Required Summer Reading: Are They Drowning?

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Summertime = pool time, lake time, get-in-the-water time.  It’s also the perfect time to bone up on water safety, particularly knowing how to spot someone who might be drowning.

What Does Drowning Look Like?

Do you think drowning looks like thrashing about in the water, yelling, kicking, and dramatic splashing?

You’d be wrong.  Doesn’t look a thing like that.  And I know, because I once came thisclose to drowning.

When I was about seven, I was in a hotel pool with my older brother who could swim.  My swimming skills were just being honed, but as most kids who are just learning, I thought I could swim.

Look at me; I’m swimming!

My brother walked out into the deep end, where he started swimming.  I walked out into the deep end, where the bottom of the pool dropped off, and started drowning.  Both my parents were within 10 feet of me and I was in plain sight.  I started slipping under and couldn’t control my movements.  I still remember how scared I was and I could hear my father saying, “Patti, we don’t pretend we’re drowning.”  I couldn’t get my head above the water enough to scream for help; I wasn’t playing.

As I was about to black out, I saw my father dive into the pool, wristwatch and all (back then, daddies always took off their watches before getting near water because nothing was waterproof) and pulled me up over the surface of the water. I remember choking, crying, and frantically grabbing for him.  Even though I was young, I thought I was going to die in that pool with everyone thinking I was misbehaving.  It’s a memory that has vividly stayed with me.

When I was calmer, my parents asked me why I had followed my brother into the deep end.  I told them that I didn’t know the pool’s bottom dropped away.  I saw my brother heading to one end, and as all pesky little sisters do, I followed.  That simple.

That was the summer I learned to swim.

This is what drowning looks like:

This one is more graphic:

Signs someone may be drowning:

* They are unusually quiet, especially children.  One needs to breath to make noise.

* Hyperventilating or gasping.

* Can’t wave or use arms in a normal manner.  A drowning person instinctively puts their arms out to the side, trying to push themselves above the water line.  A child may put their arms in front of them, like trying to climb a ladder.

* Eyes may be closed or glassy and unfocused.

* Head is low in the water, possible tilted back with mouth open, although children’s head may fall forward.

* Vertical in water, not using legs.  It may appear the drowning person is dog-paddling, but going nowhere.

* Victim may try to roll over on back.

* Hair may be over forehead.

If you think someone may be in trouble, the easiest and best thing to do is to yell to them, “Are you alright?”  If you do not get a response, even if it looks like they aren’t drowning, if you get a blank stare, the stats say you have 30 seconds to get to them.

When a person is drowning they are physiologically unable to help themselves.  Their bodies are trying to save them through actions that are of no use (like trying to climb out of the water) and because they need a good breath to speak, they can’t because their bodies are overriding that secondary function in favor of utilizing oxygen to sustain life.  They are incapable of calling out for help.

The bottom line: drowning people can’t stop themselves from drowning.

This is why everyone should know the signs.

As our summer gears up for lots of water-themed fun, make sure everyone you know takes care of their required summer reading: know what drowning looks like.

Be safe out there.



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  1. I almost drowned when I was just 3. My brother was 11 and “supposed to be watching me on an air mattress. My mother was tanning on the beach(it was 1978-tanning was cool 🙂 My father was swimming out deeper in the lake. My brother saw some friends, forgot about me, pushed himself off the air mattress to get going and in the process I fell off the air mattress unnoticed. My mom says to this day that she knows God told her to look back at me. She looked back just as my head popped out of the water. My mom could not swim, so she screamed to my dad. Long story short, I am still here.

    Lessons learned…
    If you can’t swim, probably better not to take your kids swimming.
    Never leave an 11 year old in charge of a 3 year old, in water.
    Never ever ever put a 3 year old on an air mattress on a lake.
    Lastly, tanning can kill in more ways than one.

    Love this post. I think most people still believe that drowning is a noisy event. People need to know how to be safe near water.

    • Mrs. Tucker says

      Loved your tips. The last one cracked me up, especially since I can relate to the 1978 tanning coolness (i was a very pale, wishing to be tan, teenager then). Glad you came by to join the conversation.

  2. Wow! This is great! Thank you so much for posting this on One Sharendipity Place! I can almost bet this will be featured next week! Oh Mrs. Tucker your blog is great! We’ll be following you from here on out!

    • Mrs. Tucker says

      I’m blushing from the love. Thank you. This is such an important and misunderstood topic. The more the lesson is shared, the better. Thank you.

  3. Great post!! Excellent comments, too! Really glad we don’t have a pool.

    • Mrs. Tucker says

      I think near-drowning stories are more common than we think. When near any pool of water, we need to be ever vigilant when having fun.

  4. Hi I popped over from Say It Saturday. GREAT topic – especially for grandparents who may be taking grandkids swimming this summer. I just read a similar article and had never heard of this before. Yet another reason I’m glad we never got more than wading pools 🙂 Have a grand week.

  5. Oh my gosh, thanks so much for sharing. I didn’t realize how quickly someone can drown. For some reason I thought it took minutes not seconds. It is really freaky and scary. Great Post. Thanks again.

  6. Carol Covin says

    Thank you for this great explanation. I get my information from the movies and really thought people would yell if they were in trouble. I talked to a grandmother who was freaking out because her daughter was so casual about letting her granddaughter play on a pier without a life jacket. But, you’ve explained the many ways a child can slip into the water and be in trouble in seconds. Thank goodness your Dad was watching!

    • Mrs. Tucker says

      I’m always happy to share info that could save a life. Knowledge IS power. And I’m thankful too!

  7. Thank you posting this. I hope you are able to reach a lot of people. It is so important for everyone to read!

  8. sue@thet2women says

    Just wanted you to know that we loved this post and are going to be featuring it this weekend at ONE Sharendipity PL.
    Have a great week!

  9. This is such helpful information! Would love for you to link it up to our “Think Tank” party which starts tonight at 9:00!

  10. Thanks for posting this! Awareness is very important. 🙂

  11. Wow. Thanks for sharing this one.


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