Never Give Up

“Oh God, he’s dead!”

The tears stream uncontrollably. The same sad words— “he’s dead”— reiterate through convulsive sobs of sorrow.

The rescuer thrusts violently against his chest, the movement of her lips a verbal metronome against which the compressions are delivered. “One-and-two-and-three-and…”

“You’re doing it wrong! He’s turning blue!”

“Take care of this guy!” she shouts. “You, calm him down. Keep him away and watch him for shock.” Her count reaches thirty and she seals the victims nose for two more breaths. The chest rises, falls, and repeats. She traces his ribcage with her hand, places two fingers on his sternum, and strikes the heel of her palm in place. The count resumes as she channels 130 pounds of force through her locked arms, her body becoming the artificial lungs and heart of artificial life.

“No, not Chucky,” the bystander cries. “Not again. No, no… he’s my best friend.” His words are drown by his mournful hiccups.

“Is the O-2 ready? Good. Open it, continuous flow, fifteen liters per minute. Hook it on the pocket mask right… now. Alright, two breaths.”

“Dammit he’s dead! No, no, no…”

“Lay him down, turn him over! …and fourteen and fifiteen and sixteen… Get him out of his wetsuit! …and nineteen and twenty and…”

“That’s not how they do it on House! You’re killing him!”

She laughs briefly before administering two more rescue breaths.

“And cut!” I shout.

We collapse on the deck, chuckling between our gasps of air. The blue mannequin is covered in sand-encrusted handprints compressed into the foam from cardiovascular resuscitation. Dive gear is scattered across the boat deck. A freakish doll, eyes blacked from rust and body orbited by an obscenely over-weighted belt, rests upsidedown on the stern, seawater streaming from its plastic dreadlocks.

Exhausted from completing the final scenario of the PADI Rescue Diver course, we exchange congratulatory smiles. “The worst is over,” I say, suppressing my smirk betraying the truth. “Great job. Catch you breath and break down your gear. We’ll debrief in a few minutes.”

Based on over a decade’s experience as a professional lifeguard and scuba diving instructor, I can personally assure you that emergencies are never convenient.

Every PADI Rescue Diver course I teach begins with two rules:

  1. Never give up: that is the only way to fail.
  2. Murphy’s Law is in effect: anything and everything can and will happen.

The rest, I assure my students, is up to practice, good judgment, and determination. The practice I will supply. The judgment I can help refine. The determination, however, comes from within.

Of course, a healthy dose of paranoia helps too.

The flashlight shimmers in my right eye, diverting my attention to the figure illuminated at the watchman’s feet. He’s curled in the fetal position, left side down, motionless. Not another drunk, I think. Get him in the recovery position and monitor his breathing.

Another glimmer of light. White light reflected from black pools on the soft earth. And there’s lots of black pools. All from one source. Him.

“Muerte?” I ask the watchman.

“Si, muerte.”

“Dame la luz.”

I scan the watchman’s flashlight over the corpse and count six puncture wounds peppered across the back of his flannel shirt. His eyes are locked open, his pupils permanently fixed slightly upward, his dark Honduran skin already waning taut over his slender face. His throat, neatly slit from ear to ear, lays exposed to the humid night air as sticky pools of bodily fluid coagulate beneath his lifeless corpse.

A white taxi coated in bloody handprints is crashed on the sidewalk. A crimson trail extending from the ajar car door marks the path along which he took his final steps. The Anthony’s Key Resort medical clinic lies a cruel one hundred meters from his body.

It exactly looks like a scene from a slasher film. What Hollywood omits is the acrid metallic aroma of a fresh slaughter.

A fellow Coconut Tree Divers Instructor stands beside me. “Shit, this is bad,” he understates. “We need some barriers.”

This is one helluva bathroom break, I think. Bloody Murphy’s Law.

I stick my head in the Anthony’s Key Resort classroom. Forty PADI Instructors turn to face me. The PADI Regional Director stands in front of the projector. A Powerpoint slide displaying tips for teaching effective PADI Rescue Diver courses is projected on the canvas screen.

“Excuse me guys, but I need some barriers fast,” I feebly state. My words fall on vacant stares. “Can I get some barriers? Gloves? Something? Hello?!” No movement. They must think I’m kidding!

“What’s going on?” the Director asks.

“There’s been an accident. I just need some gloves.” And I don’t need forty instructors running out to see a dead guy.

My coworker bursts in the classroom. “Where are the barriers?” he asks me. Our bewildered audience sits silently, staring at our blanched faces. “Where are the fucking gloves?” he growls. “There are forty fucking instructors in this room and none of them know where to find some fucking gloves?! We need some gloves right fucking now! NOW! MOVE!”

Minutes later, I touch my first dead body. Mere millimeters of latex separate my warm fingers from the sticky cold of his severed carotid artery. There’s no need for CPR: he doesn’t have enough blood left in his body.

An avalanche of Honduran onlookers spills from the hills of neighboring colonial. They congregate around the corpse. Hysterical shouts in Spanish declare the victim to be one of their own. Anthony’s Key Resort management shepherds the bystanders away.

We safely strip the bloody latex gloves away from our trembling hands. The adrenaline crash is nauseating. “Screw the PADI meeting,” I say, “let’s find some tequila.”

Based on nearly five years of living on Roatan, I can personally assure you that emergencies cannot be anticipated.

The current Honduran Constitutional Crisis has served a severely ill-timed blow to tourism on my beloved island. As international condemnation of the Honduran coup has mounted through the misinformation perpetuated by the international media, the Bay Islands— despite having operating semi-autonomously for centuries— have felt the sudden backlash of canceled flights, cruises, and vacation reservations. Tourism-based bars, restaurants, and nightlight suffer under the current curfews.

Fortunately for Roatan business owners, the curfews have been relaxed back to 10pm. A 6:30pm sunset curfew was briefly imposed on July 5th in response to the riots at the Tegucigalpa airport in which one person was killed.

Unfortunately, the recent events may deal the deathblow for our typical tourist high season. While the months of July and August are usually jam-packed with visitors, the alarming number of cancellations last week has left many West End scuba diving instructors fearing for the future. We have the tremors of a 7.1 earthquake only recently behind us, an international political crisis currently in the works, and hurricane season looming on the horizon. Uncertainty is in the air.

We never anticipated this emergency.

Laughter rolls through the tropical air.

We stroll along the stone pathway from the dive shop to the beach hoisting our scuba masks and fins in wet mesh bags. The golden Caribbean sun streams over my slender eighteen-year-old swimmer’s body as I stroll along the white sands. An ineradicable ivory smile is plastered across my tan face.

The indelible image of the arching indigo-and-white wings of an eagle ray is etched in my mind. Mere minutes ago I was drifting along in Cozumel’s crazy currents as a slideshow of sea life swept past my mask. Now, with the last of my checkout dives complete, I am officially certified as an Open Water Diver. My life has been forever changed by four unforgettable dives.

Mournful cries float on the wind.

She is hunched over his corpulent corpse, her heart-wrenching sobs of genuine loss juxtaposed against the gentle lapping of the tide as she says weeps her last goodbyes. She kisses his wet forehead as his flesh finally fades to ashen. Two exhausted Mexican paramedics stand behind her. One removes his latex gloves. The other prepares the body bag.

I recognize his face.

He was sitting by the pool bar at 8am this morning. I had just finished breakfast. While I prepared my dive equipment, he was polishing off a beer. While I was breathing freely through my regulator sixty feet underwater, he was suffocating through his snorkel six inches beneath the surface. I had never felt more alive as I drifted along Cozumel’s spectacular reef walls. His last feeling was the bitter blend of salt, beer, and water as he sank to the coral below.

My scuba diving career began as his life ended; my passion for teaching the PADI Rescue Diver course is, in part, a dedication to the memory of this fat and faceless dead snorkler.

Laughter ripples from the bar and across the waves as the sun dissolves in the sea. Island dogs antagonize each other with playful nips. A newlywed couple bobs in the bay, their tight embrace belying their intentions of other undulations in the near future.

I raise my frosty Salva Vida to the setting sun. “To Roatan.” We toast another day of the life worth living.

Life’s uncertainty, like evening thunderclouds, may always loom on the horizon. But as we gather on the shores of Half Moon Bay in ritual sunset worship, I sip my drink in celebration of the little things that make life sweet for certain.

The tremors of Murphy’s Law shake my life and personal emergencies always strike at grossly inconvenient times, but my resolve remains strong: never give up living the dream.

One Response to “Never Give Up”

  • #1

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. Great Post. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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