Monday, February 02, 2009

Cruel or Kind?

Sally didn’t want to go in the water. She’d been nervous in the swimming pool during her lesson, but had (I thought) overcome her fears and by the time we finished she seemed fairly relaxed. On the boat she talked non-stop and I wondered if she was going to crack. When I gave the dive briefing, she seemed brittle, but she was still making jokes right up until she realised it was her turn to go in.

"I just don’t want to go in backwards!" she said, pleadingly.
"Backwards is the easiest way. You’re just going to lean back and gently drop into the water. Your jacket is inflated, your going to float! You head will only be under for a few seconds."
"Can’t I just swing my legs over and..." she tailed off as she thought about it. "Don’t push me!" she squealed.
"I’m not going to push you Sally, I’m holding onto you, because I don’t want you to slip over. Whatever you decide to do, I think it’s important that you sit down now"
"Don’t push me!" she squealed at the Boat Captain.
"Fabian is holding onto your tank to make sure you don’t slip over" with perfect timing, at that moment she slipped. Somehow, we caught her. The tanks are heavy and fins are not exactly the best ‘deck shoes’. Usually customers move from the bench to the side of the boat in one movement while the Boat Captain holds the tank, to keep them stable. Sally – plump, middle-aged, petulant, unfit, not-very-strong Sally, was standing in fins, on a rocking boat, with a 20kg tank and refusing to sit on the side, in case one of us pushed her in.

After some intensive reassurance she finally agreed to perch. She still wouldn’t sit properly, on the edge. If she had... can I be honest? Yeah, of course I would have pushed her in. She would have thanked me for it later, they always do! But Sally continued to perch. Poor Fabian was still taking the weight of her tank, standing at a very awkward side-on angle, which clearly wasn’t comfortable for him. It was time for a change of tact.

"Sally, of course you can do this. Now take a deep breath, be strong and lean backwards. Remember how cool you were in the pool?" (she wasn’t) "Remember how much fun you had?" (well, kind of) "Well, it’s going to be exactly the same, only better, in the ocean. Now move back to the edge and go in."
"But can’t I just swing my legs over?"
"I raised one eyebrow "I shouldn’t think so," the side of the boat is thigh high, "can you?"
"Oh! I...."
"Sally! Look at me! You can do this. Now come on..."
"But I don’t think... I don’t know..."

This went on for another minute or so. And yes! I was patient! I alternately reassured and persuaded – but neither was working.

"Right," I said. "No problem, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Sit down over here and let me help you take the gear off. You can wait on the boat. Don’t worry. Diving isn’t for everyone."
"But I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t go!" she whimpered.

Oh, I see. She wants me to make her do it. Everyone else was in the water waiting. The other Instructor with me pointedly looked at his watch. The more time she wastes on the boat, the shorter the dive is for everyone, since we still have to be back at the Marina at the same time.

Last week I had Karen. Karen also didn’t want to go in the water, but she was persuaded to sit on the side of the boat whilst she thought about it... and then went in quite unexpectedly! Did she over-balance or was she pushed? It’s hard to say! But she said it was easy once she was in. Then, however, she didn’t want to go under. I told her she would be fine and then I took her arm and gently pulled her down with me. She was physically shaking and signaled repeatedly that she wanted to go up. I said 'No'. We got down and after a minute or so she started looking quite cheerful. After five minutes she gave me two 'OK' signals (both hands), which is what I tell them to do if they’re having a good time. After fifteen minutes she gave me a big, overhead 'OK' signal. We use this to signal boats (from a distance) but I tell my customers to use this signal to let me know when they’re having a really, really super-fantastic time! Which, obviously, Karen was! After the dive she hugged me and thanked me for 'the most amazing experience' she’d ever had.

But today it was Sally. She wouldn’t take off her gear, she obviously still wanted to go, but she still wouldn’t sit on the side of the boat.

"You have to decide Sally. If you want to come diving, you have to go in now. Or, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to, you can wait here. But you have to decide"
"But I..."
"What would you like to do?"

She went in. I joined her. Everyone else was impatient to get going. The other Instructor started going down, taking the first three with him. I was left with three: Sally, her ineffectual husband and another guy.

"Right Sally. I’m with you. Are you ready? Put your breather in your mouth and get ready to deflate your jacket. You’re going to be fine, we’re going to take it nice and slowly..."
"Don’t leave me!" she squeaked.
"I’m going to be right next to you the whole way. Now put your breather in and keep it in please"

I gave the signal and took Sally’s hand; the other divers deflated. Sally did not. I reached over and deflated her jacket. She fought hard to stay on the surface, struggling to keep her head up and I could see she’d taken the breather out. I signaled to the Ineffectual Husband and the completely unsympathetic and slightly irritated man who was annoyed at having been stuck with these two, to stay on the line and don’t move. I put my head back up.

"I can’t do this, I can’t do it!"
"Of course you can. You’re perfectly safe, I’m going to be with you the whole way."
"But... but..."
"Sally, do you want to go diving?" there was a pause.
"Then you need to put your head under the water"

She put her head under the water, but was still kicking to stay up. I gently started to bring her down, but it was no good – she launched herself out of water, squealing "No! No! No!" and started swimming frantically towards the boat. I signaled to Fabian to put the ladder down and he helped her back in.

After the dive I went to speak to her. I told her not to worry or feel bad, that lots of people get nervous; that she should try again sometime.
"But I wanted to go diving today!" she whined, and she glared at me, petulant, full of self-pity... and slightly accusing.

[ps] Welcome to two new readers! Thanks for stopping by!

[pps] I am referring, of course, to my newish "My Readers" space, located just to your right. They have all stood up and been counted (eight, I counted) – will you?! ;-)


M4GD said...

You have an amazing patience Jane! I do not understand why an adult like Sally would not be honest with herself and admit the serious doubts in her inability to handle the dive or her fear of water for that matter. It is not a defeatism attitude but it is called honesty and thinking of others and not only oneself. I felt really sorry for the others. And what about the silent husband where did he stand? Clearly, no where! People are generally nice and can allow a decent margin of patience when someone is struggling but it seems Ms Sally broke the camel’s back! And still you handled it with grace. Hats off! I think next time someone like this comes along, I’d make’em pay more and put them in a separate class on their own. This way you will generate more money and the attention will make them feel special without giving it on the expense of others! Sorry for my ranting!

Botogol said...

9 now!
(grumble, spit, shuffle, teeth gritted)

well done.