There are two courses PADI divers have to complete before they continue on to Divemaster: Emergency First Response (EFR) and Rescue Diver. We were seprated into two groups for this so one group could work beach while the other group stayed in camp and studied. The four of us in my group (myself, my sister, and two CDC boys named Stuart and Aadil) would come to learn that while EFR and Rescue are both serious courses worthy of time, dedication, and attention, we would also have more fun in those four days then we’d had in over a month. Let’s start with EFR. At its most basic, EFR is about being able to administer first aid and CPR. We began by watching a lovely (sarcasm) well-acted (more sarcasm) and cerebrally-stimulating (catching a theme here?) video while we followed along and answered questions in our EFR manuals. Luckily for our brain cells, the video was pretty short and followed by hands-on practical application of handling mock emergencies. Our instructor, Liam, made the mistake of letting us come up with the scenarios ourselves. They started pretty tame (Emma fell off a chair while trying to change a lightbulb) and very, very quickly deteriorated into nothing short of absurd (Stuart half-fell out of a window while trying to chase a bird out of the room). Despite the hilarity that was the scenarios we were imagining, we actually had to apply what we had learned to each situation. We practiced bandaging, splinting, stopping different kinds of bleeding, how to safely move patients into recovery positions, how to assess for neck and spinal injuries, and (of course) how to administer CPR, rescue breaths, and how to use an AED.
Following EFR came the course we were all really excited for: PADI Rescue Diver. In this course, we’d be taking everything we’d learned the previous day in EFR and coupling it with how to handle emergency situations before, during, and/or after a dive. We were once again subjected to Oscar-winning acting in the PADI video, worked our way through the knowledge reviews to make sure we had a handle on the theory, and then it was time to get in the pool and practice skills. We spent three and a half hours in the pool that afternoon drilling different scenarios, like how to approach a panicking diver, how to tow a tired or unresponsive diver on the surface, how to raise an unresponsive diver to the surface, how to get unresponsive divers out of their gear and onto the boat, and how to administer rescue breaths while in the water and towing an unresponsive diver towards the boat. We worked on each individual skill multiple times before we had to put them all together in a mock emergency (it was hectic; there was a lot of yelling; Stuart killed Emma twice; you get the idea). Here’s where it gets interesting. We knew going into this course that the final day would be spent out in the ocean, with two instructors acting as the victims and a third instructor monitoring us and keeping track of how well we were performing the skills. What we didn’t know was that we’d have to work beach that entire time as well (because emergencies don’t happen when you’re ready and waiting for them to happen, do they?) We needed to be distracted and focusing on something else to really test how well the theory and skills had set in.
So, actual Rescue Dive Day begins. We’re up at 5:00am, and we’ve been told to be ready for an 8:00am launch. We kit up, put our gear on the boat, and wait for the instructors to show up. They do, and while we’re getting briefed about the first dive scenario, the other two instructors start launching the boat - without us. We have to sprint down to the boat and clamber aboard, only to find that they’ve also messed with all of our gear: unscrewing, unclipping, unhooking, and moving our stuff around. The point of this exercise is to increase your stress levels before the scenarios begin (we figured out much, much later, by the way) so the instructors can see how well you work and maintain standards when you’re stressed. Okay, so we made it to the boat and we’re heading out for Scenario One, right? Of course not. We’re on the boat heading out when we see the two “victims” look at each other, look at us, and then fling themselves backwards off the moving speedboat and into the water for the ~real~ Scenario One: getting a responsive diver back onto the boat. I remained on the boat as the spotter, Aadil threw them a line, and Emma and Stuart got in the water and swam out to retrieve them. Y’all, it’s been half an hour since the start of this course, and we’re already so paranoid and on-edge.
We make it to the dive site. We descend, and all everything breaks loose. All three of the instructors start “panicking”: taking their masks off and throwing them away, taking their regulators out of their mouths, trying to take our masks and regs, “cramping”, rapidly ascending or descending, losing their weight belts. I think the word “mayhem” most accurately describes what was happening during that 20 minute dive. But, because we were all well-trained divers, we were able to complete all of the skills tests within that 20 minutes (and see a green turtle and shark). We get back on the boat and head to shore so we can swap cylinders and prep for our next open water scenario. We’ve re-kitted and we’re waiting for our boat to turn around when our instructor looks out across the bay and says: “hey, guys, it looks like there are two swimmers in trouble out in the surf,” and sure enough, there are our two assisting instructors 300 meters out into the bay, “panicking” and waving their arms around for us to come and save them.
You know how I know the TV series Baywatch was fake? Because nobody looks good sprinting across sand. It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy, and it’s not a fun time. It’s hot, slippery, and your calves hate you after about ten steps. Then we had to swim out to them and tired-diver tow them back to the shore, which means we had to carry them (I say carry, but there was no actual carrying involved. Liam is 2 meters tall and Tyrone is built like a brick wall. We dragged their butts back up onto the shore).
Time for Scenario Two. Back on the boat, back out to a dive site. This is the big one. We’re going to be doing a complete simulated experience of an unresponsive diver, meaning we’ll be providing oxygen, simulating chest compressions, and calling ahead to Beach Control to let them know we have an emergency situation. We’re maybe seven minutes into the dive when we realize that Liam and Tyrone have both vanished from the group. We do our 360-degree sweep of the reef, but we don’t see them. We signal to each other to terminate the dive and ascend to the surface, where we alert the skipper that we have two missing divers. We get back on the boat and begin where we last saw them, scanning the surface for bubbles rising. We spot bubbles and send in Stuart and Aadil as snorkelers to see if they can spot our divers at the bottom. Sure enough, we’ve found them, but they’re not moving. We kit up in record time, drop overboard, and rapid-descend to the bottom. Emma and I got the absolute pleasure of bringing Liam back to the surface. Once on the surface, we have to begin rescue breaths, begin taking our gear off, alert the skipper, and begin towing the diver to the boat. Emma gets on the boat first, and we use the lifeguard lift to haul Liam out of the water. Meanwhile, Stuart and Aadil have retrieved Tyrone and are working on getting him on the other side. Both unresponsive divers are on the boat; the skipped hands us the oxygen unit and then guns it back towards shore.
Want to know how you do CPR on a veritable giant of a person when you’re on a boat barely bigger than a Prius? You sit on him. It’s not comfortable, the boat is banging it’s way through the waves back to shore, Emma’s turning green around the gills because she’s facing away from the front of the boat to administer oxygen, and then entire time the instructors are giggling at you because they’re narcing on 100% oxygen. The boat beaches, and you’d think that this is the end of the scenario, right? Nope. Now we have to get the victims from the boat to the back of the Jeep and up to the beach pavilion, all while continuing oxygen and CPR. It took four people to get Liam into the back of the Jeep; meanwhile Tyrone has started to get hypothermia and is shivering uncontrollably (we originally thought it was part of the scenario; we learned later that was, in fact, false). We continue monitoring their conditions and doing CPR until our instructor told us that Emergency Medical Services had arrived and we were allowed to stop the scenario.
In retrospect, it was one of the most physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding days I’ve had in Sodwana so far. But it was also one of the most satisfying and rewarding ones. We came together and worked as a team to apply our knowledge and training, and we did it well. I’m not saying we were perfect; on the contrary, we struggled and had to re-assess ourselves and our action plans at multiple points during the day. But in the end, that was part of the training. We learned how to be organized, flexible, delegators, team players. And (there’s no way to not make this sound cheesy) we learned how to be safer, more responsible divers, both for ourselves and for others. But the best part of finishing Rescue Course has to be this: we have officially become DMTs (Dive Master Trainees).