life I go back to the first days of recovery and remind myself that in any given moment, everything is OK. When life get’s crazy or seemingly too much to handle, sometimes all I can do is stop and remind myself to breathe. I have air and everything is OK. That right now, in this moment, everything is fine.
Although I’m thinking about purchasing my own regulator.