The Stress Test

After eight weeks of working for free, studying and cleaning shop, Andrea and I took our final exam four our dive master certification, a series of stress tests. Our instructor directly below Justus was a blond excited Australian guy named Sean, who had been traveling and diving all over the world for the last six years. He never used protection and the girls loved him. Needless to say, there were more than a few little ‘Seans’ running around in various countries. But, to his credit, he was full of love and always kept his smile on. He told story after story and I imagine that ten to thirty percent was truth, the rest, total junk.

For our test, Sean had us gear up and dive down to thirty feet. We then dropped one of our tanks, so that we shared a single oxygen tank, buddy breathing and swimming in a large circle. We then had to switch all of our gear. We started with our weight belts and then moved on to the BCD. A BCD, buoyancy control device, controls the vertical movement of a diver in water. It is a vest attached to a diver’s air tank most often having a button for inflation and a string to pull for deflation. Inflating, causes a diver to become more buoyant i.e., rise as air is lighter than water. Likewise deflation causes a diver to sink. The BCD transfer was successful; however the buddy breathing was taking its toll on me. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough oxygen. I was starting to hyperventilate and several times I pulled the breathing apparatus out of my own wife’s mouth. She started laughing as I guess I looked terrified. Laughing under water is difficult at best. I thought she was crying because I was stealing her air, but I needed that air. I soon realized we weren’t going to pass the test, and so grabbed her octopus, the technical term for the backup breathing apparatus or regulator and we swam to the surface. Once at the surface, I promptly blamed her for not keeping it together and being a cry baby, but deep down, I knew that the real failure was mine. Both Sean and Andrea knew it was my failure as well, making me the jerk in the equation. Sean was nice enough though to let us try again with a different stress test.

The next day we went out to a shelf about a quarter mile off shore. We didn’t know what Sean had planned but were a little nervous with anticipation. Sean took our dive tanks and threw them overboard. The tanks floated to the bottom forty to fifty feet down. He then did the same with our dive belts, handed us our masks and flippers. He then instructed us to go get them. At twenty feet down one could easily return to the surface after descending without air. At fifty feet, I doubt I would be able to come back up. Visibility was great and the tanks were in clear view, but there was a lot of water, airless water, in between myself and the tanks. Sean began counting and on three both Andrea and I dove in head first. We both promptly made the mistake of not equalizing. At about fifteen feet the pressure on our ears became too painful to continue. Andrea rose first and I thought she wasn’t going to continue. But she equalized before reaching the surface and returned downward. Andrea was now descending with ease and I was on my way to blowing yet another stress test. I didn’t think I would get another chance. I came up two to three feet, blew as hard as I could, equalizing and continuing down in one swoop. Andrea had reached her gear at least two seconds before me and I was almost out of air. Once again I was facing the self defeating monster of panic. This time however, it could be deadly. With what felt like my last bit of air, I was able to reach my regulator and get a breath.

Air tastes so good, however, you only recognize that when you when you don’t have any. The whole ordeal probably lasted twenty seconds. Under water you can easily hold your breath for forty five seconds. I had panicked again. Even if I passed this stress test in Sean and Andrea’s eyes I had failed in my own.

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