“I can still remember it—lying on the bottom of the pool, looking up at the surface of the water, and not being able to get there,” says Tim (actual name withheld for privacy), as he tells the story of his near-drowning, as a 6-year-old day-camper one New Hampshire summer nearly ten years ago.
“I slipped from the shallow end to the deep end. It happened really fast. My buddy noticed I wasn’t with him at the Buddy Check. They did Buddy Checks during swim time every two minutes. I don’t know how long I was underwater.”
His mother, Debbie (actual name withheld for privacy) shares “It’s the phone call no parent ever wants to get. The one where the person on the other end of the phone tells you that your child was pulled from the bottom of the pool unconscious; that a by-stander administered CPR; that your child is on the way to the hospital in an ambulance.”
“My husband and I spent the night at the hospital,” she continues, “holding our son’s hand while he vomited huge amounts of water, watching and waiting to see if his condition would stabilize. It was touch-and-go all night as to whether or not he would survive.”
She takes a deep breath. “For us, things turned out alright. He recovered and is fine. But not every family is so lucky. We want everyone to know that accidental drowning can be prevented and that seconds count if a potential drowning incident does happen.”
Tim and Debbie’s story is frightening and, unfortunately, it is not uncommon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States and for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
As we kick off the summer season, there are some basic prevention strategies to avoid having a negative experience in the pool or lake:
- Making sure swimmers have at least basic swimming skills, to reduce the risk of accidental drowning. Participating in formal swim lessons for both adults and children is a sensible prevention strategy for improving individual and family water safety.
- Wear a US Coast Guard approved life-jacket. Air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices. Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as “water wings”, “noodles”, or inner-tubes, instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
- Paying close attention to people and activities in and around the water, especially children. Drowning can happen very quickly, before anyone nearby realizes what is happening. Practicing close supervision at poolside or on the shore can alert you to a dangerous situation or a person in trouble while there is still time to take action to prevent a tragedy.
- Using the Buddy System, so that everyone shares responsibility for staying safe and being aware. Pairing up with a buddy is an especially effective way for children to learn to pay attention and be alert to others in and around water.
- Learning CPR. An immediate response with basic life support CAN save a life.
For more information and other tips on water safety, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Water Safety page.
Alan Rosen, MD Family Medicine, Mid-State Health Center