Sunday, November 16, 2003

Ice Cream Headache

Some of you may know that I am an active member of the local Water Rescue Team. Today we had a training dive. Almost all of the dive team members wear dry suits, which means water rarely touches their skin. Inside the dry suit they can wear long underwear, or anything else that will keep them toasty. Being new to cold water diving (all of our lakes in Utah were geothermally heated), I still wear a 7mm wetsuit.

Diving with the rescue team is not your typical scuba diving experience. Most of the dives are in fairly cold water, poor visibility, and shorter then your average sightseeing dive.

Today would not disappoint me by breaking any of the above factors.

The air temperature was a balmy 41-degrees Fahrenheit, and the water was warmer at 44-degrees. In addition to the lovely temperatures, it was raining on us as well. Great weather for the snow skiers because the mountains were getting dumped on. For scuba diving, it was a great day to be under water.

Since I’m still one of the new guys on the team, some of the others planned to bring me into a scenario instantly. One of the more seasoned rescue divers was working a search pattern with one of our support people while I was suited up and sitting on the dock as the safety diver.

Suddenly, I see multiple tugs on the line heading to the rope tender, which indicates the diver was in trouble. Everyone alerted the nearby team members as I placed my mask on my faced and tried to pull the strap over my head. Since I rarely dive with as thick of a hood then what I had on, the mask strap would not go over, and as a safety diver you need to get into the water ASAP.

I yanked my hood back off my head, pulled the mask on and jumped in the water immediately heading down the rope toward the distressed diver. As I descended I was glad to discover that the psuedophed I had taken was working, and I could drop rapidly. I’m one of the lucky ones that hardly ever have any ear troubles while diving. I can normally freefall as deep as I need to and as quickly as I need to at any given moment.

My ears were not an issue during the descent, but the temperature of the water woke me right up. Ever have an ice-cream headache? Picture one of those surrounding your entire head and ears and coming on instantaneously. My adrenaline had fortunately kicked in as well and I focused on the task at hand, determining the cause of the divers problem and performing a rescue.

Visibility was about 6 feet today so as I approached the diver I could see him lying on the bottom with his regulator still in his mouth, and with him apparently still breathing. He was wearing a dry suit, so I tapped his inflator and made him a little more buoyant. He was still a tad heavy, and I didn’t want to ditch his weight belt before trying one last thing. A few taps on his buoyancy compensator (BC) was all it took to get him and me heading to the surface.

Once we broke the surface I flipped him on his back, inflated his BC all the way to keep his mouth out of the water, and headed for shore. At the shore the support personnel were waiting to help remove him from the water and to provide additional aide if necessary.

This was only a drill, but since I was not in on the plan it felt like it was a real rescue until we were at shore. I will admit that I suspected it was just an exercise, since he was very experienced, was only down for a short time, fairly shallow, and was breathing through his regulator when I approached him. Knowing that it was an exercise did not change any of the actions that were performed however.

After the rescue it was my turn to perform the search pattern, and practice scouring the nasty, muddy, thickly weeded, bottom for evidence of the made up crime. You can’t imagine all of the junk at the bottom of a lake, especially near a dock or popular spot on shore.

Why would anyone jump into 40-degree water willingly you may wonder? Well, I love to dive, and I have always wanted to be on a search and rescue (SAR) team. I was starting the process of joining the Rocky Mountain SAR team but was soon transferred by the Air Force to Alaska. The local scuba SAR in Colorado had to be an employee of the ambulance service to cover liability.

In everything I do I seem to require a purpose. I love writing computer programs, but only do so when I have a need of a particular program. Scuba diving isn’t any different. If I lived near a gorgeous reef I may do more diving for fun. Until that happens, looks like my reason to dive here will be for SAR missions. One day I will become a scuba diving instructor, and perhaps my purpose may shift then.

Diving on the Water Rescue Team not only gives me a reason to dive into cold lakes, but also allows me to use a rare skill up here in the Pacific Northwest to help others and to contribute something to the community in the process. You don’t realize how great a hot shower feels until you’ve been swimming in 40-degree water.

No comments:

Post a Comment