Best near death experience I’ve had all week

Life here in Koh Chang is assuming a rhythm all of its own. The days have turned into weeks and now into months. I’ll soon be three months here, a quarter of a year. Now, who would have guessed that half a year ago. London and my life back there and then seems such a long time ago and a long way away. The here and now seems to have been here and now for such a long time.

The hot season has passed and we’re now in the rainy season. Once where it was hot and humid now it’s hot humid and rainy but not as hot. Sometimes we have freezing days when the temperature drops below 30°C, near arctic conditions by Thai standards. On a bad day I have to turn the air-con down to its lowest setting; pure hardship.

The rains now come every day. I spoke with an expat who has lived here for many years and he expressed surprise that they have come so soon. He said that it generally doesn’t rain this hard until September. More likelihood that the weather is changing on a worldwide scale. And yet we carbonise blindly on.

I had a Homer Simpsonesque moment a few days ago when someone mentioned that we’re living in a tropical rain forest. So, rain is part of the deal. Doh!!

As Eskimos are to snow so are Irish people to rain. Maybe we’re genetically disposed to water hurtling out of the sky . Although, judging from the level of whining about the rain, surpassing the sound of the rain pattering on the land and the number of Ryanair planes fleeing for hotter and drier lands, acceptance is still a long way off.

Rain in Ireland is a cold, sullen, alien stuff lashing out of a grey and unfriendly sky. It invites immediate aversion and shiverings. Everything inside screams, no, go away, stop, feck off. Flann O’Brien, that damaged genius, wrote a great description of Irish rain in his book, An Béal Bocht, The Poor Mouth.

The rain here in Thailand is different. For one thing, there’s a hell of a lot more of it. It buckets out of the sky at a fierce rate of knots. But, it’s warm and friendly and has a great sound to it. And, the sky is not an angry grey. There are banana trees with huge leaves just outside the front of my apartment and the rainforest starts at the balcony at the back so I’m surrounded by foliage. I love the sound of the rain on the leaves, it sounds comforting and secure. I love lying in bed listening to it. Not sure about the accompanying thunder and lightening though. It’s great when I’m awake but sometimes wakes me up at night, when most of the rainfall is.

I’m aware of my conditioned response to rain, aversion, and conscious that I have a choice now to respond differently. I choose to accept rather that reject the fact that it rains so I don’t feel aversion or negative thoughts and feelings in response to this predominant fact. Easy peasy, only took about 60 years, that.

A few days ago it was pretty rainy so I wend somewhere it never rains, under the water. I went diving. It was an exhilarating day. It took about an hour and a half to reach the dive site. We travelled in an old fishing boat converted to a dive boat. It was locally made of teak and brightly painted and looked so cool. There were about a dozen or so people diving who came from all corners of the world and a great sense of camaraderie soon developed. The sea was pretty choppy so we were flung about quite a bit. When I saw how big the swells were, I was worried that I might get seasick but I didn’t.

The boat itself was quite basic; actually, it was very basic. It was just a wooden boat with a lorry engine attached and very rudimentary Heath-Robinsonish controls. Just as well that there wasn’t a health and safety person within a few thousand kilometres. I felt confident though because the old Thai guy driving the boat looked very confident and the boat was very well built. The two Cambodian deckhands were also full of good cheer although I did hope that this didn’t come from a bottle.

I have no sailing experience whatsoever but the boat seemed to ride the waves in a very natural and even beautiful way and I just enjoyed the journey. I was sitting on cushions in the middle of the boat on a platform above the engine and just in front of where the captain was driving so I had a good view of everything. Luckily, there were lots of handholds to hang on to when the boat was corkscrewing around in the waves. After about an hour, all the conversation stopped and we were lulled into a sense of being at one with nature as the wind whistled and the boat bobbed about. The wooden boat creaked and groaned in a very musical fashion as it carved its way through the rough seas. Every now and then a very big wave would come and the boat would leap around ever more energetically than usual and this would be accompanied by groans and ooohs and aaahs and whoops from the landlubbers aboard. The older ones, like me, also creaked a bit near the journeys end.

Eventually the boat anchored in the lee of a small island and we began diving or snorkelling. My first dive was pretty uneventful. I was mainly concerned with developing buoyancy skills so didn’t pay too much attention to the wildlife around. We were in fairly shallow water, about 10 metres, and due the the weather, the visibility was only about 15 metres. Near the end of the dive, about 50 minutes, I was just beginning to get a sense of how to move up and down in the water and avoid the massed ranks of vicious-looking urchins on the seabed. It’s hard to maintain ones dignity while climbing out of the sea and up a small slippery ladder with a half a ton of diving gear hanging out of different bits of ones body but, dear readers, you will be glad to hear that I did.

The second dive began like the previous one and was about practicing safety procedures and diving techniques. Near the end, I was practicing with Mike, my instructor, how to react to a sudden out of air situation. We had discussed what to do and I had also practiced this before in the safety of the swimming pool so I felt fairly confident. Every diver has an emergency air supply to give to another diver, his buddy, should an emergency arise. It consists of a yellow airline and a standard breathing regulator. You’re meant the grab it, stick it in your gob and breath normally. I took my regulator out of my mouth and let it drop to the side while allowing air to bubble out of my mouth. I took Mike’s emergency line and put the regulator in my mouth and took a breath. Water flooded in. I began to drown. Panic began to nibble at the edge of my mind and, like ink on blotting paper, began to soak into the centre of my being. Mike was gesticulating but I hadn’t a clue what he was trying to communicate. I took the regulator out and put it back in again but when I tried to breathe, water came in again. By now, my lungs were almost empty and my only thought was ‘air, I need air, I have to get the fuck out of here and get to the surface, right NOW’. All my training and practice went out of the window and my whole attention focused on the button on the control valve to inflate my buoyancy vest and pop me to the surface like a cork. I did this and in a few seconds I was on the surface breathing in sweet air.

This however, was a very dangerous thing to do. There are procedures on how to surface and avoid decompression sickness or lungs rupturing from the sudden air expansion caused by the lessening pressure as one gets nearer the surface. Had we been deeper, say 30 metres, I might seriously damaged myself. However, the gods look out for madmen and drunks so I survived to tell the tale.

It scary how suddenly everything changed. I was happy as a clam floating about and looking at marine life and suddenly The Lord of Death was yanking at my ankle. It just took a breath for all to change. I was very calm and confident up to that point and then, whoosh. All that happened was that I put my regulator in my mouth upside down. It not designed to work that way so naturally did not work the way it was designed. That’s one mistake I will NEVER make again.

That night as I was just dropping off to sleep, I got a vivid flashback of drowning and woke with a start. Shit, I said to myself and went back to sleep. It happened again. I recognised what was happening and used a therapeutic technique I use with PTSD on myself as I didn’t want this to take root. Luckily, it worked and I dropped off to sleep immediately with no recurrence of the flashbacks. Whew.

More later about the West Wind calling me…….

2 thoughts on “Best near death experience I’ve had all week

  1. Thoroughly riveting read Brian, my 10.23 journey from Sheffield to Leeds seems pale in comparison but it needn’t be so? What if this was the first time I ever took such a journey, observing the etched faces of fellow travellers as if I were an alien that had landed? Those green fields that were once hell realms for the poor sods that mined the coal, I hurtle past on the shuttle train with a sense of awe and wonder at the almost captured momentry nowness forever unfolding in font and around me. I’m propelled towards a destination, a Northern town, Leeds and what then? Thankyou Brian for reminding me how precious life is and how alive we can be with a beginners mind!

    Hugs
    Harry xx
    Ps keep the posts coming!

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