‘Sixty-four’ (64) is the number of hours I spent underwater in the month of March 2011. Sounds like a lot – and it is – but it represents normalcy for many of us involved with inshore marine construction. Here in New England, January and February are traditionally on the slow side given weather delays, and March is the typical kick-off month for the busy spring ahead. Sixty-four will soon be toppled in April, and buried come May and June as its back to business as usual.
With that amount of time spent in an alien environment, our bodies do their best to acclimatize to the myriad of environmental factors that we are subjected to. Early on in one’s diving career, we learn all about the physical and physiological considerations for diving. But, until I started really living the life aquatic, I had no idea about the human body’s true abilities to adapt.
The most obvious changes and adaptations come with the senses, and this is in response to our exposure to the alien environment. Most of this 64 hours is spent in the dark, making my eyes acutely sensitive to daylight when surfacing. Being in a helmet most days, where all I smell is the funk from the hatliner – my sense of smell seems less responsive to smells in the surface environment. My hearing is terrible, as my ear drums are routinely flexed, strained, bruised, and so on – leading to chronic tinnitus and partial deafness. My skin is almost always pruned when damp, the dry and cracked once I head home – to the point where my sense of touch to any part of my skin can be uncomfortable. Sounds like a blast, eh? While the physical and physiological toll can be crippling to some extent, the entire experience keeps me well centered and balanced in other aspects of life. This understanding of my sensory perception as it adapts to between the above and below water worlds creates a heightened situational awareness that you need as a working diver.
The last sense affected is taste..let’s just leave it at the fact that 6 hour underwater in one day makes you hungry, and just about anything and everything tastes good. I will say however that feeding into my body’s cravings as I burn some serious calories all day leads to seeking to satisfy more well defined salty or sweet foods. Rather than crave a balanced meal, it seems as though I need to binge in much more specific areas.
Working in a fluid medium for significant amounts of time means that you are operating against resistance. Each movement requires more energy than being on the surface, and that means you need to fuel the ol’ engine. Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, is said to consume upwards of 10,000 calories per day while training. I think its fair to argue that a working diver needs to do close to the same. If I’m not eating throughout the day, I can swing as much as seven pounds in a single dive day.
So, for consideration, to swim like a fish, you must eat like a pig. And in the end, expect to sleep like a rock.
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Pullen FW 2nd, Rosenberg GJ, & Cabeza CH (1979). Sudden hearing loss in divers and fliers. The Laryngoscope, 89 (9 Pt 1), 1373-7 PMID: 481042