Overeating and Overheating

By Roger Liwer

My checkout dive with Club Med's Sonora Village, on the Baja Peninsula in the Sea of Cortez, went well and as expected. I had been certified two years earlier and had logged two dozen dives at a couple of Caribbean resorts so I felt confident. I knew all there was to know about diving, right? (Wrong!!).

I had brought my own equipment, including a shorty wetsuit that had served me well in the Caribbean; I didn't think I'd need anything else. After all, diving conditions off the coast of the Sonora Desert, where the daytime temperature is in the high 90s (°F), with practically zero humidity, could not be all that different from Bonaire, right? (Wrong!!) Still, I was surprised at how quickly my body reacted to the water temperature, which was considerably colder than I was used to. By the time I exited the water, one-half hour later, I was shivering and chilled to the bone. No problem, I thought, I'll just borrow one of the club's wetsuits and everything will be okay.

Diving usually gives me an appetite, but the freezing water made me ravenous. When I joined my nondiving friends for lunch, I was ecstatic to discover food aplenty. I attacked the rows of buffet tables covered with attractive appetizers and entrees, went back for seconds and then thirds before I felt satiated. A couple of glasses of chilled white wine topped off the wonderful meal.

After my incredible feast I suddenly realized the afternoon dive boat would be leaving in less then 10 minutes. I jogged the quarter mile or so to the dive shop under the blazing afternoon sun. I made it just in time to grab my dive bag and snatch a full one-quarter inch wetsuit from a rack marked "large." There wasn't time to try it on and, besides, a suit defined as "large" ought to be perfect for a six foot two American, right? (Wrong!!)

By the time I found a shaded seat on the boat, I was breathless and drenched with perspiration. But a pleasant sense of euphoria, probably caused by the wine and an overloaded digestive system, made it easy to ignore the symptoms of overheating.

When the divemaster asked whether anyone needed a buddy and a gorgeous, lanky blonde raised her hand, I became even more lightheaded. What luck! Oblivious to my body's demands for rest, I laid out my equipment and proceeded to don the wetsuit. It did not fit.

It took an eternity of tugging, pulling, squeezing and wiggling to get the thing on, but I prevailed. Finally, the boat anchored and my lovely dive mate jumped in. I followed right behind her, having foolishly forgotten the suit's hood. It was just too hot and I couldn't wait to cool down.

I hit the water anticipating soothing bliss but instead was slammed by an icy sledgehammer that sent me into instant shock. The food in my stomach searched for a way out, my heart began pumping wildly and my need for oxygen increased tenfold. I spit out my regulator and gasped for air but my lungs could not expand because of the wetsuit's cocoon-like constraint on my chest. As I floated on the surface, gasping and wheezing, my mind's alarm bells went off; an instant decision had to be made. There she was, my lovely partner, 15 feet below, beckoning to me. There I was, floating like a crippled blimp, wondering whether I should call it off and look like a fool or just start the descent and risk death. It surely should not have been, but it was a 50-50 call! Some iota of sanity thankfully prevailed-I released my weightbelt, unzipped the wetsuit and waved at her to go on without me. A few minutes later, I was on the boat, on my back, with my body returning to its normal metabolic rate.

Seven years and more than 100 dives later, that experience still haunts me. My chain of mistakes had led to serious physiological distress, which could have become fatal had I pursued the dive. I keep the lessons I learned fresh in my mind, so I never make the same mistakes again.

I look forward to many more years of diving. A few missed dives are a small price to pay to continue to enjoy this fine sport and stay alive in the process. Oh, and the macho stuff? Definitely leave home without it.

  • Come prepared for, and aware of, the local diving conditions.
  • Don't drink alcohol before diving. It impairs judgement and dehydrates a diver, especially in hot weather.
  • Don't overeat just prior to diving.Wear equipment that fits properly; always try on unfamiliar equipment before using it.
  • Don't dive if you are excessively fatigued.
  • Always back out of a dive if you don't feel comfortable (in this case, completely distressed).
  • Definitely leave the macho stuff at home.