Monday, December 13, 2004

Zen and the Art of breathing

Still major probs with old PC so here's a story for you.

Years ago when I was SCUBA diving we all went to the Farne Islands. I drove up with Stevey in his van. We stopped off at a Granada Service station on the A1. Had a coffee, as you do. Except I don’t. I’m incredibly sensitive to caffeine. I guess it started when I was at university and I drank loads of coffee. Hot strong and black,gallons of the stuff. All freshly brewed in my steel coffee percolator of the sort that you can’t buy now. I was OK during the one hour lectures but after two hours I’d be shaking like a leaf and I’d have to get my fix of caffeine.
Skip forward 15 years and I’m still drinking coffee but I’m getting headaches. My wife (at the time) said “That’s the caffeine in the coffee doing that.”
“Bollocks.” Was my succinct, well thought out reply. “I’ve been drinking coffee all my life.”
But something in what she said nagged me and without telling anyone I stopped drinking coffee for a week. Well whoopidy doo dah, the headaches went away. Not wanting my wife to be right I told myself it was a coincidence. So after a week I had a coffee for the first time.
POW! Right between the eyes, the mother of all headaches. I had to sleep for three hours. OK she was right. No coffee for me from now on. I went on to tea. Just as bad.
Next thing I had to cut out was Coca Cola. Then disaster upon disaster, chocolate.
Now this was nature taking the piss big time. I love chocolate.
Skip forward another ten years. I’ve been clean all this time. I haven’t done the drug at all. We’re at the Granada service station. Steves having a coffee and I said I’d have one too. Surely after ten years I still can’t be sensitive. One cup wouldn’t hurt.
I had a cup of coffee. It was by service station standards, pretty good. We started walking back to the van. I was feeling a little dizzy. Then a slight headache. Then confused. I started stuttering. By the time we were a mile up the road I could hardly speak at all. By the time we reached Sea Houses I was out of it.
Everyone was already there and Steve put up our tent and inflated the air mattresses. I just collapsed onto the bed and went into a deep sleep. I woke up hours later. Feeling like shit. It was dark. I got up and looked about. The camp site was deserted. They’d all buggered off and left me. Still a little unsteady on my feet I took a walk. Found someone walking their dog.
“Where’s the nearest pub?” I asked.
“That’ll be the lights over there.” He said.
I walked to the pub and found the guys.
“Christ Mike.You look like shit.”
“Yeah I feel it. Mines a pint.”

The next day I felt great again and we went to do some diving. If I could be arsed to look up my old diving logs I could tell you which wreck we were diving that day. But I can’t. I can tell you it was 33metres down. We dived down in pairs and swam around the wreck. The water was quite clear. The wreck was broken up but the old boiler was still visible and if you sifted through the sand you could pick up old crockery and tin soldiers and rather oddly, old reels of cinema film. It was while I was sifting that my buddy Richard tapped me on the shoulder. He showed me his air gauge, it was down to 25%. So I grabbed mine and had a look. Zero.
Nah! That’s not possible. I tapped it. Yep Zero. But I was still breathing. Must be a fault. Suddenly the zero meant zero. Then was nothing left. That’s the thing with an air tank under water you don’t get any warning, apart from your gauge. The air supply just stops. You can suck all you like but after that last normal lungful, there’s nothing. Nada. Zip.
OK so here’s the situation. I was 33 metres below the surface, that’s over a hundred foot down. My main tank had gone empty. I had half a lung full of air. I can live on that for a minute maybe two. It takes about five minutes to get to the surface without bursting your lungs or doing some other nasty damage to your body. Luckily I had a two litre pony, a small spare emergency air tank, that’s not many breathes in that either. What to do?
Head for the surface pretty damned quick. I was supposed to stop at ten metres and again at five for a minute at each stop to equalise the nitrogen absorbed into my body tissue. That was no longer an option. Straight to the surface.
I bobbed up at the top. The boat was just a few yards away. I was dragged out the water. NO air left in either tank. Hmmm nice fresh sea air. Nothing like it. Good for the body good for the soul. Except Rob decided I needed more than just air. I needed oxygen. He strapped a mask on me.
“Keep breathing.” He said.
Yep that works for me, I thought. The idea is that breathing pure oxygen minimises the possibility of getting bent. And I don’t mean turning into a homosexual. It means getting the bends or as they call it now decompression illness. Bubbles of nitrogen that form in the tissues of your body. Imagine opening a bottle of fizzy drink. It all froths up. But if you crack it open let off a little gas then screw it down again quick and keep doing that, you can eventually open the bottle with no bubbles forming. This is exactly what happens in your body if you come up too quick. The nitrogen bubbles up. It can be very dangerous. And painful. I was on oxygen for twenty minutes. For the rest of the day Rob stuck to me like glue. Every ten minutes asking me how I felt, was I dizzy, was I this, was I that, how many fingers could I see.
After a while it got a bit wearing. But he was doing the right thing. It’s been known for someone to get ill up to twenty four hours after a rapid ascent from depth.
But I didn’t. I was lucky I guess.

iPod now playing – Mama we’re all crazy now by Slade

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