One of the most important articles I have read as a parent was this one a few years ago and any article since that reinforces the point that drowning doesn’t look like drowning. That drowning doesn’t wave its arms in the air, shouting. It sinks, silently.
Before I read the article, I didn’t know that I already knew this. I knew this because years ago I was rescued from a situation I didn’t even know I was in. Swimming in the shallow, calm, turquoise water at Boomerang Beach in New South Wales, one of my friends was suddenly paddling quickly towards me on his surfboard, scooping me up onto it and pulling me back to the sand.
He might have saved my life, but at no point did I think that’s what had happened. Until I read this article.
I had been aware that my feet were no longer making contact with sand and I could feel a sort of whirlpool beneath them out of which I couldn’t seem to tread. I was incredibly close to the shoreline, where my friends were standing with their surfboards, laughing. I tried repeatedly to step outside of the whirlpool and find solid ground, but it just wasn’t happening. I thought it was only a matter of time before I managed it. It wasn’t a strong current, I wasn’t far from the shore and I knew I was only inches from the bottom.
I was watching my friends, smiling at them, wishing I could swim a bit closer to join in the conversation, but no one seemed to notice. Except this one guy. He had noticed and although I never asked him specifically, I can only imagine that he had noticed that I was still. I wasn’t kicking or using my arms and I was silently staring at them. I must have been focused on just keeping my head above the water.
If he hadn’t grabbed his board and come to me, I don’t know how long it would have been until I could no longer do that.
At no point did I feel I could cry out. I just smiled and hoped they’d notice. I think it was more than me just being very British. “Oh please don’t bother yourselves, I appear to be stuck here and I can’t get out but really, I’ll be fine.” I now believe I couldn’t cry out because, as the article explains, my respiratory system was focusing on breathing.
But I didn’t feel that. I just felt a bit removed, a bit left out. I wanted to get back to them, but I couldn’t.
I used to wonder how children in swimming pools could just disappear to the bottom without their nearby parents hearing or seeing. It’s because it happens quickly, silently and without fuss. We must watch our children in the water at all times. * Even if they are playing quietly. Even if they are close, so close you could touch them.You need to watch because you probably won’t be able to hear it if it happens.
As parents of small children, we’re used to constant demands for our attention, shouting, screeching, “Look at me!”, “Help me Mummy!”. We’re not used to silent, stoic struggling. We must remember that. We must remember that drowning is a terribly British affair.
*To know exactly what to watch for, and to truly understand drowning, please read the superb article.