Twice in the past five years I’ve been in close proximity to a child who would have drowned if someone hadn’t intervened. One was a stranger. One was my own.
When our 7 year old was about 2, we were up at my grandmother’s house at Montario Point on Lake Ontario. We often go to the beach there in the summer, to play in the shallow water and swim in the waves. Around the corner from the beach is an inlet channel that leads to a pond and large marshland. Taking a break from the waves, my brother Pat and I, and our kids, went to the channel to cast Pat’s rod a few times.
On one back cast, Pat’s line got caught in a tree. I turned my back for a second to help release the line just as 2-year-old Chloe stepped into the murky waters of the channel. She thought it was shallow like the beach, but instead was immediately under water without a sound. Maisie, 5 at the time, screamed her name: “Chloe!” I turned to see her completely submerged. Pat, who was within feet of her, reached under water and plucked her out. She gasped, coughed and cried, but was okay. Thoughts of what would have happened if Maisie hadn’t screamed for her sister keep me up some nights.
The stranger incident was a bit more recent. At Hilton Head last year, my wife, our two oldest, and I were playing in about 4 feet of water. The beach there gets deep a bit quicker than Montario, making the waves even more fun. Our kids were swimming safely, or were on the beach with their grandparents.
Just a few feet out from us, was a young girl about 8 years old next to a boogie board. There were people all around, but no parent in sight. The girl looked like she was trying to get onto the board, but couldn’t. The water was over her head. She was trying to take breaths each time she bobbed up, reaching for the board each time without success. She wasn’t saying help or flailing her arms, but she was in trouble -- her head was tilted back to try to get air with each bob, and she was not in control.
From a few feet away, my wife asked if she was okay. The girl turned her eyes to us and gave us a look of desperation, slipping back under for a second, but not saying a word. My wife reached out and helped her onto the board. Then we directed her to shallower water.
Below, I’m posting the link to the article that made me remember these events, because it’s that important. As we begin another swimming season, everyone should know the signs of someone struggling in water. Unlike on Baywatch, they almost never scream for help.
Here are a few things from the article to know:
1. “Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.
2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”
This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble—they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the Instinctive Drowning Response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long—but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
· Head low in the water, mouth at water level
· Head tilted back with mouth open
· Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
· Eyes closed
· Hair over forehead or eyes
· Not using legs—vertical
· Hyperventilating or gasping
· Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
· Trying to roll over on the back
· Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
Please read the whole article by clicking here: Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning