A wave of impending doom washed over me. Out of nowhere. Nothing about the dive had changed. All was going to - the somewhat complex - plan. I was just swimming along. When, all the sudden, I felt… weird. Really, really weird. Couldn’t put my finger on it, but everything suddenly felt very wrong. This was some while ago in a cave I know like the back of my hand. I was diving with Nelly and some friends, as we were diving with stages and doing a bit of a fun project. A fun day, really; which in no way lent itself to my sudden feeling of dread. I dismissed it for only a half a moment, thinking it was just one of those weird flashes of anxiety - someone walking over your grave or whatnot. When it persisted past a heartbeat or two I started sorting through possibilities. Was it bad gas? I just switched off the stage to backgas… well… about 5 minutes ago, anyway. Is it the wrong mix? I’m at 30 feet: A - there’s barely a “wrong mix” out there for that depth, B - I clearly remember analysing and marking the tanks this morning. Any other symptoms of CNS toxicity? No. Move on. Carbon Monoxide? Look at your hands. Fingernails look normal. Also, these tanks were connected to the same whip as the stage I’ve been breathing this whole time. Unlikely. Move on.
Carbon dioxide? How's my breathing? Hasn't changed at all - don't feel breathless. Not it. Heart attack? That gives one a feeling of dread. Arm feels fine. Chest feels fine. Breathing sill OK. Stroke? No weakness or numbness or tingling anywhere. What the fuck is going on? Do I need to call this dive? Just in that moment a task presented itself. “If I can perform this task smoothly,” I told myself, “Then I am actually OK. Probably just freaking myself out at this point.” And smooth it went. I did get Nelly’s attention, though. Signalled that my headspace was out of whack and to keep an eye on me. Nelly (predictably) held my hand as we floated on. Which calmed me down. And the feeling passed. Human contact goes a long way. I’m remembering how many times, over the years, I’ve seen the look of near-panic fade out of diver’s eyes when you put a hand on their arm, letting them know that they aren’t alone, that someone is there to watch over them. Equipment malfunctions or major buoyancy issues or unpredictable water conditions. Sudden loss of visibility or perception of being lost in a cave or out at sea. Any one of another thousand things that could go wrong on a dive. To know, in that moment, there is someone who’s got your back, someone calm and unalarmed by whateverthehell you think just went totally pear-shaped… the value of that is impossible to overstate. I am not going to say I’ve enjoyed being that support for people. Obviously I’d rather they had a fantastic dive that was fun and memorable. But I am glad that I’ve been able to be there for them. And I’m grateful to enjoy diving with people who have been there for me. As we gain more experience we start to take things for granted. Of course we’re going to be fine… always have been in the past, so why should this time be any different. We gain varied experience that allows us to be flexible and adaptable, to be able to quickly and effectively problem solve. We lose sight of the fact that NO ONE, not a single one of us, is immune to failures, incidents, or accidents when we venture into an alien environment wearing life-support equipment that is designed, manufactured, and maintained by society’s rejects. It’s hubris. And it’s fucking dangerous. Be perceptive - of yourself and of your team. Be honest - with yourself and with your team. Be careful.