This might seem a slightly dramatic, odd topic to talk about here as it’s not really in keeping with my other posts to date, but I want to share an experience with you that I had a few years ago. Have you ever had a near death experience, a close shave (in the non-razor sense), a close call or a very near miss that seemed to make time stand still? I have, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to put down into words for a while now. My near miss ‘moment’ happened four and a half years ago when my husband and I were on honeymoon (yes that’s right, honeymoon!) I didn’t ‘float above the bed’, I didn’t see any dark tunnels or flashing lights but it was enough to class it, I think, as a ‘near death experience’, exciting, no?
Me and the Mr had a wonderful two weeks of newly wedded bliss in Mauritius back in September 2011. Laying in the sunshine, drinking cold beer every day at 12, cocktails at sundown, chilling and generally doing nothing. It was lovely. Unfortunately there were two downsides to our trip. Firstly there’s a very strong current all around Mauritius which my husband didn’t realise on booking (not that I’m allocating blame or anything) so my favourite holiday past time of snorkelling was tricky, as you were bobbed along to the next cove which meant a long walk back along the beach from wherever you ended up. And secondly, there had been some storms just before our arrival which meant that the water had been churned up, so visibility underwater wasn’t good. This is classic ‘us bad luck’ (i.e. bad luck and general irksome things like this always follow us around the world!) My husband and I both have our PADI certificates, and were hoping to do some diving whilst away so despite the crap visibility decided to book ourselves on a trip. However, one too many cocktails the night before saw me bail at the last minute, hangovers and diving most definitely do not mix. My husband dove with another ‘buddy’ (you always dive in pairs) and said the dive was ‘okay’, but as expected the visibility wasn’t great and the current being strong made it tricky to keep your balance under water. Two not so great combinations.
With two days left of our stay, we decided to book one more dive, this time making sure we didn’t (really) drink the night before. We had to be at the hotel dive hut by 9am so we were up and breakfasted early. Mauritius is an island, and is almost entirely circled by a coral reef. Just beyond that reef are huge waves that break. Just beyond the reef is where our dive boat headed for, the depth of the water was about 15/20 metres. When the boat stopped I remember thinking, ‘this can’t be where we are getting out’, the waves were huge, relentlessly bashing the side of the boat. I felt really uneasy. When I jumped into the water, backwards off the side of the boat I panicked as I got pushed back against the boat and glugged in a load of sea water. Not a good start.
Three of us including a dive instructor descended, and straight away I could feel the current pulling at me. If we wanted to stop and look at something, we had to hold onto rocks to stay in one place. It was incredibly tiring swimming against it all the time. The dive itself was fairly uneventful, the visibility was bad and we couldn’t see more than 5 metres or so ahead of us as the sand had been churned up by the pesky storm. I kept expecting to see a shopping trolley, the water had the murky feel of climates less tropical. The other guy on our dive, a Swedish chap was really struggling with his buoyancy, he couldn’t keep himself underwater and kept floating back towards the surface. After about 10 minutes of him battling with this, the dive instructor signalled for us all to surface so he could take the guy back to the boat. We came back up to 10 metres and my husband and I clung onto some rocks, whilst the instructor sorted the other guy out. Once that was all done, he came back to us and signalled for us all to go back down again.
The instructor explained to us, as best you can underwater, that we were going down to 20 metres and we were going to cross a channel with banks of coral either side. That sounded fine. We descended fairly quickly and started to swim. This channel can’t have been more than 10/15 metres wide so we didn’t have far to go, but you couldn’t see a thing, not a sausage or a puffer fish. The three of us swam in a line with our instructor at the front. He turned round a few times to check we were fine, giving us the ‘okay’ signal, which we would do back. He had literally just done this to us and turned back again when suddenly out of nowhere I started to feel a rise of panic. I started to feel incredibly claustrophobic, everywhere around me was thick water, I couldn’t see a bloody thing. My breathing stepped up a pace, I tried to calm it down but it started to get the better of me. I turned round to my husband and signalled that I ‘felt funny’, and that I wanted to ‘go back up’ to the surface. I think I must have had a slightly wild look in my eyes as he motioned for me to slow down but I just signalled the same again, and then before I had time to control it, I had a huge panic attack.
The next few moments went in slow motion. My first reaction was to take my regulator (breathing piece) out of my mouth, then my next reaction was to try and take my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) off and swim to the surface. Bearing in mind we were 20 metres underwater, there was no chance in hell this was happening. It was safe to say I was screwed. Luckily my husbands quick thinking saved my life. He grabbed me and forced his spare regulator (you always have one) into my mouth. I tried to push this away and remember seeing the panic in his eyes. I remember thinking, ‘why can’t he just let me swim, I could make it?’. He forced the regulator back in my mouth and pushed a button which forces air to flow, thus pushing air into my mouth. I remember feeling so tired, the panic attack had consumed me and I had taken in huge amounts of sea water. I was basically full of water. I remember thinking, ‘I’m not going to make it, I’m drowning, what an idiot’ (classic British thinking in this time of emergency) As we swam to the surface, I remember seeing the water change colour from dark blue to turquoise, thinking how beautiful it was. I remember watching this slow transition thinking that the journey up was taking forever, wondering whether I’d make it or not. Strange the thoughts you have. After what felt like a lifetime, we hit the surface and I took my first gulp of air, it was euphoric. As I gulped in the air rather dramatically, I coughed out all my inhaled water and started scream/shouting. At this point our poor dive instructor surfaced next to us and came to help, he had been oblivious to all of this and was wondering what the hell happened.
I suddenly felt rather silly. I was helped back onto the boat and sat very quietly at the back. Back on land my husband steered me back to our room where we lay in the dark for several hours holding hands, taking in the enormity of what had just happened. We then went and did what anyone else would have done in our situation, and got very, very drunk. Needless to say I haven’t been diving since. It took me a long time to get over this experience. When we returned from honeymoon I suffered from terrible reoccurring nightmares on and off for about two years. I still get them every now and again but thankfully they have lessened with time. In hindsight (what a wonderful thing!) given my mild claustrophobia, diving is one thing that I probably should have avoided! And also, I broke the first rule of diving which is NEVER TAKE YOUR REGULATOR OUT!! What a wally. Obviously I was fine in the end and obviously my husband still dines out on the fact that he saved my life, cue lots of jokes about trying to kill me to get life insurance etc 🙂 It could have been a rather crap end to our rather lovely honeymoon!