(click the bottom right arrow on the video to enlarge it)
In every person’s life there comes a time that we face the “…but”. The word, stuck in the middle of a sentence which was started with positivity, usually concludes with negativity. “I am sure you can do it, but…”. “I have no doubt that you think you can, but…”. It’s that moment when the belief of others doesn’t align with your beliefs. Getting my Rescue Diver was one of those buts.
If this site hasn’t made it obvious, I am a Quadriplegic. A Quad Diver. I have full use of my arms, limited finger functionality and no leg function. I have passed my Open Water, Nitrox, CPR/1st Aid, and Advanced Open Water (Ultimately, my end goal Master Diver). I have read every book about diving (medical, fiction and non-fiction). And others would consider my state of mind as borderline diving-obsessive.
There were two reasons I wanted my Rescue Diver during this scuba-obsessed journey: 1) it is a major step to becoming a Master Diver. Without RD, I could never be a MD 2) I believe that, even if I physically can’t do something, at least knowing makes me one step closer to preparedness. As I have said in this blog before, if I can’t be the strongest, I want to be the smartest.
So I started asking some dive shops if they would certify me as a Rescue Diver. Over and over it was a no. “HSA divers can’t get their RD”. huh? Where is that a rule? I understand that Quadriplegic Rescue Divers don’t exist much (at all), but such a quick dismissal without thought wasn’t ok. Why not let me try and fail? Try and fail like many-a-“pedestrians” (yes that’s what I call you functioning legged folk). If I (or they) am capable, then I/they will pass. If I fail, at least I will be mentally prepared in an emergency. Again, make me strong mentally or physically or both. But saying no right away isn’t smart.
What these nay-sayers get caught up on are the tasks. They were taught to complete a task a specific way. What they aren’t thinking about is that the method is irrelevant. The outcome is. Being creative to figure out new ways of accomplishing said outcome, and then perfecting that way, is the important part.
Larry Mack, the Instructor who has been with me since day one of my diving life, was the only person to say yes to my request for Rescue Diver. Under one condition: I must complete everything without exception (not even being “creative” with the 900 yard swim – read: doing 450 yards!). He would only certify me if he would feel comfortable diving with me as competent Rescue Diver. If I can’t fulfill the tasks, then he won’t pass me. But to be clear, his reply had nothing to do with my chair.
Below I describe the tasks Larry and I did, and modified, based on my capabilities. This should demonstrate that this IS possible with some modifications (and a Dive Master who has patience!) When appropriate there is a video time mark corresponding to the video above.
- Surface Swim w/ mask, fins & snorkel (900 yards) – holy pain in the arms. After this 900 yard swim (mind you no legs to help here) I figured that would be the hardest part of the day. Ha. Nope.
- Tired Diver Tows: Do-Si-Do, Octopus Pull, Fin Push & Tank Strap Pull – We got creative here. The only objective here: tow someone to safety on the surface. Towing a person to safety is easier with functional legs for power while you use your hands to hold a person. I physically can not do that. So, the three methods we found worked best:
- One arm tow – I wrapped my left hand (which has less function than my right hand) in the BCD strap above his tank. With my right, I did a back stroke. (11 seconds)
- Octo in Mouth – I took his Octopus hose and put it in my mouth. That freed up both hands to do a normal back stroke. Because Larry’s BCD keeps him buoyant, pulling him is simple. Thus, this one seemed fastest and easiest. (18 seconds)
- Fin Push – In an alternate way of doing the standard fin push (having the fatigued diver’s fins against your shoulders while doing a front kick) I placed the diver’s fin/leg across my shoulders while I swam backwards.
- Strap – If you know you need to go for a while, remove one of the BCD Velcro straps (the Cressi Travel Light has one for packing purposes), tie it around a strap on their BCD and to your chest strap. Again, this leaves your hands free to stroke. Make sure you do this only when the rescued diver is calm as you two are now attached.
- Panicky Diver on Surface – A panicky diver, above or below, will usually do what they can to save themselves. This means jeopardizing your safety for their own. Thus, it is the rescuers job to calm them down by talking to them (lucky for me I have a Barry White-like voice), stay far enough away until you know you can help them without compromising your own safety and, when in position, shock them out of their panicked state. As one approaches, tell them to calm down. Abled-bodied divers will then swim under the diver out of the panicked grasp and surface behind them to take control. In my case, I needed to swim around them. Once I had their tank, I could briefly pull down to dunk their head under water which gave Larry a quick shock (29 seconds). Think of this as a slap in the face when you want someone to get their wits about them without causing harm. See here. It works.
- Panicky Diver Underwater – This was a fun exercise. Again, a panicked diver will do what it takes to save themselves. This means ripping your mask off, wrestling with you and ultimately taking your regulator. Larry, without warning, pushed up his own mask (a common reaction when someone is scared) gave me the out-of-air sign and darted at me before I could give him my Octo. We tussled on the platform until I could get my Octo in his mouth, calm him down, and safely ascend with our right arms locked together (go to 1:55 in the video, two Dive Masters thought we were actually fighting and came to help!). There wasn’t much adaptation I needed to do here other than staying calm and making sure I am safe, then helping the distressed diver (biggest rule to remember which took me a moment to adhere to: save yourself first. If you aren’t safe, how can you save them?). As we ascended together, it satisfied the Octopus Sharing (stationary & ascent to surface, 30 feet) drill. (See here a clear example)
- Rescue Unconscious Diver Underwater – This task requires the RD to assess the situation, act and ascend. In this case, Larry laid face down on the platform. I approached, tapped him on the back (you never know if someone is inspecting a coral or something small), noticed he wasn’t responding and turned him over. The next step was getting him safely (read: not just inflating his BCD and watching him rocket up) to the surface. I released his weights, shot two puffs of air into his BCD via his inflator and maneuvered his body into a headlock position. By having one arm under his chin I naturally opened his windpipe allowing air to push out of his lung as we ascend (without this he could get a ruptured lung). This also frees up my other arm to stroke upward. As you stroke upward, the air in his BCD increases making it easier to push. (Note, it’s easier to deal with venting one BCD, so if you can, remove the air from your BCD and use the rescued BCD to ascend). (2:44 in video)
- Remove & Replace Weights Underwater – This one sucked for no other reason than: I didn’t know my needs and my equipment’s capabilities. First, I removed my weight and drop them on the platform. As you would assume, I started ascending (after all, weight is the reason you stay down). Without legs to kick, retrieving the weight was difficult (Difficult. NOT impossible. See minute 1:17). I then began to replace the integrated weight into the pocket. I tried sideways. Standing. On my back. Everyway. The problem: the weights need to lock into fastex clips inside the pockets. Long story short, this is not the BCD for someone with limited finger functionality as it is difficult to clip in inside of the weight pocket. Instead, I am purchasing a BCD that has easier integration systems (read: either external Fastex clips or Velcro). Either way, it worked. I just prefer it to be easier. To repeat, this is not a factor of if someone can do it, but rather what is the right equipment they need.
- Remove & Replace Mask (switching equipment with buddy) & Remove & Replace Mask (swimming 10 yards w/o mask) – In this drill I had to remove my mask, drop it, swim, find it and replace it. The second task involved Larry giving me his mask (and he taking mine) and then clearing the mask of all the water. Nothing really different here as it pertains to HSA. With my limited finger functionality I use the palms of both hands to tip the mask while I exhale through my nose. If there is only a little water, I place my palm on the top of the mask and exhale (note: get a low volume mask. Makes clearing a hell of a lot easier) (43 seconds)
- Remove & Replace BCD – This one scared me. Larry motioned for me to doff all gear which included my weights. This means a very fast ascent to the surface (at 30 ft below). It helped that Larry made me practice this three times on the surface as I now knew all the clips and the process in which they should be fastened (I was somewhat annoyed that he made me do it 3 times on the surface. It was during this that I knew why he made me). You’ll see (3:37) that I was in such a zone/concentration that I didn’t even see or feel Larry trying to help me. Had I “listened” to Larry I would have realized that flipping on my back to don my gear would have made life a lot easier. This exercise is important. Imagine you find yourself stuck in a wreck or somewhere tight, need to get through a doorway and don your equipment when you pass through. Again, nothing here different.
- Emergency Swimming Ascent – The last exercise was a fast ascent in case of emergency. The process is to dump your weights and sprint to the surface. However, as you ascend, let out a huge scream. This prevents you from holding your breath and getting lung expansion (a higher percentage of diving accidents stem from ruptured lungs than Decompression Sickness – aka The Bends). Again, nothing different for an HSAer here. Just the ability to dump weights and swim.(5:16)
Don’t take this entry as permission for anyone and everyone to get their Rescue Diver. It is not easy. The take away is that we should encourage everyone to be as safe as possible, learn as much as they can about SCUBA and above all, give them a chance.
(for more, read the post on 1st aid, CPR and AED to round out Rescue Diving mandatory requirements)