This is What Happens When Wreck Diving Goes Wrong

I looked at my gauges. I was 35 feet under the ocean’s surface. Amazing! No ear problems. This is much better than scuba diving in the dark quarry in Ohio! I thought about where I’d gotten certified. I watch the bubbles go up as I work my way deeper, towards the dark shadowy ship another 45 feet below me.

My buddy and I hit 40 feet under and suddenly, there is a sharp pain in my right ear. Okay, I can do this. I try to descend further.

Oh, it’s searing! I shriek inside my own head. Nope. I can’t do this.


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A flag underwater underneath a ship's railing. The picture is bluish.

Stop, man!

I ascend a few feet while signaling my dive buddy to stop his descent.

“What’s wrong?” He shrugs silently to me, via hand signals.

I point desperately to my ear. He knows immediately that I have a problem, since clearing my ears underwater has long been an issue for me.

Two of the crew swim over to us. We discuss the situation… as well as you can underwater. We agree to switch partners. My buddy and his new buddy descend down to the ship below us. My new buddy patiently waits for me to figure out what I want to do. I want to see the damn ship, that’s what I want to do. It was my first deep dive!

With excruciating slowness, I descend bit by bit. Poco a poco. We finally make it to the top deck of the wreck, around 75-80 feet under the surface. I explore for about 5 minutes and then it is time to ascend.

Back on the boat, my original buddy exclaims, “I saw a coral banded shrimp!”

“Lucky!” I exclaim. It was my favorite shrimp and I had one in my saltwater aquarium at home. It would’ve been a huge highlight to see one in the wild.

a female scuba diver while diving many feet under the surface of the water.

The Consequences

This happened during my first week of diving in the ocean in Key West . Once home, I went to see an ENT (ears, nose, throat) doctor and I found I suffered some hearing loss in that ear. Luckily, it’s minor and hasn’t affected my life long-term. I did have many years of “clicking” in my ear when using elevators up to the higher floors of my office. This would also happen if I was particularly tired. Thankfully, after 15+ years, it’s no longer an issue.

So what’s the lesson when you are diving and have searing ear pain? STOP. Don’t keep going, at least, not immediately. It is not worth it.

Buy insurance, especially if you’ll be diving!

None of these problems required using my dive insurance, but I’m still glad I had it! I never dive without it, due to incidents like this one and the time the boat tried to kill me, also in Key West. Medical emergencies in other countries, especially those while diving, can end up costing thousands of dollars.

Get a quote at World Nomads – it’s worth the cost for the peace of mind (this is an affiliate link, please see my disclaimer at the top of the page) or use the form below!

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