Summer is here and so is all of the water fun! Everyone is heading to the pool, the lake, or the ocean this season. But, do you know how to stay safe? Do you know what it looks like when someone is drowning? Here’s a hint: it doesn’t look like the movies. The drowning victim doesn’t splash around, screaming, making a lot of noise, and drawing a lot of attention to himself. In fact, it is just the opposite. Drowning is usually very quiet and quick. You need to be watching (and know what to watch for).
“It Will Never Happen To Me”
Those words are uttered so often…”It will never happen to me.” But, in reality the unthinkable can happen to you. And, it HAS happened to Aero Jet Medical’s Chief Operating Officer, Ronny Wilson. After a near drowning at a pool party in which he had to rescue two young girls, he wrote down his thoughts. We can learn a lot from this experience.
“Are they wrestling or just acting like they’re drowning?” “Are they drowning?” “Is this for real?” “Oh my God, they’re drowning, they’re drowning!”
Please note that Ronny Wilson has 20+ years in various emergency roles, and he still found it difficult to decipher if the girls were playing or struggling in the water. We think Ronny says it best in his own words:
“This is as real as it gets and worthy of a quick reeducation about water safety. We nearly lost 2 little girls over the weekend at my sister and brother-in-law’s pool party. Adults were everywhere, some with adult beverages, others just carrying on conversations spread about inside and poolside. At least 5-10 adults were hanging out right next to the pool. One girl (maybe 7 or 8) quietly began to struggle at the edge of the shallow-end drop off to deeper waters. Her cousin (same age) swims over to help and each becomes the other’s life-raft, both dragging one another below the surface in failed attempts to thrust their nose and mouths upward toward oxygen. It all happened in seconds. It was silent, it was quick, and worst of all, it was nearly fatal had it not been for a single keen eye and simple question verbalized loudly. It’s a set of simple questions any one of us might ask ourselves in silence. “Are they wrestling or just acting like they’re drowning?” “Are they drowning?” “Is this for real?” “Oh my God, they’re drowning, they’re drowning,” a scream cried out!
“…the struggle was not obvious at all…”
“At first, as a few of us inside stood up, nothing appeared too unusual since these same girls had been playing all day long in the same pool without a problem. After spending 20+ years in various emergency service roles, including water rescue & even as a water rescue instructor, I’m here as witness to warn you that the struggle was not obvious at all and it was extremely difficult to even appreciate as I started to move poolside to assess the questions being raised versus the activity in the water. The first girl was cyanotic (blue) and barely conscious while her little cousin surfaced in my arms pale and gagging to catch a breath when all 3 of us finally surfaced together. Needless to say, I don’t think any of us slept that night worrying about the after effects of near-drowning, also known as a secondary drowning. As many might think following such a near miss, “the individual is safe”, “she’s breathing,” however, pulmonary edema (swelling in the lungs) and looming infection can and often do develop later to create a secondary drowning response from within. This incident makes me realize why so many of the emergency response drowning calls I’ve ran over my career had ended well before rescue was ever initiated. Thank God for keen-eyes and a mom’s intuition or 2 little girls would not be around to celebrate the next.
“…drowning can be completely silent…”
“My primary take away from this harrowing event, watch your children closely because drowning can be completely silent. Look for signs of what water rescue communities call, “the instinctive drowning response.” This is a natural response whereby an individual in trouble begins pushing downward on the surrounding waters while attempting to thrust their nose and mouth upward just above of the waterline in order to secure one more breath of oxygen just before they slip beneath the waterline and ultimately succumb to the elements. As stated before me, “water is hard to breathe!” For more information on drowning and what to look for Today Health gives some great tips. Don’t let your family be a preventable statistic.”
Important Water Safety Lessons Learned
Wow! How scary that must have been for everyone involved – especially the two small girls. So, what do we need to remember as we have fun this summer around water? What can be immediately learned from Ronny’s story?
- Not even a seasoned veteran of the emergency medical community can decipher drowning versus “just playing” in the water easily. It can be that hard to recognize. So, be vigilant!
- When a person is struggling, they can take down the person trying to help if care isn’t taken. Notice how the two girls became “each other’s life-raft, both dragging one another below the surface.”
- Be loud! Ronny states that a “keen eye and simple question verbalized loudly” is what began the rescue process. Don’t be silent in this situation trying to figure out what is happening. It is better to get everyone’s attention and be wrong about the situation than to need everyone’s attention and not have it.
- Know what to look for! The girls were thrusting to get their “nose and mouths upward toward oxygen”. Today Health tells us that “the head tilted back as the person tries to float” or “eyes glassy or closed” are also signs of distress.
- Don’t forget about secondary drowning. After the event, hopefully everyone is fine. But, the near-drowning victim needs to be monitored carefully after for “swelling in the lungs” and infection. While everyone in the short term gives a sigh of relief, please keep in mind that there are some symptoms to continue to monitor for in the longer term.
Stay Calm and Swim On
Have fun in the sun…just be ready in case an emergency happens on your watch. Will you be ready? You’ve heard from someone who was. You know what to watch for – so keep your eyes on the water and have a great summer!
Have you ever been involved in a water rescue? Were you surprised at how quickly or quietly it happened? We’d love to hear from you.
photo credit: The Final Frontier via photopin (license)