Fish out of water

I have a confession to make: I am an addict, addicted to diving. Some people may call it an obsession, but for me it's just a love of the ocean and all the things within it.

Once I got my Open Water license a few years ago I had my passport to the blue-green world beneath the waves and all the fascinating creatures that have made it their home. I spent some time building up my diving experience, before moving on to get my Advanced Divers qualification, further extending the range to which I could descend. But I wanted more, to go further, deeper. To see what was beyond 30 metres, 40 metres. I wanted to get to the 50 metre mark. Why? Just to say that I had been there and come back.

So for the last couple of months I have deliberately chosen to do deeper dives, building up my resistance, controlling my breathing and each time just going a little further than before.

On Saturday, I did my deepest dive yet to 46 metres. I was so sure of my own abilities. After all, it was only a few more metres. I could handle it. Or so I thought. That's when things started to go horribly wrong. Once on the charter boat, my buddy and I had planned that we would descend to the deepest part of the dive first and make our way slowly back up, making frequent safety stops to off-gas.

However, once we had got down the shot line, we looked around for the wall, but couldn't find it. So, we followed the instructions of the skipper and we swam south. Eventually, after 15 minutes of swimming, we found the wall and made the decision to descend.

Reaching 46 metres I discovered I was running dangerously low on air. I knew I would have to use my buddies alternate air, otherwise I wouldn't make it to the surface. I signalled I was ascending and he followed shortly after. At 25 metres I switched to his air. Luckily he had plenty for both of us. I knew we would have to do a longer than normal safety stop, as we had been at depth far longer than planned, and would have built up significant levels of nitrogen.

Following my dive computer, we did the recommended decompression, making sure to ascend slowly. It felt like the longest 9 minutes of my life. When there is blue all around you, but no fixed point of reference other than the bubbles you are breathing it is easy to get disorientated. We finally made it to the surface, where the boat picked us up. Good thing too, as a ship was coming and we had been drifting into the shipping channel.

My buddy had felt quite nauseous and dizzy after the dive. We assumed he would be a prime candidate for the Hyperbaric Chamber. However, in the end it was me who ended up with Decompression Illness. After three sessions in the Hyperbaric Chamber at The Royal Prince Alfred, an MRI scan of my brain and spine, the doctors diagnosed that I had a bubble in my spine which, had it been any higher, could have paralysed me.

I am now out of the water for the next four weeks. A small price for what could have been a lifetime out of the water.

This has been an invaluable experience, perhaps necessary for me to realize my own limitations and not to recklessly push myself beyond my abilities. The 50 metres is still a goal, but the next time I attempt it, it will be with proper preparation, training and qualifications as well as a smarter dive plan.

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