As I’d mentioned in my previous post, I was invited to spend the weekend in a very fancy resort with my great-aunt, 3 of her daughters and their husbands, 2 of her grandchildren, and a family friend. My great-aunt is a Cardiologist and my great-uncle is a surgeon. All four of their daughters, and their husbands, are specialists as well. So I was with 6 doctors on this trip. This information will come into play later on.
The city we were going to for the weekend is called Fajardo, which is located on the Eastern side of the island. One of the number one beaches in the world can be found on this coast, it’s called Culebras, which in English means Snake. This is one island I’ve yet to visit, but I did get to visit Palominos! I’m getting ahead of myself again… Let’s rewind.
As we made our way up to the resort we drove through the most beautiful golf course I’d ever seen. It almost looked like the vast green tea fields in Korea it was so green. We then arrived at this village called “La Casitas”, or, “The small houses”. It feels like you’re walking around Miami in this little village with all the houses painted in different pastel colors and palm trees lining the footpaths.
From the concierge building you can turn right, towards the infinity pool, or turn left to take the bus to the main hotel where you’ll find various restaurants and a magnificent view.
After enjoying some fine-dining, you can go shopping in the various shops or take the cable car down to the ferries. From here you can book excursions or take a day trip to one of the many islands such as Culebra, Palominos, and Vieques.
We decided to go to Isla Palominos since it’s the closest to the hotel. As we waited in line my great-aunt asked me if I wanted to go scuba diving. I didn’t even think of it as a possibility so I didn’t bring my dive certificate or dive log. I told her I would think about it since it caught me off guard. We then arrived at the beach and I found an umbrella and set up camp.
My aunt still pushed, “Why don’t you just ask if you can do it?” I begrudgingly did and found that it was 100$ for “half day on one tank”. The woman told me if I found my ID number she could look me up in the system and set it up. So I did and was set for pick up at 2:30. When the boat picked me up I realized that I forgot to fill out all the paperwork online before diving, but no one asked for it or checked to see it was done anyway.
It had been one year since I’d been diving in Thailand and I’d forgotten almost everything. When I did my course, the dive school told me I was a natural at diving and they wanted me to do the advanced course. The dive master(?) on this trip gave me a quick rundown on the jacket, set up my equipment, and put 4 weights in my pockets. I jumped in feeling a bit uneasy and nervous having had hardly any instruction. As soon as I’d jumped in I realized that my jacket was too heavy and was pulling me down instead of allowing me to float on the surface. The waves were choppy and this didn’t help my uneasiness.
I should have trusted my gut and never gone diving that day.
Myself and the other 3 people on the dive swam towards the rope to begin our descent. I made my way slowly down the rope and attempted to equalize my ears without success. The lower I went, the more anxious I became because my ears would not equalize. I gestured to the master/leader with the “I can’t equalize” hand signals and he ushered me to come to the bottom with the others. I did. At this point I focused on my breathing and tried to take pictures all while trying to ignore the growing pressure in my chest. That’s when we saw a sea turtle. I’d always wanted to see one up close and I’d finally seen it! I didn’t want to go any deeper, so I watched the others take pictures next to it.
That’s when the panic set in. I suddenly felt terrible, like I would pass out. So I swam over to the main dive guy and pointed up. I’d done this several times over the course of our dive but he always said “no”. I wanted to go up since the beginning, but I didn’t have a dive watch to tell me when to do my safety stop. One thing you all should know is I’m terrified of the Bends. I’d had a scare similar to this when in Thailand, but not quite like this. I remember the dive guy coming towards me and all the sudden I was swirling around backwards towards the surface. I grabbed the guys jacket, because if I’m going up he’s coming with me.
He inflated my jacket on purpose, sending me up to the surface without a safety stop.
I told him I felt terrible, something wasn’t right, and he told me to swim back on my own towards the boat and he descended again. The boat was about 100 meters away with choppy waters. I kicked with ferocity in the direction of the boat even though all I wanted to so was to sleep right there. I kept telling myself that if I stopped swimming for a moment I would drift further away from the boat. When I finally made it up I sat unresponsive on the bench. People tried talking to me but I couldn’t form sentences to respond. A guy threw a towel at me and I wrapped it around myself. I tried calling my boyfriend to tell him I felt strange but only gibberish came out of my mouth. He began to worry and I didn’t know what to say to make it right. When I arrived at the dock I asked the guy if I should be worried with my symptoms and the rapid ascension. He told me no, that it was just my anxiety.
When I saw my aunt and the others I told them I felt strange and my leg was tingling. I told them what happened and I said I didn’t feel good. Remember they are all doctors. My aunt took me to Starbucks for a coffee and chalked it up to anxiety and lowered blood pressure from my various medications I’m taking. I refused to believe it was just anxiety and called up DAN, Divers Alert Network, and spoke with a dive doctor. She told me that it sounded like the Bends was out of the realm of possibility but I could have a different trauma. She said to ask my family to seriously evaluate me and not write me off. They wrote me off.
Fast forward to a couple of days later. The day before my flight I took the car to visit my grandmothers other sisters in the countryside 2 hours away. I got half way and stopped to see my aunt for a coffee. She shopped around Kmart and I told her I was feeling dizzy. She told me if I’m dizzy that I shouldn’t drive. I ignored this warning, since my meds make me a little dizzy normally, and I continued my trip. I got about 20 minutes down the road when a wave of something came over me and I nearly fell asleep at the wheel. I felt the pressure in my chest and I started breathing deeply to calm myself down and make my way to the nearest shop. I happened to be a stop light next to a pharmacy. One minute I’m on the phone with my grandma asking for directions and the next I’m repeating “I’m going to pass out, I’m going to pass out.” I made it to the pharmacy and was told to go inside and have them check my blood pressure. I called my aunt but she was still at Kmart and I waited 15 minutes for someone to arrive to help me. It felt like eternity and the pharmacist gave up waiting and called the paramedics. They arrived and checked my condition right as my grandmas sister arrived. They decided to take me in the ambulance, a first for me, and hook me up to an IV and oxygen.
I spent the whole day in the ER instead of on the farm playing with baby pigs and eating arroz con pollo. The kicker is, I’d told all those doctors that something was wrong. They didn’t believe me until I ended up in the ER. Turns out I had Barotrauma from the diving. I couldn’t walk straight for the next few days and I had to cancel my flight home. I ended up flying home, on my birthday, pumped with steroids, chill pills, and decongestants in order to fly without causing more damage to my ears. I swore that if I landed in USA safely, and also Europe 3 days later, that I would never dive again. And I never will.
So this is my PSA to my fellow adventurers out there. Always trust your gut. You should be 100% Fuck Yes in everything you do or do nothing at all. Stay safe out there. Peace, love, and see you guys in Europe!