Just a quick note for all of you folks that are getting ready for the summer and are going to be doing a bit of swimming – be it in the sea, river or in a swimming pool.
One of the real problems when people drown is that the people very near to them don’t even notice that the person is in trouble! It is a widely held belief that people who are drowning wave their hands above their heads and call for help – which is what we have all seen on TV or in films.
Nothing could be further from the truth! 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. Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, described the Instinctive Drowning Response like this:
“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.
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. 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. 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.”
To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic drowning can be – I have found two very instructive YouTube clips which show drowning children in the water and their rescue. In one of the clips there is an adult less than a few feet away who is completely unaware of what is happening. In the sea and Swimming pool It won’t take you many minutes to watch them – but it could make the difference between you recognising that someone is in trouble and needs help and being completely unaware that a tragedy is in progress.
Be careful out there.