Remember My Friend Dan

  by

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

This is an electronic reprint of an article that appeared in SOURCES (Mar/Apr. 1990, p. 53). This material is copyrighted and all rights retained by the author. This article is made available as a service to the diving community by the author and may be distributed for any non-commercial or Not-For-Profit use.

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I met Dan at a meeting of a university science fiction discussion group. I was in graduate school at the time. Even though he was older than I, he was still an undergraduate. We became friends.  When he became a scuba instructor, I was in his first class and my C-card was the first that he ever signed. We became dive buddies and shared many hours underwater. I learned my passion for diving from him. 

You must understand that my becoming a scuba diver was not an easy thing. When I was four years old my mother threw me into an irrigation ditch to frighten me. Her intend was to scare me so that I would not play near the water. She was, after all, concerned for my safety. Instead, she taught me terror; for more than thirty years I had nightmares about the shining layer of water, the pull of the current, and the inability to breathe in that cold dark water.  Dan knew of my problem and convinced me that learning to scuba dive would help me conquer my fears.  I barely passed the swim qualifier. (Later, I learned that the reason swimming had been so exhausting was because I was too terrified to breathe... I could only swim until I had reached the limit of my anaerobic capacity.) Dan worked with me and taught me to dive.  He was a gifted and patient instructor. Eventually my nightmares ended. For me, obtaining that first C-card was more difficult than getting my doctorate in biochemistry. 

Dan developed a problem. He became 60 pounds overweight. He smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day. He got no real exercise. He lived on strong coffee, fast food burgers and doughnuts. His father had died of a heart attack. I used to kid him about being a "heart attack, waiting to happen." He would tell me that he was an ex-marine and he would therefore die from a bullet wound. He added, of course, that the bullet would come from an irate husband. 

Dan had his first heart attack while helping others teach a non-NAUI advanced scuba class in intense current. The group had come to shore and had noticed that Dan was missing. No one was concerned because Dan was very skilled in the water and everyone knew that nothing could ever happen to him. (In the hospital, later, Dan recalled that he was paralyzed from the waist down and that he had reached the surface by pulling himself hand-over-hand along the cable that had been laid to assist divers in moving against the intense current. It had been a superhuman effort.) Upon reaching the shore, Dan had collapsed. 

Dan was helping teach for a non-NAUI group that did not, at that time, require its instructors to have first aid, CPR, lifesaving or dive rescue training.  (As a matter of fact, I had often heard the instructor on site tell students not to bother with CPR because it would never be needed in diving. You see, diving accidents are rare) Dan was the only instructor on site with CPR training. This group did not carry oxygen and did not, at that time, believe in emergency preparations. There was no emergency action plan. My friend was ten minutes from a hospital. Yet, he lay on the beach for more than 50 minutes, bathed in his own excrement because no one knew how to get help!  Eventually, some other divers realized what was happening and they gave my friend oxygen while he drifted in and out of consciousness.  Their C.B. radio was used to call for assistance. Eventually Dan made it to an emergency room. 

In the hospital, he regained consciousness. He asked for a science fiction book to read. I am told that he wanted the attending physician to tell those who were on the accident scene (I was not) that they had passed their rescue unit because he was still alive. He then asked how long he would be in the hospital. When he was told that he would be there five weeks, his response was, "Great, the Belize trip is in six weeks, I can still go!" 

Eighteen hours later, my friend had his second heart attack and he died. He was 37 years old. 

To those who say that there is no room for excellence; that mediocrity is acceptable in those who teach your loved ones to dive, I say, "remember my friend Dan." 

To those who say that there is no need for emergency preparations; that oxygen is not needed on a dive site, I say, "remember my friend Dan." 

To those who say we must remove the "meat" (water skills and knowledge of dive fundamentals) from our basic classes to better "package our sport" so that it is more "marketable", I say, "remember my friend Dan." 

To those who say, "It can never happen to me!" I say, "Remember my friend Dan." 

Dan made that trip to Belize. His ashes are scattered on a reef there. 

Please, remember my friend Dan! 

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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

Article History:

This article began as a talk in the Dale Carnegie Effective Communication Class. The specific assignment was to generate an emotional response in the audience about a topic of personal importance. After the talk, my Carnegie instructor said to me, "You owe it to your friend to put your words in writing."

I converted the oral presentation to text and sent the article (hoping for a large distribution because dive safety has always been important to me)  to several US recreational dive magazines. It was rejected outright. The editorial responses were all of the same sentiment, "We do not discuss death in diving," or "we do not want our readers to know that they can be injured in this sport."

Since I had already established a presence in Sources (but only as a "technogeek" (g)), I sent the article to Mike Williams (then, the editor) with a note apologizing for the emotional content of the piece and a request  that he publish something non-technical from me. Mike did so. 

 Thanks, Mike!