I remember the swimming safety rules. One of the first was do not jump in the water to try to save someone who is drowning.
In their panic, they will latch onto you and drag you down with them.
The instructors went through dramatizations. One would pretend to drown, the other would jump in to “save” them and be promptly pulled under by the flailing arms of the “drowning” one.
After this graphic presentation, the instructors would show us the better way. Take a pole they said, as they lifted one of the long poles on the side of the pool, and extend it to the drowning person. Remain on the side of the pool, on dry concrete, while you do this. They extended the pole to their “drowning” colleague who reached out for it and was pulled to the side of the pool without mishap.
It was a great lesson in how to help and survive the act of helping. It would work at any well-equipped pool when the drowning person was still above water.
However, what do you do when you’re at a lake and the drowning one is too far away for poles and you don’t have a pole anyway? Do you just stand there and let them drown?
I suppose a wise person would always have a pole of some sort with them when they swim. That way, they could, at least theoretically, swim out to the person in trouble, extend the pole and then pull them back to safety. Of course, a panicky person is perfectly capable of coming up the pole at you and overwhelming you, anyway.
People are only tenuously at home in water. It’s not our natural habitat. Everything we do there is in some way a work-around, and those work-arounds can fall apart and leave us in trouble all too easily.
Drowning is evidently a quiet affair for those who observe it. People can drown right beside us in the water and we may not know it until it’s too late.
All these facts converged on Elizabeth Duffy, who blogs about perspectives on Catholic life, family and culture here at Patheos, when she was enjoying an early-summer swimming outing with her kids. Elizabeth nearly drowned, and her young son along with her. She was trying to rescue her child and his panicky latching onto her almost took them both out. Meanwhile, her other children continued to play, unaware that Mom and brother were in such peril.
It’s a gripping read about something we all hope never happens to us. The remarkable thing is the way Elizabeth rose above the panic and thought her way out of this situation. Her post says in part:
I could see that my boy had stopped moving in any direction and was barely keeping his head afloat. Quickly, I overcame the cold, and dove under to swim out to him. I thought I would be able to latch him onto my shoulders and walk him in, but I had not anticipated the water being over my head where he was treading.
As expected, when I reached him, he latched onto me, but walking in to shallower water was not going to be possible. Nor was swimming, as his weight on me prevented my getting above water for a breath. I would have told him to turn on his back and kick towards shore, but I couldn’t give him any instruction. Each time I opened my mouth, it filled with water.
This is how tragedy happens. I was under water. I couldn’t communicate. The boy couldn’t swim. The other kids were stranded on a raft in rough water. The five-year-old was unsupervised on the shore, and no one was around. (Read the rest here.)