Beware the Silence

Drowning can be deceptively silent.  People who are drowning in real life don’t look like they do on television.  There is no splashing, no screaming, no flailing about.  There is usually no noise at all.  Just eerily silent suffering.

I almost can’t bring myself to write this post, as the recall of memories still brings tears to my eyes and a physical pain to my heart.  But I am doing it to remind everyone to be vigilant this summer… at the pool, on the beach and on the lake.

At a community pool, with both Sheepdog and I right there, Kid C once almost drowned.  She had just turned four years old and she did not know how to swim on her own, so she wore one of those swim vests that zipped up the front and snapped under the crotch.  It kept her afloat while she learned the mechanics of swimming and developed strength in both her arms and legs.

She was sitting on a towel off to the side of the pool snacking on some fresh berries, and she had taken the vest off to be more comfortable.  When she was done she went back into the pool, forgetting to put the vest back on first.  She descended the pool steps, quickly – and oh so silently – she was submerged under the water.  A mother nearby noticed that she was perfectly still and miraculously yanked her out of the pool in time to keep her from drowning.  As she vomited strawberries and pool water all over me, I couldn’t believe how quiet everything had seemed.

I can tell you that this all happened in a matter of seconds and that, even in hindsight, both Sheepdog and I felt like we were being watchful.  You will most likely presume that we were distracted socializing with other parents or that maybe our attention was drawn elsewhere by another child.  Neither of those things is true.  I have gone over those seconds in my head more times than seems humanly possible and I still don’t have all of the answers.  I can tell you that I grew up with a pool in my backyard, and spent countless summer days at the beach and on a sailboat.  I know infant, child and adult CPR and have even taken lifeguard training courses.  I certainly thought I was an attentive parent, especially when my kids are around the water, but that day taught me otherwise.

Just this past Memorial Day weekend a three-year-old girl silently drowned in a community pool on the Main Line in Philadelphia, with her parents only a few feet away.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site says that fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years.

The Atlanta forecast over the next few days is currently “hot,” along with several days of “very hot,” so there will certainly be an increase in water activities.  Please be reminded to watch your children carefully at all times.  Remember to always listen for the noise of them playing in the water.  And beware the silence.

4 responses to “Beware the Silence

  1. Stacy – almost the very exact same thing happened to us when Meg was about 3 or 4. She had on the vest, and she and I had been playing in the water – she was floating so easily. Then, we got out for lunch and off went the vest. She must have decided she wanted more, so she got up, walked back in, and continued until it was over her head. Suddenly, I looked up, and there she was under the water. It was I who ran and took one leap into the water to save her. I shall never forget it, and she is your age. Later, we moved to Florida where we lived in two different houses with pools. At least 3 times, I went into the pool (once fully clothed with shoes and watch) to grab someone else’s child. It only takes a second. If you see, ACT. It doesn’t matter whose child it is. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Us too. Henry slipped under so quietly in front of me, a sitter and a lifeguard. We were diligently watching both big boys (5 and 3) and I was holding the 1 year old. I also try to think back how many seconds I had taken my eyes off one child safely waist deep on the bench in the pool a few feet from me and the other in knee deep water a few feet the other way. He must have slid off the bench into the deeper water and out of the corner of my eye I saw him trying to “climb/swim”down at the bottom. He was OK but I still have nightmares.
    That little girl died at my dad’s swim club on the Main Line last weekend. The funeral is today. We don’t know the family but my heart aches for them so much.
    Thank you for sharing this reminder to us all.

  3. Stacey,
    I cannot agree more on this topic. We lost one of our friends when we went on college reunion trip on Carnival Cruise. He did not know swimming and was just waddling around near the shore. This private island where carnival lets you go, when no one is looking he drowned in a spot where it was more than 6 feet and he did not realize and none of us noticed. He was pulled out, and the medics did CPR etc., etc., and transported him from that island to the Bahamas hospital but he was already brain dead. Life support was removed after 2 weeks as there was 0 brain activity. He was 40 and had two very young sons. It has been more than a year now since this happened and to this day I still keep reliving those moments. Thanks for sharing this. I encourage every adult to learn swimming and also to make sure that someone is around when they do get into water.

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