Cameron’s Corner: That one time at -120 feet

A lapse in judgment is often times associated with accidents or similar events, and for many decently minded individuals it seems no big deal to adhere to the general constructs of reason. Why put yourself or others in a sticky situation?

In years past, almost another life, I was a wildland firefighter, and being of fairly sound mid-twenty-something mind I considered myself pretty knowledgeable about situations I wouldn’t want to involve myself in.
But there I was, drifting upside down following the contour of a Caribbean shipwreck, a hundred and twenty feet below the sea.

Nitrogen Narcosis is no joke ladies and gents. It took what I considered myself to be, an individual capable of making rational decisions especially in concern of personal safety, and turned me into a carefree, deliriously giddy buffoon.

The bottom of the El Aguila’s hull rested over a hundred feet below, a deep dive for anyone, and often times at pressure the body can unknowingly reside closer to a point called Nitrogen Narcosis.

The process of nitrogen bubbles forming from your own blood, the effects can range from light delirium to all out panic attacks and a variety in between. For me that day I was going through what felt like a truly fantastic time, it was a ball to fly over the top-deck railing of the ship and glide slowly downward, head first.

That’s what did it I think, something as simple as inversion can set the mind into a direction and the narcosis will continue the journey.

I remember looking at my oxygen gauge and seeing it dip below 700psi.

During your initial training they say a general rule is to begin surfacing around that point, but I remember seeing it and thinking ‘I’ll get to that in a minute.’ After another moment I looked at it and it said 500, the normal limit to where you absolutely need to start your ascent if you are to have enough time to safety-stop. It didn’t concern me and I kept swimming.

The guide led the group away from the wreck and began to angle up the reef in order to abstain from needing to safety stop (another way to do it by simply planning an ascent in your dive to the right depths), I soon decided, perhaps of my own volition, that it was time to show him as the gauge was showing just over 300.
His eyes widened when he saw the meter and he aggressively indicated the ‘begin your ascent now’ hand signals (to thumbs up, moving upward), I think the nitrogen effects were wearing off because the seriousness of the situation dawned on me right then and there.

Thankfully we were only minutes away from surfacing anyway and the dive boat was quick to pick me and one other up first, but I think a valuable lesson was learned that day about how things can happen innocently and spiral out of control and if you don’t (or can’t) keep your wits then you are bordering on the edge of disaster.