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Day 234 – 239 – The Making of a Rescue Diver (Mahahual)

June 1, 2011

Location: Mahahual, Mexico

Date: Wednesday, June 1 through Monday, June 6, 2011

“I’m an Emergency Responder. Would you like me to help you?”

According to Emergency Response guidelines, the preceding is what you’re supposed to say to a victim before you render aid.

I blame America. Or the American legal system. Or, to co-opt the “Guns don’t kill people. . .” argument—the humans who use the American legal system. The point is, nowadays, you can’t just help someone without wondering if they’ll sue you. Thus, you must recite the disclaimer.

There are, however, exceptions. In a water emergency, for example, the conversation usually goes one of two ways. The Rescuer, swimming towards the troubled scuba diver and asks, “Troubled Diver, are you in trouble? Would you like me to. . .”

Whereupon the victim responds, either:

Victim: [screaming, thrashing] “Gurrggle. . .*coough*. . .*gag*”


Victim: . . . [face down in water]

No need for the full disclaimer there.  The lawyers say that in those cases the victim has given “implied consent” and thus has fulfilled the Slimy Douchebag Rule of “She didn’t say, ‘No,’ so I took it as a, ‘Yes.’”

At this moment, however, the victim I’m rescuing gave me express consent when we were on the boat. In fact, as a courtesy he even asked me, “Are you ready?” before he jumped in the water. Five minutes later he’s face down in the ocean and I’m in the water turning him over and giving him mouth-to-mouth.

Full disclosure: the man is letting me play hero only because I’ve spent the last couple days in class learning to be a rescue diver. As I drag my practice victim through the water and between rescue breaths (“Kick. Kick. Kick. Kick. [put lips on chin and simulate breath]) my mind wanders to two things that I learned outside the classroom curriculum:

1. Drowning Is Not Fun – Seems intuitive, but let me flip it on you. I bet you were thinking of the victim, right? Wrong. A near-drowning victim is, by definition, unconscious. That means you could tell a vic they look fat in a wetsuit and they wouldn’t get their feelings hurt, much less get them to realize they are bored/annoyed/uncomfortable/conscious. Nope, the people that suffer are those performing the rescue.

Dragging someone through the water is a pain, especially if you have to make out with them every 5 seconds without dunking their head under water. Add choppy waves and any opposing current and the rescue diver is in for the longest swim of his life. It’s like hugging a sack of potatoes up 20 flights of icy stairs and, every fourth step, having to lift the sack over your head and breathe out as hard as you can while not passing out. And every once in a while, when you least expect it, someone hurls a bucket of brine in your face.

Oh, I agree. Pity the victim as they drown—that seems disagreeable, all gasping for air. Also, afterwards when they come to and have to work through that whole brain damage thing. But the unconscious bit in the middle, the part that’s all ignorance and bliss–pity the fool that’s trying to get them out.

2. Panicking, However, Is Divine – While drowning is awful, panicking is awesome. A panicked diver is someone who’s freaking out, tearing off their mask, flailing in the water, and thinks they’re going to drown.

At first glance, Mr. Panicked man seems like a terrifying person to deal with. He can’t hear you for the fear. If you get close, he’s going to treat you like his own personal flotation device and try to stand on you, which is awkward. He will probably claw you. He will definitely splash water in your face.

But Mr. Panicked is conscious. He does not need any quality face time (hah!) with a rescue breather. He does not (yet) need to be dragged to the boat.

The trick, therefore, is to see if you can calm Mr. Panicked down; to help him help himself. This involves a lot of yelling, from a distance. If he lunges at you, you get to kick him away. If he insists trying to go barnacle on you, however, you get to go ninja on his ass. To wit, if he grabs you, you kick all the air out of your BCD and dive underwater, because guess where someone who thinks they’re drowning doesn’t want to follow (and kick and claw and splash water in your face)? From the depths below, you slip under the thrashing diver, ascend from behind, and clamp your thighs around his scuba tank. He won’t know what hit him.

Since you’re a rescue diver (and not a ninja assassin even though you’re dressed like one, all in black and with a mask) you resist the urge to garrote the victim and instead work to keep him afloat. Besides, ninjas might give knife-to-back or lion-combo-to-groin, but they never, ever give mouth-mouth.  Unless, of course, their mouths are full of poisoned needles. Sneaky ninjas.

I think the fun and the not fun of rescue just as a wave smacks seawater into the back of my throat and I unexpectedly relive the morning’s energy bar breakfast. Nothing like almost drowning yourself to snap you back to fake rescuing your fake victim. I refocus on kicking four times and simulating mouth-to-mouth. In two days I’ll be a rescue diver. First, though, I have to haul this guy onto the boat so I can go all George Clooney ER on him with the Automatic External Defibrillator.

“Clear!” [zap]

The least this guy could do for fake saving his life is to get back in the water and pretend to panic. Ah, good times.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

Mervyn is a traveler who brings too much, eats too much, and writes way too much.  To learn more, read his overwritten FAQ or flip through the archives.  If you enjoyed this post, feel free to recommend it using the buttons below.

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