At Death’s Door

I drew my last breath and plunged into the cold water.  Little did I know, in less than three minutes, I would be at death’s door and would have entered in had it not been for a friend.

It was a beautiful summer day in 1964.  I was 16 and looking forward to my senior year in high school.  Our day was already planned.  Ed DeBee, Terry Turner and I got up early, loaded our scuba gear into my dad’s 55′ Chevy and headed for Hospital Hole.  It was one of our favorite places to dive, and is located in central Florida on the Wikki Wachee river.  Our plan was to arrive early, expend  our air exploring the sink hole, then head over to Wikki Wachee springs and spend the rest of the day swimming and relaxing in their nice swimming area.  The scuba diving was a beautiful experience that filled most of the morning.  We saw some large Snook and Alligator Gar fish and we found some fossils in the soft limestone of the cave about 60′ deep.  Too soon we were packing our gear, snacking on our sandwiches and driving back to the spring.

Wikki Wachee is a beautiful crystal clear spring about 117′ deep,  a major tourist attraction with live mermaid shows daily.  It is a state park now, but then it was privately owned.  We dreamed of diving to the bottom of the main spring but no one was allowed in that area since it was reserved for the shows.  Slightly downstream from the main spring, they had a large swimming area with a diving dock.  The water there was about 35′ deep in the center and the bottom sloped up to a nice sandy beach on one side and a semi-rugged shoreline on the other.  There was a dock with a diving board and high dive platform.  The water is always a cool 70 degrees.

It was not too crowded that day, maybe 100 people, so the the swimming was great.  The swimming area was about 130 feet wide and there was a curved palm tree on the rugged side bowing over the river, barely touching the water.  I argued with Ed whether or not I could swim to the other side underwater, touch the tree, and swim back to the doc without coming up for air.  “Impossible” was his reply.  The challenge was on.

Ed with fish

Ed at my house with fish.

When it came to diving, I was the best of the three of us.  I could hold my breath four and a half minutes while lying still, and could swim underwater for two and a half minutes pretty easy.  I once dove 80 feet deep holding my breath, a personal record.  A fools game;  I thought I was invincible, but I was wrong.

I sat on the dock for 10 minutes breathing very deeply.  We called it hyperventilating.  The idea was to stretch your lungs out and fill every nook and cranny with oxygen.  When I was finally ready, I called to Ed to watch me.  I drew my last breath and plunged into the cold water.  No mask, no fins, I swam across to the tree with no problem, touched it, turned around and started back.  About half way back I was really feeling the strain.  My lungs were aching but I was determined to make it to the dock.  When I was about 10 feet from the dock, I suddenly let out all my air and sank to the bottom about 15 feet deep.  Ed was not alarmed to see this because when snorkeling we would often let out some air, sink to the bottom and kick off the bottom to zoom to the surface.  But this time I didn’t zoom, I just lay there.

Suddenly, I was transported to the beach, it was a beautiful sunset and I was on a rubber raft, the cheap inflatable kind.  I was struggling against the gentle waves trying to paddle out into the sunset.  I was desperate to leave the shore, but Ed and Terry were hanging onto the raft tugging at me and yelling for me not to go.  I awoke with a cough and found myself in the center of a semi-circle of people.  The life guard was holding an oxygen mask to my face and Ed and Terry were kneeling beside me.  Dazed, I said something like, “I’m OK, what’s the big deal.”

Later, Ed explained.  He was watching me the whole time as I swam, touched the tree and returned.  He could have been gawking at the girls or showing off on the diving board but he was watching.  When I sank to the bottom, he expected me to push off as always.  He waited.  I had passed out underwater.  When the wait became too long, he yelled for the lifeguard and together they dove in and dragged me out.  The crowd formed quickly and in less than a minute I was coughing for air.

I have often thought, “What if Ed wasn’t watching?  What if he looked away, just for a few seconds?   What if….?”  The Bible says, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”  (James 4:14 NASB)  My vapor was about the vanish that day.  I was standing at death’s door, about to go through, but praise God, my friend pulled me back.










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