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DAN – Dive Another Day

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Dive Another Day

After spending a small fortune booking a trip, looking forward to it for an entire year and then traveling halfway around the world to a dream destination, forgoing one of your dives is probably the last thing you want to do. However, choosing to skip a dive might be just the thing you need to do to stay alive to dive another day.

By Caitlyn Ruskell

Did your instructor tell you to call off any dive you didn’t feel 100 percent ready to make? Did you listen? Unfortunately it’s not uncommon to see divers loading up on decongestants the morning of their dives, getting in the water tired or hungover, or dismissing their own feelings of uncertainty and getting in the water despite them. Far too many divers who report incidents or near misses also report that, for whatever reason, they were not ready to make the dive that day but decided to go for it anyway. Some divers who do this face grim consequences, but those who don’t often use the fact that they surfaced unscathed to justify this dangerous rationale. This is how bad habits are formed, and bad habits can be quick to catch up to you underwater.

It is important to remember that there is no shame in calling off a dive for any reason at any time, but this doesn’t make it any easier to do. Sometimes it helps to validate your concerns with a dive professional before you hit the water. If you don’t have that luxury or are still struggling to decide against making a dive, these case reports may help you make your decision with confidence.

Case #1: A 54-year-old male decided to make a rebreather dive in a flooded quarry. Before the dive he felt sick to his stomach but decided to dive anyway, attributing his sudden illness to the meal he had the night before. He was underwater only a short time before he signaled to his buddy that he was going to ascend. On the surface he reported that he still felt unwell and then descended without his regulator in his mouth. His buddy was able to grasp him and tow him to shore and call emergency services, but unfortunately the diver died.

The autopsy revealed that he had an enlarged heart, heart disease and occluded arteries, but no findings suggested drowning or gas emboli. His toxicology report revealed no signs of recreational drug or alcohol use. The symptoms this diver experienced before the dive were most likely related to acute coronary syndrome, but unfortunately the diver dismissed them and met an untimely demise. 

Seemingly benign maladies commonly disguise major cardiovascular problems, but outcomes for people who experience cardiovascular emergencies on land are generally much better than those for people who experience these emergencies on or underwater. If this diver had paid attention to his gut feeling and decided to skip that dive he may have avoided his death and received effective treatment in a hospital.

Case #2: A 28-year-old female dive instructor was scheduled to take students on their final open water dive but woke up the morning of with some upper respiratory congestion. She took some over-the-counter decongestants and set out to make the dives anyway, as she had done in the past with no issue. After the dive she experienced difficulty breathing, her neck was swollen, and when she spoke her voice was distorted. Upon return to shore she was taken to a nearby hospital where she was diagnosed with subcutaneous emphysema. Because of her congestion, air that would normally have escaped her lungs was prevented from doing so efficiently and therefore burst through her lung tissue into the pleural space (the area surrounding the lungs) and from there became trapped under the skin of her neck. These pockets of air beneath the skin then disrupted her vocal cords and her ability to breathe, which warranted a few nights in the hospital for treatment and observation.

Because this diver chose to make a dive despite her congestion, she ended up with an injury that kept her out of the water for weeks. While forgoing a dive would have cost her a morning’s pay, she would now have to forgo pay for several weeks and incur medical expenses. If she had been any less fortunate in this incident, she may not have ever been able to return to work — or even diving.

Bottom line, it is never worth it to risk your ability to dive in the future — or your career or your life — to make a dive. Between financial pressures, pressure from others and pressure from yourself, deciding to skip a dive can be really hard, but dealing with the consequences of a dive you should’ve just skipped can be even harder. Next time you feel conflicted about calling off a dive, remember these stories and think about all the fun you’ll have on your future dives because you’ll still be able to make them.