Friday, July 9, 2010


The day was sunny, blistering hot, pretty much like every other summer day in South Central Florida. I stood in a pool with water that reached my shoulders and teased my neck whenever there was movement. At this particular moment, there wasn't much movement. The pool seemed very large to me, but I was only six years old. In reality, it was only 10 feet in diameter, and the water was only three feet deep.

My mother, my brother, and I had come over to look in on my grandparents house. They were out of town. That meant checking on the pool and taking a dip. My brother was only two years old and he was currently restricted to the ladder. My mother mixed chemicals and remained attached to the filter, while I chattered her ear off about inane nonsense. My father had arrived earlier and was in the house having some lunch before going back to work. My brother was anxious for my mother to finish with the filter so that he could get into the pool. It was hot. Instead, he sat on the ladder. I stood with my back to him, ignoring him completely, and went on with my important conversation.

My father comes out the back door to return to work. My brother and I are both distracted by this event. We compete for his attention with our goodbyes. We both talk louder and over one another; all the while he ambles to the car. Unbeknownst to us, after the first "Goodbye daddy," he had mentally clicked off and was already mentally at work thinking about his afternoon. Everything we said had fallen on deaf ears. Of course, I had not paid one whit of attention to what my brother had said, because I was busy trying to talk louder. My mother had tuned both of us out, because this conversation had been directed at my dad and not her. [If you are a parent, this makes perfect sense. If are not, it probably won't. Parents develop an ability fairly quickly to tune out children's chatter, because it is incessant. If not for this ability, parents would become lunatics very quickly. However, the ear becomes attuned for certain a tone or words and has this amazing ability to *snap* back into a conversation when these things are detected. If these things are not detected, entire conversations can be completely missed.]

The only reason any of this is important, is because everyone missed what my brother said. He said, "Look at me, daddy. Look at me." Now, that would have been meaningless if he only wanted my dad to see how cute he was, or look at his swimsuit, but for some unknown reason my brother had it in his head that he could swim today, when he never could swim before. He assumed because he told my father to look, that my dad would. My father was in another world. He didn't look. My brother slipped from the ladder into the water, and no one looked. My mother was still trying to get the chemicals right in the filter. I was still yammering on about God knows what. The pool was 10 feet long. End to end, from any end, it was 10 feet. My brother was a foot and a half behind me, and he was drowning, and no one knew it.

What possessed me to shut up, turn around, and see my brother standing on the bottom of the pool? I think God probably shouted directly into my head. I just know that I felt compelled to do it. I took a step and hauled him up by his swimsuit, which was the only thing I could get a good grasp on. He wasn't blue. He hadn't inhaled any water. He was still at the stage that he was holding his breath.

This was another topic that came up on our family vacation. My brother doesn't remember it. He remembers us talking about it, so he knows the story well. It is another blank in my father's memory. I am not surprised. The broken leg was for more traumatic for my father (with all the blood) and he can't recall that. He wasn't even there for this one. Mom and I remember this with clarity.

About a week ago, I found a link to this article on a literary agent's site. I clicked it, not expecting to find this; I expected to find something having to do with getting your novel published. She was so knocked out by this article that she had to share it. I think that anyone who spends any time near water should read it. That pretty much means everyone.

I know that I gave you the link. I am also going to copy/paste the article for those of you who don't feel like clicking on the link because it is IMPORTANT. It's a beautiful day to save lives.

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.

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 number two cause of accidental death in children, age 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 ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). 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. Th e 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.

(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006)

This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experience 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 there own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are n 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
•Ladder climb, rarely out of the water.

So if a crew member falls overboard and every looks O.K. – 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 alright?” 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.


  1. I will tell (write) you a story: it happened when my cousin, Luke, was 12 he was spending holidays by the Baltic Sea with his friend and his friend's parents. The weather was brilliant, they were on the beach everyday, blah, blah, blah. Now - Baltic Sea is usually calm (no surfing in Poland). And the day I mean in this story was exceptionally calm - there was no wind at all, no waves, nothing. So my cousin Luke, his friend and his friend's mother were playing in the water in the sea. And it wasn't deep - up to their waists maybe. And like I said - no waves at all. And suddenly something sort of "grabbed" Luke and Luke's friend and pushed it into the water. That woman who was with them had time only to grab Luke's ankle - but she failed to catch her own son. Who drowned. And whose body was never even found (despite the search that lasted two weeks). And you know - the weather was perfect, boys were standing inches away from this woman and - my cousin still won't swim in any sea even though it's been 10 years since that. They say it was some really unusual under-water wave. But, you see, a tragedy can happen anytime. Which is why posts like this one you wrote are so important.

  2. Very good tips you have here.

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  3. Isn't it strange how, when someone desperately needs you, you just feel it? You just somehow seem to know. I would hate to die through drowning, just the thought of it makes me feel sick to my stomach. Excellent article; definitely one that everyone should read and try to remember, as you just never know.

  4. Hello from Follow Friday 40 and Over!

    Poor Pup in the tree...I feel just like that some

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. Read it on Facebook this week, and as a former life guard, I was surprised. The only person I ever saved thrashed around like a mad man after stepping unknowingly from a shallow area in our lake over a big drop off, without knowing how to swim. In the end, I'm not sure who was more scared, him or me...but thankfully, we both lived to talk about it. This is critical info. Again, thanks for spreading it.

  6. I read this on facebook this week too. It really struck a chord. I almost drowned when I was a toddler - got yanked from the bottom of the pool by my hair actually. I don't remember the incident very much except I took a big dislike to the lady who saved me - she pulled my hair and it hurt and in my toddler's mind, that's all I remembered or comprehended of the event. My Mum says I made no sound at all - just suddenly she turned around and there I was on the bottom of the pool.

    I wonder some times why I got saved when so many don't ... I want to think God stopped time and caused someone to notice me so that I would be saved, but then I think ... why didn't He do that for every other child that drowns? So, I guess I'll just say I was lucky, or my time wasn't up, or it was just fate or something ... but I have never stopped being thankful ... and I'll probably be a little leery around water for the rest of my life.

  7. wow, makes perfect sense though. It kind of scared me because it reminds me of teaching my youngest to swim and watching her do the upright ladder climb thing while sinking.
    something to keep in mind.

  8. As a mother of two young girls, this is one of my biggest fears. I actually am still paranoid that they may drown in the tub. I tell myself they will be ok since I don't let them out my sight, but thanks for the tips for when i get a little braver and let them venture out on their own.

    (Thanks for catching my spelling error the other day! :)

  9. Great information! I'm a retired paramedic and it is still very scary to me just how many children die in water related accidents. Thanks for sharing this info.

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