Getting better (scuba rescues)

If I like doing something, I like getting better at it. In fact, I probably won’t like it for long if I can’t get better at it. They would mean doing the same thing over and over, and why would anyone want to do that?

I’ve recently been improving at several things I like, including playing the piano, golf, and scuba diving. This weekend, I took a big step forward in scuba when I took the PADI rescue diver course.

As I’ve noted in a prior post, I really like the idea of having enough first aid skills to help save a life, and so this project was particularly meaningful to me. The reading and classroom sessions gave me a greater knowledge base on the various things that could go wrong for careless or unlucky divers — equipment problems, encounters with venomous plants and animals, or underlying medical conditions. In each of these situations, there are ways to help, even if there are not complete solutions.

In the two-day skills class at Fantasy Lake Scuba Park (a former quarry), I was fortunate to have an experienced teacher (Nikki) with three able assistants, and a class (counting me) of four. There was a lot of individual attention. My fellow students were experienced divers who were focused and good humored. Charlie, a UPS driver, was particularly impressive in his emergency problem solving skills.

We were tasked with various stressful problems. A tired diver. A panicked diver. A missing diver. And many others. The required skills were many. We dealt constantly with situations that were novel and unsettling. This was, of course, tiring, but also stimulating.

There were physical challenges. I cut a finger, got stung by a yellow jacket on another finger, and got a bruise on an arm. Propelling a victim in while giving rescue breaths and removing equipment was complicated and exhausting.

There were also psychological challenges. I particularly dreaded trying to find a missing diver underwater; the combined problems of navigation in low visibility and a potential fatality were anxiety producing. I also dreaded the issues of rescue breathing for an unconscious diver in the water. The physical intimacy of face to face contact (even, as we did it, with simulated mouth-to-mouth breaths) with a relative stranger, even in the practice situation, was something I would rather have avoided. But in the end, it was manageable, thanks to my teacher and the assistants. With the benefit of the practice, I have a high degree of confidence I could actually take a run at helping someone in dire distress.

The exercise inspired thoughts of mortality, and life. I felt happy to be as healthy as I am. My regular morning exercise routine paid major dividends in the physically demanding parts of the course. My careful eating with an emphasis on things that are good for my body gave me good energy and balance. It worked out well. I would be very happy never to have to use these new skills, but I feel like I can do it, if necessary.