Friday, November 6th, was a beautiful fall afternoon and I was excited to be meeting up with Michelle to go diving. While we made plans to dive this day well in advance, we were still throwing around various dive site options until the last minute when we decided to go to Sund Rock Marine Preserve. She told me she’d get there as close to 1:00pm as possible. I got my gear setup, jumped into my dry suit, and took extra care to thoroughly double check my pony tank setup to kill some time. Then, I patiently sat on the tailgate of my truck enjoying the fall sun shining down on me while I awaited her arrival. It was such a pleasant day and for that short period of time I had the entire dive site all to myself.
Michelle let me know she had to get her tanks filled and was running later than she expected. She arrived at the gate at 1:30pm and parked in front of my truck. We caught up briefly and then I gave her time to focus on her setup while I walked back to my truck and sat on the tailgate to wait.
I decided I had done enough sitting and I should use my time more wisely to double check my backup dive mask I kept in the left thigh pocket of my dry suit. I opened the Velcro flap on my pocket and pulled the mask, but because I was sitting on my tailgate, the angle was all wrong, and I couldn’t get it out of my pocket. I slid off the tailgate and pulled straight up on the mask, but to my bewilderment it was still stuck. I pulled harder. As I gave it a good yank, I instinctively looked down to see what was happening when it suddenly came out of the pocket like a slingshot, ricocheting off of my left temple.
Hit me it did, and harder than I could have imagined. I became paralyzed, unable to scream or respond to the devastating pain in my head. My external world became deafly silent while my internal world was consumed by a loud piercing sound that caused my head to vibrate and buzz. I heard a whooshing sound and immediately thought I was bleeding out. Then, stars began to cast upon my vision as everything slowly started to go black. I knew I was going to pass out so to avoid hitting the ground I turned towards my tailgate and laid myself over it.
FRUSTRATION ONLY HURTS YOUR HEAD
So many thoughts consumed my mind. I thought for sure I had just killed myself. My aunt had a friend die from a hit to the temple, so I knew it was quite possible. I was worried about my daughters, they knew scuba diving had risks, but how embarrassing would it be for them when they learned I was killed by a mask prior to a dive? I honestly had no idea how long I laid there when I realized there was a light coming towards me. I wasn’t ready to go; it couldn’t possibly be my time. This light was coming whether I wanted it to or not. I was relieved when I realized this light was actually my vision returning.
I regained my bodily presence and made my way to the passenger side of my truck, grabbing my first aid bag to manage the bleeding before I scared Michelle with a bloody mess. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window, and I didn’t see blood. I turned and looked into my side mirror, and not only was there no blood, but there was no cut, no bump, no bruise, no scratch…heck I didn’t even see a red mark! Thank goodness I wasn’t going to need stitches as I had a lot of diving planned for the weekend. I knew I had been hit hard and knew I needed to go talk to her quickly before she continued to rush and get ready. While I wasn’t sure what protocol was, I knew we should call Divers Alert Network to find out.
I walked less than 20 feet to the back of her vehicle and stood there. I had no idea what I walked over to tell her. It obviously must not have been that important. Within those 20 feet, amnesia wiped my mind blank, and I would not remember being hit for another 6-months. I justified my confusion and decided I was just checking to see where she was in the process of getting ready. Michelle looked up and told me she was ready to dive. Wow, that seemed really quick. I went back to my truck, finished gearing up, grabbed my camera and together we walked towards the south wall trail.
I was carefully hiking up the road to the trailhead and looking at the ground to ensure my footing, when a strange moment occurred where I had a weird shadow in my left peripheral vision and couldn’t see my foot for a split second. Or was it just the sun shining through the trees and a shadow being cast, or did anything happen at all? I recall struggling with my own internal dialog about the sun shining through the trees and creating a shadow, or that I hit myself in the head harder than I thought. But wait! I didn’t hit myself! Why did I have that weird thought? The shadows had definitely messed with my mind!
I got to the water and asked Michelle to give me just a second, I wanted to make sure I was good. I had no idea what had just happened or if anything had happened at all. In hindsight, I was definitely confused. I focused on how I was feeling, made sure I wasn’t dizzy and that I could see clearly. I felt perfectly fine. I did tell Michelle that if I felt odd again, I would let her know.
We reviewed our dive plan and agreed to go slow to allow her ears time to adjust.
We then proceeded on an amazing dive. We found a giant pacific octopus stringing up her first egg strands in her den. As we turned our dive and headed back, I noticed a slight head pain as we got to about 45 feet. When we reached our 3-minute safety stop at 15 feet I began to suspect I had a sinus squeeze. The pain felt a little further out from my sinus area, but I couldn’t think of anything else it could be. We ended our amazing dive and started hiking back to our vehicles. By the time we got our gear off my head was definitely hurting. I told Michelle I wouldn't join the group dive later that evening, and that I needed to try and nip the headache in the bud so I could dive the rest of the weekend as planned. We had dinner and I left her at the dive shop with the others for their night dive. While I was disappointed I could not go, I was also proud of myself for knowing when to call it.
The next morning, I met Heidi and Melanie at Redondo. We enjoyed our first dive and then I experienced that same sinus squeeze pain on the left side, so I only did one dive that day. I tried diving a few more times but kept experiencing the same result. A few weeks later I developed a fluid-like bump that would swell. When I touched the swollen bump, it would retract like it was never there. I began to feel so horrible and experienced symptoms like head pain, vertigo, insomnia, heart palpitations, tinnitus, a locked jaw, and constant fatigue.
I tried to push through each day the best I could and go for walks, even a couple hikes, but it was too much for me. After taking a few weeks off from diving, I decided to try one last shallow dive to see if anything had resolved. I promised myself that if I had any symptoms, it was time to stop diving and go to the doctors. Needless to say, it was time to make a doctor’s appointment, but it would have to wait until after the holidays as I would be traveling to Oregon to visit my daughter and son-in-law.
Pam Treischel is a SCUBA diver, photographer and mTBI warrior who shares her journey and lessons as she navigates an invisible injury.
No Perfection Here
I use speech-to-text to draft my stories. If one of my daughters has capacity to proof and edit, they graciously do. However, that is not always feasible so I might post a story without any real editing - deal with it:) I am also recording each story so those that struggle to read, like I do now, can have an alternative. I make mistakes recording to - never know what you might hear!