Just add courage
Angelique Overman has always loved diving. When she came close to death in a car accident that killed two of her friends, it looked as if her diving days were finished. Her sheer determination confounded
the doctors. Ellie Brown tells her story. Photos by Mark Brill, Pictures Underwater
Angelique is tiny. She dominates the dive briefing with the force of her personality as she explains the layout of the dive site, the direction of the current and the need for her students to keep an eye on how much air they have left. "The signal for one hundred bar is...?" she prompts them. "Show me!"
With her eyebrows lifted and her brown eyes flashing, it is clear that she will not stand for any slack practices. Her forehead bears a jagged groove that you don't always notice at first beneath her suntan. It's the permanent reminder that she came within a hair's breadth of dying. That she survived is a minor miracle. That she continues to dive is a tribute to her courage and force of character.
She came to Egypt from Holland four years ago to work as a divemaster and become an instructor: "I was in a car with four friends, and we were involved in terrible car crash," she explains. "Two were killed, the other two were badly injured." Her voice drops "Actually it's very difficult for me because my friends have suffered more than me. Even though I have this." She gestures to her scar.
The car crash was horrific. Angelique was thrown forward, her head literally smashed open with the impact, and then she was thrown backwards with such force that her brain was dislodged inside her skull. When rescue arrived, the injuries to her head were so obvious and appalling, they assumed she was dead.
Luckily, doctors determined that Angelique was alive and she was cared for in the hospital in Hurghada until she regained consciousness. "I had no idea what had happened to me," says Angelique. "I could not see. My entire face was swollen like a balloon, both my eyes were black, bruised and completely puffed up so I couldn't open them. Actually it was probably for the best in the beginning. If I'd have seen what I looked like... " She shudders involuntarily.
The long road to recovery
So what was it like being seriously injured and a long way from home? "The Egyptian doctors were great and they saved my life." But being in an Egyptian hospital? "I wouldn't recommend it. It was pretty disgusting." As soon as she was able to travel she returned to Holland to recover from her injuries. Only then did she realise the full implications of what had happened.
"The doctors had had to piece my skull back together. Parts of it were missing, so it wasn't very pretty and there was a hole.
Even now its healed you can still see it's a bit of a mess." The main concern, however, was brain damage. Angelique has remarkable powers of healing. Over time, her brain found ways of bypassing the damage. It wasn't long before she was fit to work again.
Surviving and diving
"I wanted to go back to diving, of course, but the doctors all said no. They considered it far too risky. I was beside myself. Life without diving? I couldn't contemplate it."
Angelique sought out the top diving doctor in Holland. "Luckily for me, he was a specialist in neurology and he understood all about my injuries. When he agreed that I could dive again, I jumped for joy! The only downside was that he gave me a limit - 30 metres. But I can live with that."
"Lots of my friends now are technical divers, and I look at the dives they do and I really want to go with them... but however frustrated I feel, I still remember that I'm so lucky to be alive and back in the water."
Facing the future
So how do people react to her? "Most adults are too polite to say anything to me. Children are funny because they just come out with exactly what they're thinking 'Oh! You have a dent in your head!'. And I can tell the doctors straight away because they will come up and trace the position of the scar and go 'hmmm! You have a piece missing just... here'. I'm used to it."
Teaching people to dive keeps her motivated: "It's great to be able to introduce people to an activity that I love so much - even though some of them can be a bit of a... challenge." She is squinting over my shoulder at the motley collection of divers who are preparing to kit up, and goes over to help a woman with her regulator.
As Angelique rallies her group of divers, it's easy to forget that for some people just the act of diving can be an act of courage. "Come on then!" she insists, and beckons me into the water.