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Drowning doesn’t look like drowning

This was published in May, but I just came across it the other day.

The new captain jumped from the cockpit, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the owners who were swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know, from fifty feet away, what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

There are many things that frighten parents. Strangers, germs, crime, etc etc etc. For the most part, I don’t fear these things. Reading this story, on the other hand, scared the crap out of me. I’d have been as clueless as the people in that first paragraph. According to the author:

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 ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).

I’m haunted by those numbers. I’m not the nervous type, but I’m going to be a lot more vigilant around swimming pools from now on. Read it, and read the comments, and see if you don’t feel the same way.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for keeping this message alive, Charles.

  2. Zach says:

    When I saw this mornings report about the 6 kids drowning in Louisiana, it made me think of this post. This family is fortunate.