SCUBA. part 3 – my final dive.

2 02 2011

We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I’ve posted a blog.  Eek.

I left off with me getting the bends.  I had them, they were not fun, and I’m glad to report that my new fancy international health insurance covers scuba related accidents.  Too little too late?  Some might say, especially after reading this next (and final) part of my scuba adventure…

I had decided that the bends incident was a one time thing.  Beginner’s (bad) luck.  I learned my lesson, I would do better next time.  To prove my point, that this was a one time incident, I asked Cynde to go dive with me again at the same place.  Maeda Point is a beautiful area of Okinawa and a great place to dive or even just snorkel if that’s more your style.

It’s always crowded, but once you get in the water, you hardly notice the other divers.  The water is that color of blue and aqua and turquoise that mixes together and you don’t really even know what color it is anymore.

Cynde and I once again suited up and got going.  We decided to dive along the reef wall which is a pretty safe area.  She knew I was nervous after the last time, and I fully appreciated that she was willing to ease up a little bit.  We were diving down to depth, and for whatever insane reason, I decided it wouldn’t be a big deal to go below 60 feet.  Again.  And it wasn’t a big deal until right around 70 feet when it started to feel like my eyes were being sucked out of my head.  I cannot even begin to find the words to explain the feeling in my face, in my sinuses.  I was terrified.  It was a battle to blink and reopen my eyes.  The pressure that was pushing against my eyes was unbelievable and was growing with every inch that we swam deeper into the ocean.  I had been trying to chase Cynde, she was leading our dive, and finally I just stopped knowing she would turn around eventually.  Once again, I was in panic mode – holding my regulator to my mouth, forcing myself to breathe and to keep blinking.  Even after all of these months have gone by, I remember at the time thinking I should try to clear my mask, but could I somehow blind myself by doing that?  Now let’s be real for a moment.  Could I have actually blinded myself?  Doubtful.  But at that point I was scared to mess any part of my equipment.  I can’t imagine the insane fear I would have felt if I had tried to take my mask off or what it would have felt like to have cold saltwater rushing to and burning my eyes.  But imagine if you will, having those kinds of thoughts while being 80 feet underwater.  Somewhere in the madness of these feelings I remembered that we had to do the safety stop this time around so at least I wouldn’t have the bends along with being blind.  I didn’t even bother putting air in my BCD, I just swam myself to the top with one hand on my weight belt (in case I freaked out and needed to throw it off) and one hand on my regulator so I didn’t spit it out.  When we finally broke through the top of the water, I’ve never been so happy to be breathing in fresh air.

Cynde was great through all of this.  I told her I was feeling weird, explained about my eyes and how my sinuses were feeling crazy and she said it was totally fine not to go back under.  She kept saying this is supposed to be fun and I kept thinking, when are we going to get to THAT part of this so called “recreational sport?”  We continued snorkeling around for a little while, seeing beautiful tiny fish, half of their bodies sky blue and the other half neon pink.  We saw a school of angel fish and a few Nemos.  I wasn’t enjoying this at all, none of it, and I decided that that was enough for the day.  We finally went back to shore after what felt like a lifetime and I truly can’t remember ever being so thankful to get out of the water.  I had sinus problems when I was a kid (I’ll mention here I checked “no” to the box that asked that specific question in dive class – the questionnaire that if you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should not scuba dive) and I chalked it up to a mixture of that and the weird weather on Okinawa.  I was going to live to dive another day.

I had to work the night of that fateful dive.  No big deal.  I got home from Maeda, took a shower, ate some lunch, went to work.  Work was fine, went off without a hitch.  Got back to the apartment and Jesse was still awake, I remember he was brushing his teeth.  He was just staring at me from the bathroom.  I thought he was upset with me about something from the way he was looking at me.  He spit out his toothpaste, rinsed his mouth as usual, took another squinted look at me and said, “What the hell’s wrong with your face?” and grabbed it between his hands.  I suppose I should have been offended, it’s not usually smiled upon when your boyfriend asks what’s wrong with your face.  But I figured I already knew what the hell was going to be wrong with it before I ever looked in the mirror.  Hello fear, old friend, welcome back!

Earlier in the day I had talked to Jesse about the dive and how bizarre my eyes and face had felt.  He had told me that that maybe it wasn’t a good idea if I continued diving.  I thought he was being a sweet, overprotective boyfriend, and I reassured him I would be and was completely fine.  I was just having a few strange dives.  I was thinking about our conversation right before I turned to look in the mirror.  I don’t know if it was the lighting in the restaurant or that people were just being nice by not saying anything, but I looked awful.  Tiny freckle sized blood bumps had appeared all over my eyelids and under my eyes.  From a distance, they truly looked like freckles, but up close there was no mistaking it.  Again, Jesse politely said, maybe that’s enough for your diving career huh?  We started googling dive injuries and found some really awful pictures of far more unfortunate people than I.  Here’s a good example.

Looks pretty awesome, right?  This guy had apparently gone so far as to pop the blood vessels inside his eyes, at least I managed not to do that.  I went to bed that night feeling sad and discouraged, scuba diving was NOT supposed to be this much of a buzzkill.  And oh it gets better.

By the time I woke up the next morning, I had what’s known as raccoon eyes, you can imagine what that looked like.  Now added to the blood bumps were bruises all around my eyes and  on my cheeks.  Again, thank goodness, they weren’t so awful that you would think I had gotten into a fight with a butch Marine.  Jesse just shook his head and on his way out the door to work told me, more or less, I should NEVER dive again.  I was finally starting to believe him.  If you’ll remember from my previous blog, our kitchen manager Dana-san had been a rescue and master diver.  He took one look at my face at work the next day and basically repeated what Jesse had already told me.  Stephanie-san!  No more diving, ne?  Hai Dana-san, yes.  No more diving.  He told me in broken English and a little Japanese that I was lucky.  The blood bumps I DID have were a sure sign I was on my way to popping the blood vessels in my eyes.  Can you imagine doing that ever in your life?  Let alone underwater?  Ugh.  Jesse was relieved this hadn’t happened because he was afraid people were going to start thinking he abused me.  Given my clumsiness and my affinity for developing bruises by barely bumping a chair, it was a legitimate concern.   I refused to let him take any pictures of me with the blood bumps and bruises, but here is the one picture I have from my short lived diving adventure :


yes, it's really me under all of that mess.

Needless to say, I haven’t been diving since all of this happened.  I wouldn’t just come out and say I would never dive again, so Jesse and I made a deal.  I promised I wouldn’t go diving while he was away with work.  That way if something serious did happen, at least he would be on island and would be able to know immediately instead of finding out two weeks later in some incredibly underdeveloped country and not being able to do anything about it.  I figured fair enough.  Given that my success rate was now somewhere at 33%, I couldn’t really push the envelope with that one.  And if we’re being honest, I wanted nothing to do with it anymore.  Of course I couldn’t just say that at the time – no way.  I had to be proud and stubborn and a little bit annoyed that my loving boyfriend asked this of me.  But truth be told, I’m glad he made me promise and he really didn’t have to twist my arm to do it.

And here we are again, as spring is fast approaching in Okinawa.  I’m hoping to dive again – someday.  For now though, I’ll stick with the snorkeling and the life vests.  What could possibly go wrong there?  Trust me, if something can, I’ll find out soon enough and you can expect a report back.  Thanks for being patient with my lack of writing.  While you may not care for an explanation, one is coming.  I’m just trying to figure out how to word it without being whiney or obnoxious woe is me.  Love you guys, thanks for keeping up with this.



SCUBA part 2.

8 12 2010

Sooooo, I said I would write this the day after I wrote part 1.  We can all see how that worked out.  By “check back tomorrow” I was REALLY saying, “check back in one month.”  Yikes, sorry friends and family.

Subject at hand: Scuba.  And why I will never do it again.

So I think I only went scuba diving three times after I was certified.  Time number one was fine.  Cynde and I went together kind of as a practice, do we really have this down when we’re on our own or not, run.  And we did.  We put all of our equipment together just fine, we had air, the air was getting to the regulator, we entered the water, dove, no trouble.  Saw a few neat fish, saw a few not so neat sea snakes, done and done.

Time number two.

Before we get going on this particular dive, let me remind and/or tell you about a few things.  I am certified to dive down to 60 feet and 60 feet only.  The reason for this cut off number is that at 60 feet, you can shoot to the top and not do any damage to your body.  At 61 feet, you have to do a three minute safety stop at 15 feet to ensure that your body corrects it’s nitrate levels before you go all the way to the top.  If you don’t do this, you get decompression sickness otherwise known as the bends.  The safety stop is just that.  It’s to ensure that you have made your ascent it a slow and controlled manner.  It’s possible to go up slowly enough that the safety stop isn’t actually 100% necessary but it’s wise to do anyway.

This time around it was me, Cynde, my friend Brooke, and Cynde’s new friend Shawna.  We were all pretty much brand new to this “sport,” so we just decided to play follow the leader.  Cynde was our leader as she had the fancy schmancy new dive computer that told her digitally how much air she had, the depth, and it even beeped at her if she was going to the top too fast or not.  Because it had this beeping mechanism, we didn’t need a safety stop.   Hahaha, brilliant, I know.

At some point during this dive I realized we had been underwater (and deep underwater) for a while and I decided I should check my air levels.  I only had 1100 psi left (out of 3000) and I miiiight have panicked slightly.  Or a lot.  I had to hold my regulator in my mouth so I wouldn’t spit it out.  This is when the realization of man, I am doing something so, so, SO unnatural with this breathing underwater thing.  Now, 1100 psi is a lot.  You use the air much faster the deeper you go and I had myself convinced that I was about to run out.  I started to calm myself down and rationalize that Stephanie, we’re around 60 feet, you’ve got at least 20 minutes worth of air.  Except I didn’t because we weren’t at 60 feet.  We were at 95 feet.  ?!?!?!?!?  When did this happen?!?! How did I not notice?!?!  Back into panic mode.

Now, panic mode isn’t good when you’re scuba diving for a lot of reasons.  My main concern, as we’ve established, was that I was low on air.  Well now being in panic mode, I was breathing very shallow and very fast thus using my ever dwindling air supply at a rapid pace.  I raced my little fins over to Cynde and motioned for her that I needed to go up.  We started our slow ascent by putting a tiny bit of air in our BCDs.  Now here’s where things went from panic mode to actually not a good situation.  Instead of letting air out as I rose towards the top, I continued adding air.  This is bad.  This makes you go to the top faster than you should.  Even a tiny amount of air will expand when you start to rise.  Things compress when you go down, and go back to normal when you come up – even air.  So now, rather than let some of the expanded air out, I’m adding air to the already expanding air that’s shooting me towards the top.  So now I’m panicking about that.  I had so much going on in my head that I didn’t even have time to realize that I was about to pop my head out of the top of the ocean.  And then that’s exactly what I did.  Once I was there I realized I was fine.  I still had about 500 psi and Cynde’s computer had only beeped at us once that we were going to fast.  Other than a quicken heart rate I was okay.

The next night, now about 36 hours post dive, my elbows started hurting.  I didn’t really think anything about it since I used to get tennis elbow when I was into rock climbing.  By the time I got home that night from work, my ankles were swollen and so sore I didn’t want to move.  Then it was my shoulders and my knees, and finally my neck by the time I woke up the next morning.  I still just thought it was from swimming, using muscles that I didn’t normally use.  Silly, silly me.  Do you see where this is going?

Our kitchen manager the next day (now 48 hours post dive) asked me, “Daijobu des ka? ” Which is, “Are you ok?” in Japanese.  I replied with, “Hai hai, I’m just sore, that dive really took it out of me yesterday.”  I explained to him what happened and well, well.  Was I ever in for a surprise.  I forget that Dana-san was a rescue diver for the Japanese government.  He’s so overqualified for dive master and dive instructor it’s ridiculous.  He starting shaking his head and asking me questions.  “How long were you at 95 feet? How many times did you ascend and descend again? How much air did you use? Did you get lightheaded?” I answered these the best I could.  Dana-san grabbed my shoulders and shouted about 4 inches from my face, “You have bends! Bends! Bends!”

Now holy crap.  I have what?!  Ohhhhh yea.  It makes sense.  They did tell us in that class that your major joints ache and that you could have joints that swell as an early sign of the bends.  Oops.  Every hour that night Dana-san made me sit down and let him look at my ankles while I put ice on them.  He just shook his head and laughed at me.  At least he wasn’t saying, “Hospital.  Now.”  like he was before.  Thankfully my ankles started going down and my shoulders stopped hurting.  My elbows had gotten worse, the pain had spread all the way down my arm through my pink finger on both hands, but eventually it all went away too.

Scuba success rate: 50% FAIL.

I said originally there would only be two parts but as you can clearly see, this is going on and on and I still have one more scuba experience that MUST be shared.  Part three, and truly the final part is coming at you TOMORROW.  For real.