“Thank you for saving my life. I will never forget you.”
These were the words spoken to me earlier this week when one of my divers was heading home and had to say goodbye. At the time of the incident I didn’t think much of it – I was just dong my job. I put the credit on her, in fact, simply because she remained calm at a time panic could have taken over. Without an over-analyzation of the incident, here’s what happened:
Betty (not her real name) was on her first dive with me, but she had several hundred actual logged dives to show me, most of which were in Cozumel. She owned all her own gear. As I assembled her gear I noted the low pressure inflator hose did not have a shoulder strap, and it was also her alternate second stage. Prior to the dive I told her about the hose missing a shoulder strap and she indicated that’s how it’s always been and it’s never been an issue. I know sometimes divers are very particular about their own gear so I didn’t give it a second thought. I noted nothing else strange about the equipment.
We were nearing the No Decompression Limit on our first dive at around 45-50 minutes. Up until this point Betty seemed to be a fine diver, as was her husband/dive buddy. As I turn around to signal the divers that we will ascend up the wall to the top of the reef I see Betty and her husband in close proximity acting strange so I begin to fin kick myself that direction while I try to decipher what is happening. I didn’t have the best line of sight but within one or two fin kicks I realize Betty does not have a regulator in her mouth. At this point I’m fin kicking in her direction at full speed. It takes what I estimate to be about 4 or 5 fin kicks to reach her swimming against the strong Cozumel current. During this time I readied my alternate second stage and kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t swim up, please don’t swim up…” Much to Betty’s credit (and my relief!) Betty did not swim up. But she did have some mighty big eyes! (LOL) I’m not sure what her dive buddy was doing (wasn’t looking at him) but Betty didn’t see me coming as her full attention was face forward looking at her husband. I quickly grabbed Betty’s jacket with my free hand to get her attention (and control her ascent) and shoved my alternate regulator into her face. As you may imagine Betty was quick to latch onto me and purge her new regulator. From here we easily make a slow ascent from 60 feet and also finish a safety stop without incident.
Along the way to the surface I first assume Betty ran out of air but midway through the dive Betty had the most air of any of us. So I begin the equipment check – yep, she has plenty of air. I see her inflator hose / alternate second stage is not on her shoulder where it should be – it’s behind her. I also look for the primary second stage and I find it without a mouthpiece.
Back on board the boat a shaken Betty hands me her old mouthpiece. It ripped free from the regulator to cause the incident. I wish I had kept the mouthpiece, or at least taken a photo of it, because it was lacking a groove to attach the plastic tie strap. It was a flat, smooth, slick surface, something definitely not ideal for scuba diving. In fact I’ve searched google images of a mouthpiece – any mouthpiece – with a similar design and cannot find one. What had happened was the tie strap simply slid off the mouthpiece and the mouthpiece pulled free from the regulator. It seems like such a simple thing, but make sure your mouthpiece has a groove in it for proper placement of the plastic tie strap.
Onboard the boat that day was Betty’s son-in-law, whom was learning how to scuba dive with another instructor. It was a great learning experience for him to see firsthand. An experienced diver had an emergency but it was solved and she was safe by using the exact skills he was training and learning on that dive.
In reflecting on the incident I still think Betty is the one whom deserves the credit. In face of danger she remained calm and did not panic. That is the hard part. For me, well I was simply doing something I’ve trained on and done repeatedly – trained other people to do hundreds of times. That’s the easy part. But did I save her life? I guess we’ll never know. At the very least I saved her from a certain decompression illness and hyperbaric chamber visit and possible long term health problems had she bolted to the surface. And that is the good scenario.