Nitrogen Narcosis

I have been thinking a lot lately about stuff I should post on a blog. You know, those deep thoughts that you think, “I should share that with other people.”

I just got back from vacation in Maui. It was our 5th wedding anniversary, and we spent 4 days diving, and the rest of the time playing in the ocean, eating good food, and taking a lot of walks.

We have only dove together in Kona before, which is a lot of diving just offshore, that stays fairly shallow. Looking at my log book, almost every dive day started with a deep dive at at least 85 ft. We were lucky that we had a great dive crew, and fairly advanced people on the boat with us, which allowed us to even do a deep, drift dive!

I’m definitely more a fan of dives around 60 ft, if only because it means I get more bottom time. However, all of the diving we did was pretty spectacular, even if brief. It’s the end of whale season, so we could hear whale songs under water. They were still a bit far off, as that our bodies weren’t vibrating (a sure sign, I’m told, that they’re near.) From the boat, we saw a whale tail, false killer whales (like giant dolphins!) and dolphins. Under the water, we saw so much! White tipped reef sharks, flame wrasses, tons of turtles (that was one dive), and so many other fish, nudibranchs, morays, garden eels – it was awesome.

Most noteworthy, though, was my experience of what had to be narcosis on our deep drift dive. My dive instructor, GirlDiver knows from my PADI Advanced Open Water dives that I’m a bit stupid when I’m narced. At 95 ft, I realized I didn’t under stand how my computer worked. Rather, it’s not that I didn’t understand, it’s more that I didn’t understand that I didn’t understand. I was completely without self-consciousness, and looked at my tally of bottom time so far, and the timer that tells me how long I can stay at that depth, and was confused. I wasn’t worried – not at all. That little voice that makes sure that I’m doing the right thing, though, was just really quiet. I was looking for it, and it just wasn’t there.

I showed Jon my computer. He was worried I was going to ascend too fast, meanwhile, I was completely unconcerned, but just wanted validation externally because I couldn’t find it within. He tried to explain to me, in crude diver sign, how my computer worked, and that I was OK. I decided, cleverly, that since I knew that the number allowing me to stay under water INCREASED when I ascended, I slowly started ascending. At about 87 ft, I realized – “oh hey, I’m stupid because I’m narced.” I spent the rest of my diving trying to make sure that even if I went below 85 ft, if I started feeling funny, I’d ascend back to 70-85 ft.

For me, narcosis starts around 65 ft, when I start relaxing a little more and get loopy thoughts running through my head. Those thoughts are met with that inner voice that knows I’m narced, and is able to point out to myself that I need to take care of myself.

The key thing I’ve learned here is what narcosis REALLY does to me – which seems to mainly relax me by taking away that ego that sits by and judges my every waking move. I think we all have that bit within us that helps us navigate the world, tells us what the “right thing” is to do, even if we don’t do it. It’s freeing not to have that critical voice, however, the down side is that when you’re diving, you need to have a bit of that critical voice to tell you “hey, if you want to be safe, you need to do/not do x,y,z.” You also need to be able to remember how your dive computer works.

This is why diving with a buddy is a good thing – and also, why diving with other advanced divers and a dive master is good. Then there’s the understanding what happens to you when you’re narced. It’s not something you can truly avoid, except by not diving past your threshold where you experience narcosis.

All in all, we had some great dives. I think I can appreciate deep dives, but prefer shallow ones more. We wouldn’t have seen the flame wrasses in shallower waters, though. The 65 minutes of bottom time I got on our shallower dive (last dive), was awesome. I got that long time, though I was chilly (77 degree water), thanks to a loaned hood coupled with my 5 mm Cressi wetsuit, and a 3 mm Henderson vest.

I hope to post more in the coming weeks. I’ve got a lot of posts percolating, but am also super busy. We’ll see….