Monday, June 11, 2012

On adrenaline, drowning, and pride.

I spent a fair amount of time considering how to craft this post. There are a lot of important points that I feel could be taken from the experience I’m writing about, and I wanted to make sure I (briefly) touched on them all. I hope that time is well reflected in the quality of my words!

Yesterday, I (kind of) saved a child from drowning.

Did that catch your interest?

I was working with my dad on a DIY project: attempting to rejuvenate an old and overly-polyurethaned side table that my grandmother let me take off her hands. We decided it was time to get some professional help (aka. visit the local ACE store for some polyurethane stripper) and were just going to let my mom know, since she was also outside, keeping an eye on my little brother and his friend in the pool. I was standing with my back to the pool and it suddenly occurred to me that I was hearing a loud noise, that it was a child yelling, and I had a split-second of annoyance, thinking “Why is my brother not responding, if they are playing, or my mom telling them to quiet down, if it’s inappropriate?”, before I turned around to see my brother’s friend thrashing in the water and my brain heard the word being yelled as, “HELP!”

I run to the pool-side, dropping my bag along the way, knelt at the edge and pulled him over. He was breathing fine and then I didn’t know what to do. My brain came back on, I thought I should get him out of the pool, but wasn’t sure how to do it. My  mom came over and walked him back to the shallow end and to the ladder, they went inside to get warmed up and dressed. My dad paced by the pool-side a little, we talked briefly, but after a while, the adrenaline passed and I sat down and cried for a while, reflecting on my moment of horror when I didn’t know how much danger that child was in, potentially drowning in our pool. I recalled my dad’s experience, several years ago, at the beach we go to every summer, when he saved a boy from drowning in the ocean. The child was not breathing when he got him back to the beach, and I do not recall from the story (I slept in that day) if the child was breathing after CPR before the ambulance got there.

After I calmed down and the boys were inside playing, we reflected on the incident. First, we all acknowledged that there was an unacceptable delay in response. We all heard him yell, but he wasn’t truly panicking and there is a quality in the tone of voice that is primally notable when that kind of cry for help is heard.  He had told my mom before swimming that he was not comfortable in the deep-end of the pool (the pool drops from 3’ to 8’ just under half-way across the length, an old style that was grandfathered in with new laws), and she had indicated where the drop-off is, but for whatever reason, it did not occur to her to clearly indicate, with tape, a rope, or a broom handle. The child was actually treading successfully when I turned and saw him, but I believe the surprise of stepping off the slope into the deep-end scared him more than panicked him, and so he cried for help. It was not until I reached out to pull him to the edge that he stopped treading and went under briefly.

I think with so many years (close to 17? I think we moved in ‘95) of successful pool encounters with children of all ages, we got complacent about safety and ensuring that a new visitor to the pool is comfortable and has everything they need (availability of floatation devices, goggles, buoy line to mark the drop-off etc.) to have a good and safe time swimming. Second, we all acknowledged that this complacency was unacceptable and discussed how we could take steps to prevent any future mishaps. We started simply, shortly after our discussion, with just a bright neon pink duct-tape line on the edges of the pool, extending a little ways under the water, to indicate where the drop-off occurs. We will be installing a floating rope-line to mark where the changes occur, so children can stop before the slope, and/or grab on if they try to step too far. Lastly, we all agreed that if the word “help” is ever used in the pool, it should only be used for emergencies, and everyone needs to get out, no matter if it was used by accident while playing, or for an emergency. Like “fire” on board a ship, we do not want that word to be used lightly and I think it will help teach children at the pool how important it is to choose words carefully when playing. Pools are fun, but crying wolf could draw attention from a truly dangerous situation.

As it turns out, the child in question is apparently very comfortable swimming in deeper water, according to his sister, and so it makes more sense now, considering that none of us heard any danger or panic in his cries. This is, of course, no excuse for any delay in action and letting ourselves get lax with laying down ground rules for safe pool play. I also don’t think it was inappropriate for him to yell for help despite this because ultimately he was scared and uncomfortable, and that is always an appropriate time to seek assistance!

At the end of the day, I was actually grateful for the experience. I now know that in a potentially dangerous situation, when someone calls for help, I will respond with little hesitation. I am glad to know this, even if it means the weeping afterwards (everyone responds to the dissipation of an increase in adrenaline differently; I cry, Boyfriend just sits calmly and breathes deeply). I am more wary about having Boyfriend’s niece and nephews at the pool sometime this summer, but I know that if needed, I would act. I am glad that I was once CPR-certified (required in a high school health class), but this definitely made me consider looking into getting re-certified, so I am reacquainted with the technique at the very least, even if I will not need it in the event of an emergency or for my job.

Have you ever had to react in a potentially life-threatening situation? How do you respond to adrenaline dissipating? Have you ever considered any kind of safety training, such as CPR-certification, or lifeguard training?

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