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Water Safety: A Drowning Child Doesn’t Scream

This summer I learned a couple of very important lessons. Drowning kids don’t scream. Mothers have a sixth sense even when it’s not their own child.

On a beautiful warm sunny day in San Diego, my family and our good friends were enjoying a well-deserved vacation. My five-year-old daughter was splashing around with her friends as their father and I observed them from the pool. Though he had to watch three kids, one was already on a swim team and the two younger children had followed their big sister in swim class. He also had some help. His wife was watching the kids from her chair.  The scene was certainly picturesque, serene, and unassuming. Children playing happily in the pool. Adults relaxing and talking. It was a great day to be away from home and work.

Who would realize that nearby a little boy would be in serious trouble?

In a moment his wife bolted from her chair, arm reaching out to grab a little boy. Both my friend and I were confused what was exactly happening. There was no splashing. No screaming. Simply silent bobbing. He was drowning. He was just a little bit beyond her reach.

The boy’s father suddenly aware of the situation jumped into the pool fully clothed. He lifted his son out of the water, which was only four feet deep. Understandably stressed, the father admonished the boy. “What do you think you were doing?”

I’m sure the little boy was equally as scared, though he probably wasn’t aware of what could have happened. He might have been only three years old. Though the father thanked my friend and defended himself in not being a “bad parent,” we wondered the same thing and were equally as outraged. “What do you think you were doing?”

How could you put your child in an situation where he can’t possibly succeed? He can’t swim. He isn’t wearing a life jacket. He isn’t being supervised or watched. He’s too short to be in the pool.

Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 to 19. In 2006, 1,100 children died. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children age 4 years and older learn how to swim and recently shifted their position of being against swim classes for children between 1 to 3 years old to having parents make an individual determination. This change reflects some evidence that children in that age group were less likely to drown with some swim instruction.

Water safety is so important that even though we don’t even own a pool, my nearly three year old son attended his first swim class a couple of weeks ago. One on one in a positive safe environment and with me in the pool, his instructor had him place his head under water. Sometimes prepped and sometimes not.

When his head popped up, he spit and sputtered particularly when he didn’t know she was gently bringing him under water. He coughed for a second or two. A little annoyed with a brief cry, he happily played with the many pool toys scattered around the pool. She showed him how to spit out the water. He copied her. Throughout the 15-minute class, his instructor showed how a perpetually smiling Buzz Lightyear enjoyed having his head fully immersed. But having him under water without warning? Why did she do that?

She explained that for children to be safe because they might fall into water unexpectedly and to prevent drowning, it is important they are conditioned to react correctly and instinctively. They won’t have time to prepare themselves. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the real thing. I hope his father understands the importance now and will enroll his child in a swim class.

Thank goodness for a vigilant mother and board-certified pediatrician. Although all three of us are doctors and have plenty of training as either a pediatrician or family doctor, none of us want to be in a situation where we can’t win — performing CPR on a little boy who deserved a lot better.

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

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