Scuba Mask Mishap in Thailand

Written by  Sarah Reijonen May 2, 2012

Why it's important to take the refresher course before taking the plunge abroad.

My head begins to throb and I cry, though not from emotion or the tightening pressure at my temples. Tears stream down my cheeks within my mask and the feeling that someone is tying a bandana around my forehead grows more intense. I try to widen my eyelids, but my full screen show converts to wide screen then blurs. Suddenly, my world goes dark.

I float upright and reach out both hands beginning to panic. Breathe. Breathe. Panicking will not help you any. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder. It is my husband, and without being able to communicate verbally, I use my SCUBA sign language to say, “Get me the heck out of here.”

I touch my facemask to tell him something is wrong with my equipment, and then I give the thumbs up signal to say, “Take me to the surface.” A few minutes later my head pops out of the Andaman Sea off the shores of Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi Island, where I was first SCUBA certified over a year ago.

“Can you see? Can you see?” my husband shouts.

“I’m not sure,” I reply with the worst-case scenario in mind. What if I’m blind? What if my last glimpse of the world was the glistening of pinkish scales and spiny urchins poking from an undersea rock world? What if my last image of my husband was him in a wetsuit?

Hoping for the best, my eyelids struggle to pry apart from one another.

“Oh my God,” my husband says.

That’s not what I want to hear. Upon peeling the mask from my face, he can see the real damage and it isn’t pretty. I realize that it isn’t my sight that has failed me; my eyes have swollen shut. I look like a bullfrog that has just gone 10 rounds with Muhammed Ali. Stung by a bee is more like it.

At first I think it may be some sort of allergic reaction, but my SCUBA instructor says it is a case of barotrauma, which in this instance is commonly known as “mask squeeze.” This occurs when the diver neglects to equalize her mask during descent. While I equalized my ears, I failed to allow air into my mask; therefore, outside pressure was pushing the mask to my face and acting as a plunger to my eyeballs. The end result is a possessed appearance of underworld proportions – bloodshot, red eyes for two whole months. The pressure burst the blood vessels in my eyes leading to my demon-like look and causing both small children and grown Thai men to gasp in horror. It’s nearly impossible to get a banana pancake when you look like Satan’s spawn.

Besides not equalizing, my epic fail was brought on by not brushing up on my SCUBA diving skills. I had only received my certification a year earlier and had not been diving since. I learned the hard way that a refresher is well worth its weight in Thai baht.

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