Summer is here and it’s time to head to the pool and to the beach. Or maybe you are going to someone’s house for a BBQ. It’s common that before you go, you check to make sure you have enough liquids, lots of snacks and good things to eat and enough (hopefully) sunscreen. But are you prepared for an emergency? Sure, you have band-aids, and bug repellant, but are you prepared for a drowning, or a near-drowning incident?
I actually learned this a few years ago, and it really has stuck with me and I remind myself of it every year. And while it’s not really food related. Unless you hold to the old adage, “No swimming for 30 minutes after eating”, I felt it was important enough to share here as well. File this under Life- and perhaps Travel.
Drowning doesn’t look like drowning. If you think that drowning involves wildly flailing arms and loud screams for help, you should think again. Because you are dead wrong. Drowning doesn’t look like you think it would look. It doesn’t look at all like it does in the movies or on TV. There are very few warning signs. In fact, most drownings occur when people are no further away than 20 feet.
According to the CDC, the statistics are staggering. More than one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger and for every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children in this age range. And, worse still, drownings are the leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4, and three children die every day as a result of drowning! The sad part? Drowning is preventable. This doesn’t just apply to children, but to adults too.
I’m going to share here part of an excellent article entitled “It Doesn’t Look Like They’re Drowning” featured in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine (Fall 06, Page 14) written by Aviation Survival Technician First Class Mario Vittone and Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D. It was written for the Coast Guard Search and Rescue team, but everyone can benefit from this knowledge. There is a lot of bold and red, because it’s really that important to pay attention to. And bold and red seems to get people’s attention as much as slowly braised barbeque brisket does.
In the article, they describe the typical Instinctive Drowning Response as follows:
(The “Instinctive Drowning Response” are actions that represent a person’s attempts to avoid the actual or perceived suffocation in the water. The suffocation in water triggers a constellation of autonomic nervous system responses that result in external, unlearned, instinctive drowning movements. Commit these to memory!)
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 mouth of a drowning person is not above the surface of the water long enough to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning person’s mouth is above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouth starts 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.”
Here are some Signs of Drowning to watch for the next time you’re swimming with your kids or others:
Head low in the water, mouth at water level
Head tilted back with open mouth
Hair over forehead or eyes
Eyes glassy, empty and unable to focus
Hyperventilating or gasping
Not using legs or not kicking
Body is vertical and upright
Trying to swim in a certain direction but not making any progress
Trying to roll over on the back
Here are some Prevent Drowning Measures you can take:
Keep your eyes open and watch your children (or your friends)! Do not leave them for a second unattended around water. This is the most important thing you can do to save your child’s life. Even when things seem ok, they may not be. A good way to make sure is to ask your kid or the person you’re swimming with if he or she is all right. If they are rather still, do not answer or have a blank stare, then you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them! As any parent knows, kids make noise in the water. If they are not making noise, find out why and get them out of the water ASAP. One thing I do with my girls, that I actually learned as a SCUBA Rescue Diver is to make a “BIG OKAY” sign with my hand on my head and my arm outstretched like the letter “O”. They can see me and my “BIG OKAY” from wherever they are in a pool and do it back to me. When they do that, I know that they are okay. If they don’t do it, I then hop in the water and go get them. Every time we go to the pool or the beach, I remind them to make the sign, so I don’t have to drag them out of the water.
Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
Are you up to date with your CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) accreditation? If you aren’t, go and learn and get recertified every two years. CPR can help a child stay alive with little or no brain damage.
Life Jackets are a “MUST!”
You wouldn’t let your child go un-seatbelted (hopefully!) in the car so don’t let them go unprotected in the water either. Make sure kids wear life jackets every single time they are in and around natural bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers or the ocean, even if they know how to swim. This goes adults too. Just wear the life jacket. It looks good on the wave runner.
Fence the Pool and Cover It
If you have a home pool or are at another person’s home that has a pool, be sure that it is fenced in. Every pool should have a four–sided fence, with self–closing and self–latching gates around the entire pool. And make sure the pool is covered when not in use. If it’s an above ground pool, make sure the ladder/steps are inaccessible to children.
Don’t Drink and Swim
Ok, you can swim up to the bar, but don’t over do it and drink water too. Swimming and alcohol doesn’t mix. Add the strong sun and you have a recipe for disaster or a really, really bad sunburn.
Learn To Swim!
The American Red Cross gives very cost efficient swimming lessons at a pool near you. Take advantage of their classes.
I hope that you and your family and your friends have an awesome, safe Summer filled with laughter and joy and lots of good food!