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A MUST Read!  "Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning"

Jul 03, 2012 - 14 comments

It's summer for most of us, and that means pools, beaches, lots of water time.  This article just may save lives.  Read it and share it.  When someone gets in trouble in the water, you have only seconds to react and save them.  If people are more educated about what to look for, maybe more tragedies could be averted.  I tell you, I always assumed drowning looked like what we see on TV, as the article disputes.  I was shocked to read it doesn't at all.  Really good information.

The article:

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:

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 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.
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.
(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14))

This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:

■Head low in the water, mouth at water level
■Head tilted back with mouth open
■Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
■Eyes closed
■Hair over forehead or eyes
■Not using legs – Vertical
■Hyperventilating or gasping
■Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
■Trying to roll over on the back
■Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK – don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

Link to the article:

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707563 tn?1553635552
by Emily_MHManager, Jul 03, 2012
This is a must read!  Great info, and thanks for posting!

2020005 tn?1476662562
by KTowne, Jul 03, 2012
That's so scary!!! I never take my eyes off my son while he's in the water, but good to know to look out for others!

2996663 tn?1374172676
by witheredrose, Jul 03, 2012
Good to know, being that it would be easy to make yourself look like your drowning, and there are probably rude people out there who would do such a if there ever comes a time when I might have to save somebody from drowning, I will know for sure if they really are.

480448 tn?1426952138
by nursegirl6572, Jul 03, 2012
I know KTowne, I'm pretty dilligent too, the scary thing is, a lot of times, it's easy to miss the signs....I know I would have been looking for the more dramatic thrashing and struggling, not what they describe in the article!  Really scary!

480448 tn?1426952138
by nursegirl6572, Jul 03, 2012
Yes, witheredrose....I hear ya.  That's why lifeguards have the training they be able to distinguish people acting like fools versus someone who is really in trouble!

2020005 tn?1476662562
by KTowne, Jul 03, 2012
Oh yeah, I think of kicking and screaming, but I'm glad I read this! Just makes me keep my eyes on him even more!

134578 tn?1578161083
by AnnieBrooke, Jul 03, 2012
Interesting and useful.

3060903 tn?1398568723
by Nighthawk61, Jul 03, 2012
I'm going to send it to my son right now!! Thanks so much for posting.

480448 tn?1426952138
by nursegirl6572, Jul 03, 2012
Sure thing, Liz!  This is one of those things worth sharing with everyone.

973741 tn?1342346373
by specialmom, Jul 03, 2012
Oh, I've seen this and keep it in mind.  It is excellent for all to read.  I have the MOST trouble with my boys at the pool when they play with older cousins.  These kids are not aware that they are holding my child in the water too long, putting pressure on them, etc.  I have to get into the pool and sit by and stop the rough house playing they think is just being fun.  

Love that you shared this!!

1006035 tn?1485579497
by skepticalpeach, Jul 03, 2012
It's a good reminder during this hot summer. My daughter has autism and honestly believes she can swim. I will say that she almost can, but isn't quite there. We put her in a life jacket if she is even anywhere near a pool. My apartment complex has a pool and with all the unsupervised kids that go in it I am surprised no one has been hurt yet.

2136621 tn?1355125587
by jackie722, Jul 04, 2012
Great stuff this! I almost drowned about 3 months ago here at the beach..... I remember pondering if I should go in or not as the waves were quite big.....and I decided "what the hell. lets go.." I remember the waves were almost like breaking on the shore.....but there was a sand dip...and I wanted to get past it could be alot smoother....and miss the break of the waves.....

Anyway another wave lifted me up so high that I actually got Vertigo.....and started feeling queezy...and I thought ok time to get out........:-0 anyway...I couldnt...... the more I moved or swam fwd, the more I was being pulled and dunked......
No matter if you are a good swimmer or calm doesnt help......I continued trying....but to no avail...

Luckily a good samaritan....saw and jumped in to rescue me....his first attempt failed......and then I started freaking out....

Second time he grabbed my arm again .....and after being dunked another 20 times....he finally pulled me to shore......

Looked like a had gotten out a washing machine......!! my boob was sticking hair was in my pants were hanging on by a thread and a blood nose..LOL .......

To this day I stick TO ROCK POOLS..........and what makes me soooo angry is that there were FOUR life guards that day..sitting just to the right of me...THAT DID NOTHING...............Didnt even see me.......:-< .......

SO that dude was my lucky Angel for sure x

144586 tn?1284669764
by caregiver222, Jul 19, 2012
This is an excellent article. One of the observations at a medical examiner's office is the the lungs of a so-called drowning victim may not have any water inside. Sometimes the slightest amount of water going into the trachea will cause a spasm that closes the lungs up tight. This is why a drowning victim may not be able to call for help. They can't inhale.

480448 tn?1426952138
by nursegirl6572, Jul 19, 2012
Oh my jackie!!!  Scary!  I have a scary story from my vacation last week as well, nothing like yours, but boy was I terrified.  The waves were relentless, and the current unforgiving.  I was trying to get past the waves to the calmer spot, when a HUGE wave started coming.  I turned around and headed torward shore.  The wave hit me SO hard in the back it knocked me under and INTO the sand.  I kept trying to fight to get up and out of the water, and couldn't.  The current was literally holding me down.  I was a few seconds away from not being able to hold me breath anymore.  It was awful.  I also felt like a rag doll when I was finally able to make it out of the water.

Thanks GOD for that guy that helped you, OMG, I couldn't imagine the terror.  I have a new respect for the ocean, I'll tell you!

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