Before I start telling you about my journey to become a Master Scuba Diver and beyond, let me first start off by explaining a little of my past experiences so you know where I am starting from, and how extremely difficult the journey has been for me.
In the Spring of 1988 while working as a lieutenant on a regional special rescue squad my unit was called to rescue a young boy that had fallen through an old abandoned well and into a deserted mine shaft over 100 feet below ground.
Our department was responsible for all confined space and high angle rescues for a three-county-wide area consisting of more than 1,200 square miles. We were well trained in confined space operations, and unfortunately we had a lot of experience in these types of rescues.
Once we arrived on scene 45 minutes later we took over control of the incident from the local fire department and me and my partner geared up and with our equipment in-hand headed into the mine shaft in search of the boy.
After 3 hours of searching deeper into the mine shaft we found the boy who remarkably had only sustained a broken leg, 2 broken arms, and associated minor injuries from the fall. As we stabilized the patient, splinted his extremities and secured him to a backboard for the long trek out the shaft started collapsing behind us trapping us inside.
The only way out now was through the old well that the boy had fallen through. As equipment was moved into position to attempt to extract us through the abandoned well the ground above us started to give way and the well shaft started to collapse. Now we were completely sealed off from the outside.
We waited underground for hours while rescue crews dug vertically alongside the mineshaft, but far enough away not to cause further collapses, then dug horizontally attempting to break through into the mine shaft we were entombed in. We had given our last SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) air tank to our patient and the air was getting very thin making it difficult for my partner and myself to remain conscious.
The next thing I remember was awaking in the back of an ambulance surrounded by Paramedics and EMT’s from my squad, relieved that I was alive. Apparently when they reached us neither I nor my partner was breathing or had a pulse. Unfortunately their rescue attempts were unsuccessful on my partner who died at the scene.
Our patient was alive and well and had already been airlifted to the hospital and has since made a full recovery. From time to time I still receive a Christmas card or call from him 25 years later.
Since this incident I was left with severe claustrophobia and fear of suffocation, which has caused me to change my lifestyle drastically. I could no longer snorkel, swim, explore caves, or do anything not out in the open air. I have been an Emergency Medical Technician since 1988 and a Diving Medical Technician since 2010 but I could no longer dive without a feeling of shear terror rushing throughout my body. I even cringe to this day as I drive through a tunnel, even though I can see through to the other side.
After 25 years of allowing claustrophobia and fear to control my life I have finally decided it was time to do something about it. I will utilize this blog to tell the story of how I am using scuba diving to help me overcome these fears and take back control of my life.
Follow along with me as I dive into the world of scuba diving, overcoming my fears, and discovering that “LIFE BEGINS . . . At the end of your Comfort Zone.”