Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

Of Risks and Rewards

Brent probably told me that he was a SCUBA instructor the first day we met.  While it was never something I had much interest in myself (I have a healthy – or perhaps irrational – fear of sharks… and eels… and barracudas… and needle fish… and…), it certainly earned him points in my book, even before I had a crush on him.

(Incidentally, I’m pretty sure my crush on my husband grew exponentially after looking through all his old dive photos for this morning’s post.)

When we started dating, he told me that he’d be happy to certify me, and so began a five-year conversation about my becoming a diver.

A couple years into this conversation, the dive manual showed up on my desk, where it’s sat collecting dust ever since.

Yes, diving was intriguing.  Yes, I love swimming and have always felt at home in the water.  But did I mention that healthy fear of aquatic animals?  Like, serious freakedoutedness – as in, ten minutes after I found out my family was going to Hawaii eight years ago, I went online to search for all of the scary creatures that could be lurking in the south Pacific waters.

In recent months, though, Brent’s taken to teasing me about my stall tactics.  He’s learned over the course of our relationship that if there’s anything that will get me moving, it’s taunting.

So we began to make plans to move forward, and somewhere along the way, realized that I’d probably need a physician to sign off on it.

I assumed that this would be little more than a formality, but when I took the form with me to a routine appointment with the pulmonologist two weeks ago, the doctor told me that there’s always an added risk when diving with asthma, and as minimal as the risk may be, he wasn’t comfortable giving his consent.


He suggested that we get in touch with DAN, the Divers Alert Network, to see if they might have more current information about the risk and be willing to sign off on it.

When I called Brent after the appointment and mentioned what the doc had said, his own curiosity kicked in, and he called down to the Dive Center that morning.  The specialists told him that there were three hyperbaric dive medicine clinics in the United States – at Duke University in North Carolina, at the University of California San Diego, and at the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia.

Brent promptly called the Penn clinic, conveniently located about ten miles from our house, to find out how to move forward.  The assistant told him that I should come in for a full work-up, at which point the doctors would give me a sense of the risks associated with diving with asthma. (“Risks” seemed to be becoming the buzzword in all of these conversations.)

I scheduled an appointment the next day, and this morning found myself in the waiting room of the formidable Penn Hyperbaric Therapy Clinic.

I anticipated a couple hours of poking and prodding, and perhaps (even though Brent told me this wouldn’t happen) a stint in the hyperbaric chamber to see how my lungs functioned at different pressure levels.

And I was kind of looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  Instead, they took my vitals, and after a long wait (there was an emergency carbon monoxide case that came in just before me), I spent about an hour talking to two doctors about the physiological risks associated with diving with asthma.

Essentially, it comes down to this:

SCUBA diving doesn’t increase the possibility of having an asthma attack.

The problems come if you actually have an asthmatic episode under the water.

Simply, there’s just more at stake.  You’re susceptible to the same things that any other diver is susceptible to – the risks associated with coming up to the surface too quickly – but you’re doing so with a decreased lung capacity.

The doctor wants to look at the numbers a bit more, but he told me that if everything lines up the way he anticipates it will, he won’t be able to sign off on my certification.

That said, this doesn’t mean I can’t dive.

The doc said that just because he can’t sign the form doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t move forward.  He said that I’m a healthy, fit person with well-managed and relatively predictable asthma.  He said that I’m involved in some pretty serious endurance events, which clearly indicates that I know how my body works and how and when to push myself.  He said that one of the biggest issues here is that people with asthma are placing a little bit of added risk on their diving partners, who would have to deal with any issues that might arise under water – but that since my diving partner will be my husband, a well-trained diver and top certified instructor, much of that risk is negated.  And he said that while he may not assume the risk for himself, he won’t necessarily tell me not to do it – so long as I understand the risks involved.

Brent and I had a long conversation this afternoon about the doctor’s advice, and we ultimately came to the same conclusion – we both feel ready to move forward with the certification.  If something comes up during the training that seems like it might be a trigger for an asthmatic reaction, we’ll stop, no question.  But at this point, the risks seem manageable (and trust me, contrary to what it may seem like, I’m actually a pretty risk-averse person), and are outweighed by the potential rewards on the other end.

So, it’s time to hit the books.  And then hit the pool.  And then hit the local quarry.  And someday, I guess I’ll have to hit the ocean.

Now if they could only drain it of sharks before I jump in…


6 responses to “Of Risks and Rewards

  1. nobel4lit March 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Wow, that’s a scary diagnosis still… I’m sure you know yourself well enough to ultimately decide if you want to scuba.

  2. Nellie (The Midlife Cruiser) March 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    OMG! Just reading about the sharks and eels and other swimming killers in the water is freaking me out. Those shark’s teeth did not help matters. You are either BRAVE or NUTS! LOL! Glad I can read about it and not participate 😉

  3. Kim (Book Worm Runs) March 4, 2011 at 7:10 am

    Yeah, pretty much anything in the ocean freaks me out!! 🙂 This was all really interesting to read about…it sounds like you and Brent handled this the mature and responsible way and I foresee many scuba adventures in your future 😉 Keep us posted on how it goes!!!

  4. Kari w/ Jogging with Fiction March 4, 2011 at 8:24 am

    “healthy fear of aquatic animals” I love it and actually share the same fear. I’m excited to hear how things go. I don’t think I could ever SCUBA, I have some intense clastrophobia issues, so having no sky above me wouldn’t really work out. Good luck!! I’ll live vicariously through you.

  5. Mallory March 4, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Very interesting post. I hope that you are able to move forward with it. Diving is so cool!

  6. denise March 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    you’re so smart with your training and listening to your body, i think you made the right choice. have fun!! can’t wait to hear about it.

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