Stress, Rescue and Confidence

Two Trunkfish by Cathy Ulrich

I have a long-standing policy about diving. That is: I don’t dive where it’s cold and I don’t dive where I can’t see. Last weekend I did both.

Peter and I completed our certification for Diver Stress and Rescue on Saturday. It’s a class that we’ve wanted to take for a long time but never seemed to get around to. We could have done the training on one of our vacation dive trips, but unlike the Deep Water Diver or Night Diver or Boat Diver Certifications, you don’t really get to do much diving.

Stress and rescue training encompasses recognizing stress in divers, preventing stress situations from turning into panic modes, and rescuing divers when panic or accidents do happen. So when Peter asked me if I wanted to schedule the course while we were in the Caribbean, my answer was: “No, I really don’t want to spend my vacation repeatedly fishing your butt out of the water!”

Given those constraints, we decided to do the training here in Fort Collins at our local dive shop, High Plains Scuba. We got our course manuals a few weeks before the class, read them, answered all the study questions and started with classroom work on Thursday. Friday was the pool work – four hours of it. The three of us in class – me, Peter and Tess – learned how to recognize stress in divers and we reviewed basic and advanced dive skills to help us be even more confident in the water.

Greg, our instructor, started the pool class by reviewing things like taking our masks off underwater and recovering our regulators (the device you breathe through). Then we progressed to new skills. We had to take off our masks and breathe through our regulators while our dive buddies guided us in an underwater lap around the pool. Then we learned how to breathe from a free-flowing regulator. This happens when the breathing device gets stuck in an open position so air is surging out so hard that you can’t keep the mouthpiece in your mouth. I had to hold the mouthpiece to the side of my mouth and breathe the large bubbles coming off of it. Again, it was intimidating, but after I got the hang of it, I realized I could do it. All of the skill exercises we did were designed to build confidence and practice in case of an equipment failure.

As the pool practice progressed, we learned how to tow a tired diver to safety, how to subdue a panicked diver, and how to rescue an unconscious diver. Finally we learned how to do search patterns to find a missing diver.

Then the big day came, the open-water part. Remember what I said at the beginning of this post? So, when I dive, here’s what I like to see:

Swim Through by Cathy Ulrich

On Saturday, here’s what I saw.

Okay – by Cathy Ulrich

Not that I mind seeing Peter giving me the “Okay” sign, but this shot was taken about eighteen inches from his face!

Yes, we did our open-water training in our local lake – Horsetooth Reservoir – where the visibility is less than two feet and the water temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Good luck finding anything in there – much less a missing diver. And just so you know, most of the places where we dive in the Caribbean boast visibilities of 120+ feet and water temps of 85 degrees or higher. We had to borrow wetsuits from the dive shop because ours were not nearly enough protection for the cold water. Our tropical weight suits are 3mm thick so we wore those and then put a long sleeved 7mm suit over them. I felt like the Michelin man. This much neoprene makes it extremely difficult to move! Ok, enough whining.

Greg took us out to into the lake about 50 yards from shore where he had placed what he called a platform – really it was a long PVC pipe attached to buoys and augured into the bottom of the lake. We were to descend down to 15 feet and practice all the skills we had done in the pool the night before. Visibility here was just crazy-bad, but we all three passed those tests. Then we practiced all of the rescue skills on the surface.

Finally, Greg’s assistant Monica (who is training to be a Dive Master) descended to the bottom of the lake and each one of us had to go get her, bring her up and then lead a rescue operation. A funny aside here – we were told not to shout, “Call 911.”  Instead, we just gave a nod to Greg. Apparently a couple of years ago, some people on the beach by the lake heard one of the students say this. They called 911, and by the time the student had gotten the mock victim up from the bottom of the lake, there were multiple emergency vehicles and a helicopter sitting on the beach. Fire Rescue was not amused…

These are just some of the highlights of our training. It was an invigorating day (even with effectively 10mm of wetsuits), but very well worth the time and effort. By learning how to recognize stress in myself, Peter and other divers, it may be possible for us to prevent a dive accident on a future trip. And by practicing rescue strategies, I have a greater sense of confidence about what to do in the case of an emergency. As in any sport that carries risk, the more skill and awareness one learns, the more able one can be to make safe and effective choices.

It’s like life, really. The more I can be present, aware and conscious, the more I can make choices that serve myself and those around me.

And for you landlubbers, here’s a photo of the lake on that beautiful Colorado day.

Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins, Colorado – by Cathy Ulrich

Love,

Cathy

©CathyUlrich and LargeSelf, 2012