Drinking and Diving: Just Say No

Drinking and Diving: Just Say No

A guy with ear problems goes to Notos Mare on the southern coast of Crete, parties a little too much the night before going diving, and ends up possibly “narked” and faced with a life-threatening situation. Moral: don’t drink and dive.

A submerged shoal is an area of the seabed that is shallower than the surrounding area. Also known as "pinnacles," you can see lots of these in Greece and I was very excited to see them myself. In anticipation of the trip I got my Advanced Diving certification. I didn't want to take a chance on anything ruining the trip and since I'm prone to equalization problems I bought an IST Sports ProEar Pressure Equalization Dive Mask, a special dive mask and ear cover system that maintains equalized pressure in the ears automatically, without the diver having to do anything.

The first part of the trip went off without a hitch. In the dives I'd booked in advance of the trip the mask worked great, the travel arrangements went smoothly, and the underwater scenery was just as beautiful as I'd hoped.

I had some more time before I needed to head home, so I asked if there were any other dive opportunities available. The instructor at the Greek resort, Notos Mare in Chora Sfakia on the southern coast of Crete, said that he was going out on a Wednesday with a student but one of the other instructors could come along, hook me up with a buddy, and we could all go on the dive together. It sounded like the perfect way to end my trip.

I wasn’t expecting a deep dive so I figured it would be safe to have a beer or two the night before. And maybe a cocktail. Or two. 

OK, let’s be honest: I was drinking Ouzo like Zorba The Greek, and I pretty much closed the bar that night. Later the bar staff told me I was downing shots and smashing glasses till dawn. Then there was the dancing on tables...but that’s another story.

Somehow I managed to make it to the meeting point for the dive, get properly suited up and into the water.  The instructor led me over a shoal and kept descending and checking in with me by giving the OK sign, to which I always responded OK. Except I wasn’t okay. In fact I was pretty darn not okay on account of being badly hung over from the previous night, and I felt sick. I wondered how you throw up while diving; there’s something the instructors don’t teach! Finally we bottomed out on a sandy area past all the sea grass and the instructor again gave me the OK sign, but this time I couldn't fake being okay any longer: I suddenly felt utter panic.

I rationalized that I was ‘narked,’ not hung over. Also known as Nitrogen Narcosis, narked is a condition divers face when they fail to take the necessary safety stops to clear the nitrogen that normally accumulates in their body tissues during a dive. It generally feels very euphoric but is extremely dangerous because it means life threatening nitrogen toxicity---also known as "the bends"---is looming. I wasn't narked, I was in denial.

It seemed like I had tunnel vision. I think there was a boat traveling overhead but the droning seemed like it was coming from inside my head, and I was sure I was going to pass out. I even kept touching my regulator thinking it was falling out. I was so glad I'd invested in the ProEar mask, which prevented further pain, dizziness and disorientation under the water; it may have saved my life.

I did my best to stay centered and signaled the instructor that no, I wasn’t okay, and he led me back up. The symptoms gradually subsided as we ascended together, but I have to say I was still a little disoriented about 15 minutes later when we finally surfaced.

I can tell you one thing: my drinking and diving days are over!

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