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Checking in with Joseph Dituri on his 79th day living underwater

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today is Joseph Dituri's 79th day living underwater. It is a new world record, but this is not some stunt. He is studying how extreme pressure affects the human body over long periods of time from his base in Jules' Undersea Lodge. It's a tiny suite deep in the tropical waters of the Florida Keys. And he's teaching online classes, spreading his love for science, technology, engineering and math with thousands of students. We spoke with him just two days into this grand experiment, and Joe Dituri is back with us again today.

Welcome back.

JOSEPH DITURI: Hey, thanks for having me again. I really love NPR ATC (laughter).

CHANG: Thank you for that. OK, well, first, though, I have to ask - how are you feeling? Because when my co-host, Juana Summers, spoke with you in early March, I know that you were kind of worried about some of the psychological effects of isolation like, you know, no sunlight, the constant aloneness. How is it going?

DITURI: So I'll tell you that it's taken a toll on me a little bit - the lack of tactile - lack of motherly love, if you will.

CHANG: You mean physical touch - the lack of physical touch?

DITURI: Lack of physical touch, exactly - I get a lot of interaction with people, but not a lot of tactile.

CHANG: Well, what about your physical health? How is that going right now?

DITURI: Physical health...

CHANG: Yeah.

DITURI: It's been great. You shouldn't be allowed to be this good. Oxidative stress is down. Every single inflammatory marker in my body is down. My cholesterol is down by 70 points.

CHANG: Wow.

DITURI: Collagen is up. Oh, I'm terrific. I feel great.

CHANG: Maybe I need to go underwater for 100 days.

DITURI: Come on, bring it on.

CHANG: (Laughter) But let me ask you - is your family, at this point, like, OK, Joe. This is getting old. You need to come home now. Like, how much are they missing you?

DITURI: Oh, my girlfriend is like, listen to me - you're doing 100 days. Not 100 days and one minute - you're doing 100 days.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DITURI: You know, my mother, bless her heart - 80 years old. She is taking a scuba diving lesson on my 80th day down here, and she's coming to visit.

CHANG: Wow.

DITURI: My family is so supportive. I'm blessed.

CHANG: That is so, so great. Well, I hope you guys have a blast this Saturday.

So what has been the most surprising part of the experience so far? What would you say?

DITURI: The sleep - unquestionably the sleep. I sleep between 60- to 66% in deep and REM sleep.

CHANG: (Gasps).

DITURI: That is unheard of for Joe Dituri.

CHANG: Oh, that's so interesting. And why is that happening, you think?

DITURI: I don't know. I believe it has to do something with the pressure blanket that I'm under. I'm under 25 pounds per square inch. You're at 14.69 on the surface. This is something that is brand new.

CHANG: Yeah. Wait - so does that mean you have more vivid dreams? You have longer dreams? Does that mean you feel more well-rested when you wake up?

DITURI: I feel much more well-rested when I wake up. I sleep only about six hours a night, but four hours of that is in deep or REM. It's crazy.

CHANG: That's incredible.

DITURI: I know.

CHANG: I mean, maybe this is something overachievers should keep in mind - go 22 feet underwater, and you can sleep less and do more.

DITURI: Exactly. I've been going since 4 this morning, and I'm pretty peppy for a guy that's been going since 4 o'clock.

CHANG: (Laughter) You are pretty peppy.

Let me ask you maybe a more emotional question. Are there any lessons that you have learned during your time underwater that you think you'll take back to life on land?

DITURI: Absolutely. Oftentimes in this life, you can't control anything. So here I am in a position where I'm literally stuck underwater, and the food doesn't come down. Or this thing doesn't line up, or this person didn't call at the right time. And sometimes you just have to roll with it.

CHANG: Yeah.

DITURI: And that is one thing that, in 100 days - or in 80 days thus far - I've taken to heart. Like, just roll with it and roll on.

CHANG: You can only control so much - such an important lesson.

DITURI: It is.

CHANG: That is University of South Florida associate professor and retired Navy officer Joseph Dituri. So looking forward to talking to you again in a few weeks. Good luck. Have fun, and we'll be back in touch again.

DITURI: I love it. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Handel
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.