The IE (Instructors Exam)

Posted on February 22, 2018


Since starting the IDC (Instructor Development Course) there’s been hardly any downtime to catch my breath. The days have felt long and the nights longer with studying and homework. My homestay mum is up at the crack of dawn every day to cook a typical “Tico” breakfast for her husband. I sleep above the kitchen and the blender goes off at 5.30am everyday without fail. After cocooning my head with the sponge pillow for another hour, I eventually fall out of bed at 6.30am. Eat breakfast and drown myself in strong black coffee at 7am and walk over to school half an hour later.

Everyday we have been assessed on our classroom presentations according to the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) formulae. I know I can present, I get paid to talk out loud. But the course is designed with a rigid structure for those who are not used to presenting. If you want more points and a higher score you have to do it the PADI way. There’s been assessments on our briefing of in-water skills and also how we’ve demonstrated them in the pool. Each of us has had to adopt the role of student and instructor to practise catching and correcting mistakes in the ocean at depth. It’s been an eye opening two weeks. There’s a lot to consider teaching skills to a novice who probably has anxiety issues. Everything is done slowly, exaggerated and with bundles of enthusiasm. Repeatability is encouraged but not until you wear a person out. There’s a fine line and positive reinforcement is something that is key to keeping students relaxed.

I remember what an appalling Open Water Diver I was 20 years ago. It’s a surprise even to me to find myself in Costa Rica leaving recreational diving status and venturing into the world of pro diving. Our group is small. Just five – two girls and three boys. There are three Brits (including me) and two yanks. The youngest is 21 and I’m the oldest at 42. We’ve all bonded well. There’s been no drama or tantrums or bitchiness. In fact we’ve pulled together and leaned on each other. Me especially. My Achilles’ heel is tying knots underwater and physics theory. Nightmare! The non stop assessments have been to gear us up for the Instructors Exam (IE), which is two weeks from when you start. It’s adjudicated by an external examiner and other dive schools also attend. These exams last two and half days and are only scheduled every three months or so. It’s a full schedule with written tests, water tests and a rescue scenario in the ocean.

I’m exhausted. The cancer is not playing fair. I feel fatigued in a way that usually hits me after a week’s deployment reporting non stop sleeping five hours a night. But I’m sleeping nine hour everyday and I still can’t get up. My limbs lock out some days from severe cramp; and I am in mild pain every day with joint issues. Someday it’s my hands, other days it’s my feet, mostly my lower spine. It’s hard. I’ve had a few shit nights crying because I can’t do anything about the internal changes happening. Every evening I go to yoga to get my blood circulation going and for mental and physical therapy. It does help and it centres me. I get home between 7.30pm and 8pm, eat, study and I’m in bed at 9.30pm wiped out.

After diving I’ve started to feel a little fuzzy headed. It’s like having a hangover. My thinking is not 100 per cent clear and I’ve become forgetful. I’ve left my yoga gear behind at the studio several times now, it’s become a bit of a joke. I’ve paid for groceries and left the shopping behind and only realised half way down the road. It reminds me of how I used to feel after working 11hour overnight shifts at the BBC. I would write post-it notes all over my flat because I would forget what I needed to do due to sleep deprivation. Now I wonder whether my very low haemoglobin levels have something to do with it. Could it possibly be because those levels are not efficiently processing the excess nitrogen in my blood from diving. Maybe this is why I’m so fatigued and I’m being forgetful as a result. Who knows?

Myeloma in the early stages typically doesn’t present physically on the outside even if you’re experiencing the changes. I try not to complain because I hate sounding liking a hypochondriac especially to strangers who don’t know what I’m like when I’m healthy. I also don’t look sick so automatically my condition is not apparent. Both course directors at the dive school have been amazingly supportive, and for that I’m truly grateful.

I haven’t had a lot of time to do fun diving in Costa Rica in the run up to the exams. During our training sessions the visibility hasn’t been great and I’ve been a tad disappointed with the numbers of fish and other marine creatures …..but then I am spoilt. You cannot compared the gin-clear waters of Indonesia, The Philippines or Fiji to Central America. It’s still wonderful to be in the water and filled with the anticipation of not knowing what you might see every dive. Despite the turbidity (poor vis), on a positive note it’s been fantastic training and that’s why I’m here. If you can teach here in these conditions then you can teach anywhere. The standard of teaching has been excellent and there’s always someone on hand to help explain anything that doesn’t make sense.

The IE came up so fast. It started last Friday night and finished on Sunday afternoon. It was 36 hours of stomach wrenching agony in parts and was not without a few hiccups on my end. Mainly because I created unnecessarily problems for myself. But I am delighted to say that all five of us qualified as PADI Open Water Instructors on Sunday! Now the fun really starts.