Don’t Let Them Drown

This subject hits very close to home with me, because our oldest daughter, Michelle, almost drown while she was less than 5-feet from me.

We were visiting my wife brother in Sacramento, so decided to take a dip in the swimming pool at his apartment. She hadn’t taken swimming lessons yet, so we stayed next to her while she held on to the coping.

We were talking and I turned to my left and saw Michelle no more than two-feet from the edge and grabbed her quickly. Imprint the signs below, because they are real. I will never forget the look on her face…………….. and she didn’t make one sound.

The Instinctive Drowning Response—so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the No. 2 cause of accidental death in children, ages 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents)—of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In some of those drownings, the adult will actually watch the child do it, having no idea it is happening.* Drowning does not look like drowning—Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, described the Instinctive Drowning Response like this:

  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

So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK—don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you all right?” If they can answer at all—they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents—children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

The Innocent Honesty Of A Child

While I sat in the reception area of my doctor’s office, a woman rolled an elderly man in a wheelchair into the room. As she went to the receptionist’s desk, the man sat there, alone and silent. Just as I was thinking I should make small talk with him, a little boy slipped off his mother’s lap and walked over to the wheelchair. Placing his hand on the man’s, he said, “I know how you feel. My Mom makes me ride in the stroller too.”

As I was nursing my baby, my cousin’s six-year-old daughter, Krissy, came into the room. Never having seen anyone breast feed before, she was intrigued and full of all kinds of questions about what I was doing. After mulling over my answers, she remarked, “My mom has some of those, but I don’t think she knows how to use them.”

Out bicycling one day with my eight-year-old granddaughter, Carolyn, I got a little wistful. “In ten years,” I said, “you’ll want to be with your friends and you won’t go walking, biking, and swimming with me like you do now.
Carolyn shrugged. “In ten years you’ll be too old to do all those things anyway.”

Working as a pediatric nurse, I had the difficult assignment of giving immunization shots to children. One day, I entered the examining room to give four-year-old Lizzie her injection.
“No, no, no!” she screamed.
“Lizzie,” scolded her mother, “that’s not polite behavior.”
With that, the girl yelled even louder, “No, thank you! No, thank you!”

On the way back from a Cub Scout meeting, my grandson innocently said to my son, “Dad, I know babies come from mommies’ tummies, but how do they get there in the first place?” After my son hemmed and hawed awhile, my grandson finally spoke up in disgust, “You don’t have to make up something, Dad. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.”

Just before I was deployed to Iraq, I sat my eight-year-old son down and broke the news to him. “I’m going to be away for a long time,” I told him. “I’m going to Iraq.”
“Why?” he asked. “Don’t you know there’s a war going on over there?”

Paul Newman founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children stricken with cancer, AIDS, and blood diseases. One afternoon, he and his wife, Joanne Woodward, stopped by to have lunch with the kids. A counselor at a nearby table, suspecting the young patients wouldn’t know Newman was a famous movie star, explained, “That’s the man who made this camp possible. Maybe you’ve seen his picture on his salad dressing bottle?”
Blank stares.
“Well, you’ve probably seen his face on his lemonade carton.”
An eight-year-old girl perked up. “How long was he missing?”

The one below was added for a little more fun.

His wife’s graveside service was just barely finished, when there was a massive clap of thunder, followed by a tremendous bolt of lightning, accompanied by even more thunder rumbling in the distance. The little, old man looked at the pastor and calmly said, “Well, she’s there.”