On Love, Fear and Risk

This week I’m scheduled to complete my scuba certification by doing four training dives over two days, demonstrating skills, safety and emergency procedures that I learned in my online and pool course a week ago. I am currently in Puerto Rico for that purpose.

The problem is, I may be unable to complete my open water course this week.

Why? After all, when I bumped into scuba while in Australia a couple of months ago, it was love at first sight (of colorful fish). I adored the feeling of weightlessness, the quiet blue world, and the varied and gorgeous sea creatures I met. I even blogged triumphantly about it, proud of my new discovery.

Once I got back to Boston, I set about getting certified so I could become a real diver. The online course was jam-packed with information about terrible things that could happen underwater to those who didn’t follow proper procedures, especially on descending and ascending. But that didn’t put me off one bit.

We proceeded to the pool for two sessions, all geared up and ready to learn some skills. In session one we learned to clear ears, clear masks, clear regulators, throw the regulators away and get them back again, lie down on the bottom of the pool, inflate and deflate our buoyancy control devices, insert weights, drop weights, and much more. It all went very swimmingly.

Then came session two.

I was having an off-kilter day and couldn’t shake feelings of dread about the session. Likely I was just tired (the course was an intensive one over a weekend), but that didn’t help my mood. As soon as I got in the pool, problems started surfacing. First my regulator was faulty, so I had to change it out. No problem, but it put me behind in the lessons. Then I had all kinds of trouble with buoyancy—this is a huge issue for scuba and takes a long time to master. Still, I was rolling around on the surface like a barrel, and it was making me agitated.

The next problem happened when I was doing a regulator drill underwater with an assistant instructor. Long story short, I couldn’t retrieve my regulator, and when I went for my secondary one, it was tangled in my snorkel. As I was running out of air, I motioned to the instructor (who was one foot away) to get hers. She gave it to me, but I was flat out of air and couldn’t blow out. I panicked and swam to the surface, popped out of the water choking and coughing up water. Not the right thing to do, and not fun. However, I rallied, and after getting my breathing under control, I went back underwater and completed the skill. Mission accomplished.

But wait, there’s more.   While hanging around in 10 feet of water, waiting for my turn to do an emergency ascent requiring dropping weights and a controlled rise to the surface, I casually checked my pressure gauge. Oh no—it read 250psi! That means I’m almost out of air. Like, really almost out of air. Now, I was in a pool in 10 feet of water, so I wasn’t in danger, but it meant I had to change tanks right then and there. Argh. So I did, but then I was even more behind. By the time the pool was closing, I still had one skill test left (everyone else was changing in the locker rooms). I went into the deep end with the instructor, and took off all my scuba equipment, keeping the regulator in my mouth, and then put it back on again. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.

I passed the pool course, but felt totally deflated. My instructor assured me that I would be fine in the open water dives, but I’ve been worried ever since.  How could my love story turn sour in the course of a 3-hour pool session?  And can I get the love back?

FYI, the way the open water section of the scuba course goes is that every skill I did in the pool I will have to reproduce in the ocean, at a depth of up to 33 feet. There will be no popping up quickly to the surface if I make a mistake and run out of air—you can’t do so safely from that depth. Of course, instructors certify students all the time, and the safety stats for scuba certification are very good.

I totally love the feeling of scuba– swimming underwater while breathing and exploring.  It’s the coolest thing ever– you’re independent of your natural air environment, and get to be a part of the cool blue world of water.  I don’t feel claustrophobic, and the fishes and other critters strike me as fascinating and not scary (I haven’t encountered an eel yet, but will try to keep these words in mind).

However, I’m still really scared. I’m worried about the weather, wind conditions, how much to trust myself, whether to trust these new instructors, seasickness, you name it.

In addition, I’m pretty sure I’m getting a cold and cough.  Naturally, I googled “can I scuba dive with cold/cough?”  The smart money is on “no”. Argh.

I have no idea what I’ll end up doing. Will I grit my teeth, gut it out, woman up, and just do it? Or will I give myself permission to pull the plug if I’m not feeling comfortable or well, even though everyone will know that I canceled and delayed my certification  (really everyone will know now that I’ve blogged about it…). I don’t know.

I’m not asking you, readers, what I should do. What I am asking is to hear some comments from you about how you’ve dealt with fear (and love at the same time) of doing physical activities with risk. If you have a story, tell me. I’ll report back on what happens next week. No matter what happens, I’ll finish my certification sooner or later.

And thanks—it’s really cool knowing all of you are out there.

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