It took a bit of travel to get to Heron Island. I flew to LA. Then to Sydney. I had a 5 or 6 hour layover in Sydney so I checked my bags in and took a taxi to Circular Quay to see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and to get some breakfast. My next flight was to Brisbane. After a short layover I flew to a small airport in Gladstone where I ran from the plane to a helicopter which took me to Heron Island as the sun was setting. I was spending my first night Down Under on Heron Island and the next morning I would be scuba diving in the ocean for the first time.
It was a short ride in small boat to our first dive site. As soon as the boat stopped it was like a race to get our gear on and get in the water. Except for me. I got my open water certification a year an half earlier. A mountain bike crash ruined plans for my first dive trip. So it had been awhile since I put the regulator, BC, tanks and the rest of the gear on. I wasn’t sure I was doing it right and was pretty slow. There were only about a dozen divers on the boat and dive master soon spotted my troubles and came over to help me get ready. Once in the water everything was great. There was a large nurse shark right where we descended. The fish and corals of the Great Barrier Reef were amazing. When I was pulling myself back into the boat after the dive my weight belt fell off and sank back into the ocean.
“No worries” the dive master said “someone will find it down there.”
I didn’t worry. I had a great second dive and wonderful evening.
The next morning I got up early to dive again. Feeling a bit more confident I was able to keep up with the other divers as we got ready. We descended about 10 to 12 meters for the first part of the dive. About five minutes into the dive I notice a weight belt on the ocean floor right below me. We were at a different dive site. It couldn’t be my weight belt from the day before. Oh Shit! It was my weight belt from this morning. My belt had come off again. I immediately remembered the instructions from the dive master when I was certifying. “If you accidentally drop your weight belt, wave bye bye to the other divers cause your going to the surface. Just spread eagle and try to ascend as slowly as possible.” I didn’t wave to the other divers but I rise to the surface spread eagle.
At the surface I saw the boat about 50 meters away and gave the diver’s okay signal and call out “Hello” until I got the attention of the captain. I wasn’t happy my first dive was cut short but we were schedule to do two dives so I still had one to go. He brought the boat over to me and as I climbed into the boat he asked what happened. I told him my weight belt fell off and I surfaced.
“How deep were you? How long were you down? How fast did you come to the surface?”
I could tell he was concerned. I tried to assure him everything was alright. I wasn’t down very deep and was only down for a few minutes. Technically I didn’t even need to do a safety stop before surfacing. He asked if I felt any tingling or had any muscle or joint stiffness.
I said “No worries. I’m fine.”
"Just to be safe I'm going to have you lay down and give you some oxygen."
“Well, okay. I’ll do that.”
After he got the oxygen mask on me and covered me with a blanket he got on the radio and was asking someone for advice as to what to do next.
I pulled the mask of my face to reassure him “I feel fine. I wasn’t down very deep or very long.”
He set the radio down and said we have to take you in. He leaned over the side of the boat and started banging on the hull giving the emergency signal to the other divers.
“No! Really, I’am okay.”
“Lay down and keep the mask on.”
It was too late the other divers would be surfacing soon. I felt terrible. I had ruined their dive too. As the divers climb into the boat each one quickly dropped their gear and rushed over to my side.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you warm? Do you need another blanket?”
I lifted my mask a little. “I feel fine. Really. It’s no big deal. I was only...”
A hand pressed the mask back over my nose and mouth.
“You’re going to be alright.”
“We’re going to take care of you.”
All the divers were back on the boat and huddled around me.
“I’m not worried, I...”
Another hand pressed the mask back over my face. There was nothing I could do. They were taking me back to the island. About then I accepted the fact that my diving was over for the day.
As we neared the jetty I spotted a red helicopter flying towards the island. It took me a minute to realize it wasn’t the helicopter that brings guests to the island. I thought to myself “Oh hell, they better not life flight me off the island to a decompression chamber.” I tried to protest again but one of the divers held the mask to my face. I gave up my resistance at that point.
They struggled a bit lifting me from the bench onto a stretcher. I tried to suggest that I just walk or at least get myself on the stretcher but they would not let me get up or even sit up. The divers helped the medical team from the island get me onto the stretcher, cover me with blankets, set the oxygen tank on top and carry me off the boat.
Heron Island is small, just one resort but nearly everyone on the island was waiting at the jetty to see what had happened. I was carried right through the crowd which pressed as close as possible to get a good look at who was injured.
I could hear people ask “What happened?”
“Was it a shark?”
“Is he going to be alright?”
They carried me off the jetty to a cart waiting on the sand. I could see the red helicopter on the pad with the blades still spinning. Thankfully, they drove me straight to the small medical clinic a short distance away instead. They carried me into the clinic and lifted me onto a bed. The dive master reported the details to the young lady at the clinic and left. I was relieved to get away from the divers and the crowd on the beach.
I am not sure if the lady was a doctor, nurse, EMT, paramedic or what. I can no longer remember her name. She replaced the large oxygen mask with the kind that has two little tubes that went in my nose and she let me sit up a bit. She checked my vitals signs and kept calling me “Love.” I know she called everyone “Love” like many Australian women do but it was new for me and I liked it. She left a sensor clipped to one of my fingers and said I had to stay there to be watched for an hour.
By then I had to pee very bad so I asked if I could get up and go to the restroom.
“No love, you can’t get up for an hour.”
“Is this my punishment for dropping two weight belts?”
She didn’t seem to catch my attempt at humor and went into the next room. Soon she came back in and held out a glass bottle.
“Here’s a bottle you can use if you like.”
It took me a moment to realize what she was suggesting I could use the bottle for. “No thanks. Not right now. I’ll try to hold it.”
For the next hour I sat up in the damp bed and watched the clock with my wetsuit pulled down to my waist, oxygen in my nose and a little monitor clipped to me finger. I chatted with the lady as she walked in and out of the room. As soon as an hour was up and she gave me the okay, I jumped off the bed and raced to the rest room.
Leaving the clinic a few minutes later I thanked her for taking good care of me.
“No worries, love.”