“He’s very good-looking.” That is what the spouse said about Jose V. after she became his Ph.D. mentor, but she said it many other times as well. He was accomplished and ambitious. He was in a joint M.D./Ph.D. program. In addition, he was a ballroom dance instructor.

After obtaining his doctorate, he went to Harvard for a couple of post-doctoral fellowships, but then the spouse lost track of him. That is until Jose recently contacted her. He said that he was in Manhattan regularly and would like to take the spouse out to lunch. (Telling me about the invitation, she mentioned that he was good-looking.)

The spouse responded that she was partial to diners (true) and that Jose should find one near where he was staying. He replied several days later that all the nearby diners were booked (surely an untruth) and that he wished to treat the spouse to lunch at a Central Park South restaurant, one of the city’s most expensive. Sharing this news with me, the spouse mentioned that Jose was good-looking.

The spouse refrained from ordering one of the $70 entrees and had oysters, a salad, and a glass of Sancerre, continually wondering who ate at such a place. The conversation quickly turned to the catching-up stage. The spouse’s end was short since Jose knew that she had retired and quickly learned that the spouse had the same husband, child, and house.

Jose, however, had a fair amount to report. He had lived in many places and traveled much. He was married but was now separated from his wife who was back home in Colombia, the birthplace of both of them. Jose now is a practicing neurologist who fills in regularly at hospitals in North Carolina. It means that he has to be in NC for only a few days out of the month. He didn’t want to live in NC, so he lives in New York City for most of the time.

The spouse said that because she had not heard from Jose in a while and because she knew that he had taken up freediving (deep diving without scuba gear), she had assumed he had died in a diving accident. He conceded that freediving was more dangerous than ballroom dancing (which he no longer did), but averred that freediving was not as dangerous as people thought. He stated that only one professional freediver had ever died. Besides, he said, freediving was relaxing, blissful even. One’s heart rate declined (as low as five beats per minute), and one felt, well, free.

My ten minutes of internet research later found that that death statistic was not entirely correct. A website for “wild water sports” said there had been only one recorded death in over 80,000 competitive freedives globally. That site went on to say that there have been more deaths in running, cycling, and scuba diving than in competitive freediving, but I thought that this information left out some important context. My guess is that the number of people running, cycling, and scuba diving is much higher than it is for freediving and without per capita data the comparisons were meaningless.

However, the site also indicated that from 2004 to 2017, there was an average of fifty-one freediving deaths per year and some of these were professional divers in noncompetitive activities. Perhaps done properly, the sport is not overly dangerous, but it certainly has its risks.

Jose, however, was not treating his freediving as merely a hobby separate from his medical practice. Instead, he was convinced of a connection between them. He told the spouse that the cluster of symptoms surrounding the death of a freediver were the same as those accompanying seizure activity which he, as a neurologist, had encountered regularly in the clinic. Moreover, Jose’s prior research activities had made him something of an expert on the sympathetic nervous system. In short, he was uniquely situated to make this comparison. The symptoms included a spike in white blood cells, and increases in surfactant and something else I don’t remember. As a result, he was eager to develop a diagnostic kit that would predict seizure activity. But he no longer was active in research, and besides, he didn’t know how to create or market any kind of assay.

When I heard that Jose wanted to develop some sort of medical kit, I immediately thought that that explained the lunch. He was looking for an investment or loan or gift from the spouse. She assured me, however, after mentioning how good-looking Jose is, that I was wrong. She said that Jose is not looking to become rich; he only wanted to have his insight confirmed as true and made useful.

The lunch, however, revealed that Jose and the spouse had more in common than their scientific collaborations. Jose said that he is susceptible to seasickness, and this has affected his freediving. He has to find diving locations where he does not have to take a boat to get to them. The spouse encountered something similar. She did not grow up scuba diving, but, being a good swimmer, she thought she would enjoy it and became certified as an adult. However, she got seasick going out to diving sites and gave it up.

Jose, however, apparently knows every freediving place in the world that is within feet of the shoreline. He also has dived in cenotes that are scattered throughout Yucatan. Cenotes form when porous limestone naturally collapses, and groundwater fills the sinkholes. It often results in caves partially filled with water that invites scuba-diving spelunkers. In some, the water is very deep and beckons freedivers like Jose. Most who visit a cenote, however, stay on the surface of the water, as the spouse, the NBP and I had done only a couple of weeks before the spouse’s lunch. But our trip, including the cenote swimming, is a story for another day. (By the way, when the spouse came back from the lunch and when she told friends about it a few days later, she did not refrain from mentioning that Jose is still rather good-looking.)

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