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By now, anyone who follows Pink Tank Scuba on Facebook knows that Dive 350 earlier this week was the dive that almost claimed my life – before I had even put my fins on.
It all happened so quickly. My buddy Ruth and I had just changed our tanks over from a superb 100 minute dive hunting for the elusive spider crab aggregation under the pier. As we waded from the shore into the shallows for the second time, we hoped that this momentous dive would be a memorable one.
Lost in our chatter, within moments the water was much deeper than it had been when coming in from the last dive. Instead of resting calmly against the pylon in waist-high water to don my mask and fins, the sandy floor disappeared and I was somehow in up to my chest, a strong current sweeping my feet out from under me and carrying me west of the pier into deeper water still.
“Are you ok?” Ruth called out to me.
“No,” I spluttered, struggling to keep my head above water.
“Put some air into your BCD!”
I had already tried. Even though my equipment had performed perfectly during our first dive less than an hour ago, now the air vest strapped to the tank on my back refused to take any air in, and without my mask on my face and with no regulator in my mouth to supply me with air, I tried to remain calm in the face of the deadly panic that threatened to set in.
My failed inflator hose and camera were in one hand; my fins and mask in the other. Rolling on and beneath the surface, I could not manage to release my weights to stop myself from going under. Between gulping mouthfuls of salt water, I called out to the buddy I could no longer see, ‘I need your help!’
Dive 350. The same day as my best friend’s birthday. Precisely two years to the day that I had been released from a nightmarish hospital stay due to multiple major tumour-related surgeries. For 23 days, nurses had cared for me around the clock, first in the intensive care unit and high dependency ward, then finally in a private room where they nursed horrific surgical wounds that left me scarred for life. Multiple blood transfusions; being fed through a picc-line in my shoulder; my vital signs plummeting, I had been near death and utterly helpless.
And exactly two years later, here I was yet again. My life in the balance, completely at the mercy of my buddy Ruth – another nurse – to keep me from drowning. Calm in the face of my rising panic, she pulled on her mask and fins and swam out to my rescue, towing me steadily back towards the safety of the nearby pylons. I hugged the pylon until I was calm, then I hugged Ruth and thanked her for literally saving my life. ‘No big deal for you, right?’ I grinned sheepishly, ‘You nurses save people’s lives every day.’
As someone who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the inevitability of death is perhaps a clearer notion for me than it is for many other people. But thanks to my amazing dive buddy (who I met only a few brief months ago as a follower of my Pink Tank Scuba Facebook page), today was destined to be a day for celebration, rather than a day for tragedy. Today I would celebrate the anniversary of my leaving hospital, my best friend’s birthday, my 350th dive and the fact that – thanks to Ruth – I had once again cheated death and lived to diVe another day.
‘Well,’ I laughed, once my breathing had slowed to a more normal pace, ‘I hope the rest of Dive 350 is as memorable as the start!’ And it absolutely, truly was. Across the two dives we did that day, we encountered an underwater galaxy of incredible creatures. Thousands of spider crabs on their annual aggregation, a large tasselled anglerfish (pictured with Ruth above), a blue-ringed octopus, many beautiful nudibranchs, the wildest seahorse I have ever seen, several small stingrays and a dumpling squid.
Floating through the slightly silty water, it became crystal clear to me that every moment of life is to be cherished, and that every challenge faced is an opportunity for profound lessons to be learned. Reflecting on the incident that could easily have claimed my life, I pondered the small but crucial and avoidable mistakes I had made. I was grateful for lessons learned that would keep me safe and far more alert in future (like being more aware of changing water levels, doing better quality equipment checks and donning my mask and fins before I find myself out of my depth). In 350 dives, this was only my third real scare (the other two were due to horrendous dive conditions). I will definitely not allow myself to become complacent about vital details such as these again. I will do everything in my power not to become any sort of tragic statistic.
(Image of PT courtesy of Ruth Betteridge)
This year I have chosen not to dwell as much on the fact that I have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Instead, I have elected to focus as much energy as possible as living each day of whatever-life-I-have-left to the full. In the same way during Dive 350, I did not allow the drama at the start to rob me of the intense joys of floating beneath the surface for the remainder of the dive. Scuba diving has been a major part of my embrace of life, and this close call has served as a reminder of how truly precious, fragile and ephemeral life is – a fact that is as true for us all as it is for me. May each one of us live with tremendous gratitude for each brief moment that has been entrusted to our care.
Deep love and grateful bubbles (and I hope you like all the critter pictures from these two amazing dives!),
ps Tanks so much for reading this blog post! While you are here, please check out some more of my ‘scuba vs tumour’ underwater and Bucket List adventures!
pps And don’t forget to follow Pink Tank Scuba on Facebook AND to subscribe to this blog by email to receive all new posts directly to your inbox
pps And to Ruth Betteridge – Girl, you are a deadset hero! Tank you, tank you, tank you! I owe you my life and hope that the scuba helmet keyring and ‘Dive Like a Girl’ hoodie will serve as small reminders of how awesome you were in rescuing this liddle pink duck who almost lost her quack 😀