Do You Know the Signs of Drowning?

I read an article on FaceBook the other day that still has me shaking my head and sharing it with everyone I possibly can. It’s one of the most surprising and possibly most important things I have ever read. It is from Mario Vittone and is entitled “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning”.

My two sons are pretty well grown now, but, having a pool in my backyard and practically living in it every summer, I always thought I would know what it would look like if one of them or one of their friends was drowning in our pool. After all, how do you miss a child that is gasping and flailing in the water? I always assumed that, when someone drowns, it is because the pool, lake, whatever, was too busy, too loud, too big, etc. for the victim’s thrashing to be seen before it was too late.

Turns out I was wrong. Vittone calls the type of drowning I envisioned to be “Hollywood drowning”. Or, to be more kind, “aquatic distress”; the person is in trouble in the water, but has not yet started the actual process of drowning.  Vittone describes a “Instinctive Drowning Response” as:

  • The victim cannot call for help.As speech is a secondary function of the respiratory system, in distress, the primary function of breathing overwhelms the ability to speak.
  • The victim cannot wave for help.The victim instinctively extends his or her arms horizontally across the surface of the water to push down on it in an attempt to lift his or her mouth out of the water.Again, waving for help would be a secondary function.Similarly, a person who is drowning cannot aid in their own rescue by swimming toward a potential rescuer or reaching for a life ring, etc.
  • The victim will remain upright in the water rather than rolling over and kicking.

In these situations, a potential rescuer usually has from 20-60 seconds to reach the victim before he or she is submerged. 

The Centers for Disease Control list drowning as the second most common cause of death in children under the age of 15 (behind vehicle accidents).  Vittone cautions that, just like many things with a child, if the child is being quiet, that is the time to be worried. Please share this information with anyone you can. If they already know it, great. If they don’t already know it, the info may just save a life.