When the weather is hot outside, there is no place I rather be than by the water.
However, and I am very ashamed to say this, I learned the hard way that being near the water with a little one is no time to relax. It really does take only a second of not paying attention for something horrible to happen.
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When my daughter was little, I was a super vigilant helicopter mom whether she was near a lake, pool, splash pad, or even bathtub. I took that 'kids must be within arm's length' rule very seriously. Even when I was exhausted, I walked with her to the edge of the lake to fill her little bucket and bring it back to our spot, every single time she wanted to go (I did smarten up and moved our towel really close to the water's edge). At the splash pad, I was the mum hunched over, ready to catch my kid, if she falls. And, I never left her alone with the tub; if I forgot something, we would wait for someone to get it for us, or just manage without it.
However, as she got older, I started to relax.The child no longer fell over when she felt the slightest breeze, so she should be able to walk near the water by herself, and I should be able to finally sit for five minutes; right? And besides, my kid already hates it when I hover, especially if there are friends around. So, the within arm's length rule got stretched further and further.
And then it happened.
I was at the beach with a friend, and we were having a nice talk. I had been watching my daughter out of the corner of my eye, so I knew where she was, but I was definitely not giving her 100% of my attention. I noticed that my little one had wandered a little too far, so I called her to move back closer to me. She of course ignored me. I thought maybe she could not hear me, so I walked into the water, to get closer to her, to tell her to play closer to our spot.
Then, suddenly, her head went under. At first, I thought WOW!, she is actually trying to swim, because at that point I still thought she could touch the bottom. Then, suddenly, I realized something was not quite right with this picture; even though she did not appear to be panicking, she was not screaming, or reaching for her friends (who were still standing next to her). Next thing I knew, I was soaking wet, right next to her and pulling her out of the water. Unbeknownst to me, there was a bit of a drop off where she was standing; it was just deep enough to put her head under the water.
I am still thanking the many deities out there that I was already in the water when she went under. I realize I was very lucky that I looked up at the right time. And, I was very fortunate that I got to her before she even had time to take in water (she was more scared and shocked than actually hurt), but I realize that it could had gone horribly wrong, and I sometimes still have nightmares that it did. It really just takes a second. According to the Canadian Red Cross, approximately 400 Canadians drown each year (this number includes boating accidents), and children between one and four, and men between 15 and 44, are at the greatest risk of drowning. And, according to the Ontario Medical Association, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for kids less than four.
One of the things that contribute to the high rate of drowning is simply this: drowning does not look like what happens on television or in the movies. There is often no screaming, or flailing of arms and because of this, most people do not realize what is happening until it is too late; like I said earlier, my daughter did not make a peep, she looked like she was just playing.
- head is low in the water, with the mouth at water level
- head is tilted back, and the mouth is opened
- hair over forehead and eyes
- eyes are closed, or if they are opened, they appear to be glassy, empty or unable to focus
- body position is vertical in the water, and the person is not using his or her legs
- person is hyperventilating or gasping
- the person may look like he or she is trying to swim, but is not making any progress
- the person is trying to roll over onto his or her back
If you are not sure if the person is drowning, Vittone suggests the best thing to do is to just ask “Are you alright?” If the person is fine, they will answer; if the person does not answer; get some help. He also advises parents to listen to their kids. Kids make noise when playing in the water; if things suddenly get quiet, go immediately to find out why.
I am finally letting my daughter near the water without hovering again. But after this incident, even after she learns how to swim, or is wearing her lifejacket, I plan to continue to watch her like a hawk, which means no more reading, no more checking the phone, and no more looking at the person I am talking to.
The 2006 summer issue of On Scene Magazine has an excellent article about the Instinctive Drowning Response – it is what people do when they are, or think they are drowning.
“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.
Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
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.
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.
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.”
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