Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

A good friend of mine recently had a very scary experience with her young son in a pool. Luckily she was paying attention, and what could have been a tragic situation turned out just fine, except the “what if” scenarios she’s played in her head over and over. Perhaps the most frightening part was the fact that when the little guy was in trouble, there were lifeguards and swim instructors nearby. Many people don’t realize that drowning happens suddenly and silently.

She posted a great article written by Mario Vittone, a former U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer, entitled Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. It’s worth a quick read if you plan on spending any time near the water this summer.

I’m planning to write an article on this subject for a website where I’ve signed on as a contributor, but it will be a third person, professional article, without sharing any personal insight. But the truth is, I do have personal experience with this.

When I was a kid, summertime meant one of three things, baseball, tennis, or water. My brother and I would ride our bikes to the big pool downtown and spend hours and hours in the water. One sunny afternoon I was in the 3 foot section, just near the rope that separated the shallow part from swim lanes. I must have been about 12 years old. I was doing hand stands, not too far from the lifeguard platform. I vividly recall coming up from under the water, pushing the hair out of my face, wiping my eyes, and seeing a boy, probably three or four years-old, alone in an area where he couldn’t touch. He was struggling with his arms, but not splashing, his head was back in the water. His mouth was open, and kept sinking under the water. I don’t know how long he’d been there, but I thought I remembered seeing him earlier with a girl a little younger than I was. I looked around to see if someone was near him, or if anyone was going to help him. There was no one.

Once I realized he was really in trouble, I quickly swam over and lifted him up out of the water. To this day I’ve never had anyone cling to me as tightly as he did. He was coughing and sputtering, and it would have taken three people to pry his rigid arms off of my shoulders. I held him in the water for a minute while he caught his breath. Once he regained his composure, he just kept clinging, and started to shake. I can’t remember if I talked to him, I’m sure I asked if he was all right, but I don’t think he said anything. I carried him over to the side of the pool, right underneath the lifeguard, oddly enough, and lifted him up onto the side. Before I had a chance to say anything else to him, he took off running. I watched him go over to someone he knew, and that was the end of it.

It never occurred to me to tell whomever he was with what had happened, or tell the lifeguard. I was pretty shaken up afterwards. I kept seeing his face under the water, and always wondered with a heavy heart, who had left him all alone like that. I never found out who he was or how old he was. I’m just glad I was there because no one else in that crowded pool saw what had happened, even after it was over. It was much less dramatic than you’d envision a near-drowning to be.

That’s a story I’ve only shared with maybe two other people until today. But that’s how I know for a fact that drowning doesn’t look like drowning.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

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4 thoughts on “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

  1. An important message for us all this summer.

    I had a similar experience when I was about the same age. It was my sister who was 5 or 6 at the time. We were in a lake in probably 10 feet of water. She had wandered out without floatation to be near the big kids. I saw her and realized she was in trouble, barely able to keep her head above water. But she never shouted out. I, too, can remember her vise-like grip around my neck as I struggled to swim both of us back to shore. We both still vividly remember those moments to this day.

  2. I had a friend send me this article, too. I am glad it is working its way around. The information is important, as you can attest to. Thanks for sharing. Glad you were in the right place at the right time. (That swimmer is, too.)

  3. I had a near-death experience while drowning. It was amazing, and I didn’t want it to stop…I was about 5 at the time. My dad, who was watching me while I swam, noticed and jumped in to save me. He said it was a near thing, that it took all his life-saving skills to get me to breathe.

    As you and your other readers have pointed out, I didn’t make a sound. In my case I welcomed it because the near-death experience was so wonderful.

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