Breathing with no air

What it feels like to panic 60 feet underwater.

By Sarah Bushard

I jumped into the crashing waves. 15 pounds of gear and millions more of salt water overtook every part of my body. My SCUBA classmates splashed around me. The pink Hawaiian strap on my goggles clung to the back of my head and stuck against my cheek. 

Every wave felt stronger than the last and the sea floor seemed to plunge deeper with every kick of my flipper.  

40 feet down. I checked all my gauges. Pressures were good. I gave the “OK” signal. I dove.

50 feet down. Calm. Soft coral swayed in sync with the currents above and small schools of clown fish fluttered around a reef.

60 feet down. I felt dizzy. I sucked out of my black and yellow mouthpiece and received only a thin stream of air. “Keep calm,” I said to myself in a muffled voice through my mask, “It is just in your head.” I took another breath. I reached my shaking hand toward my backup mouthpiece. Inhale. Exhale. Nothing. 

My lungs burned. I signaled toward my fellow divers. Nobody noticed. 

My black and blue fins pushed me toward the surface as fast as they could without filling my lungs with unwelcome air bubbles. “Calm and steady,” I said to myself. 

My instructor spotted me and shot up with a flick of his flippers. I reached the roaring ocean crest and breathed deep. Air.  

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