Friday, January 24, 2014

Know Your Drowning

I have lots of writing to catch up on, and I don't mean to ignore all the work we've been doing that I really want to recognize, but first I want to share something with you all.

This morning a friend of mine started a conversation online about the emotional roller coaster of happening upon a small child, seemingly alone and in distress, on the streets of NYC.  Others chimed in with their own stories of similar incidents, and it made me think about how you never know when this sort of thing is going to pop up, and it re-inspired me to share a tidbit of knowledge I picked up from social media which I recently had to put to very good use.

A long while back, there was a little article circulating on Facebook about what it looks like to actually drown.  As with many things, we are often shown dramatic images of someone splashing and shouting as they begin to drown - movies, TV, y'know, the usual need for big spectacle - which gives us an unfortunately inaccurate idea of what to look out for in terms of water safety.  I read it, shared it, and filed it away in the back of my brain under "very useful things that I will probably never actually need to use and hopefully won't forget if I do."  (I had a professor in college, Saskia Hegt, who used the phrase "put it in the computer" - you decide something, add it to the information your brain is processing, and then forget about it and let the program run in the background.  She was referring to character work-you make a choice for your character and build that choice into the way you approach it, so then it is just in there informing your work without you actively thinking about it in every moment.)

Last week I had an experience that made me so very glad to have that tidbit of info installed in my brain.

One of our homeschool groups took a field trip to a REC center for a swim one afternoon. It was a big, busy pool even in the middle of the day. There was a preschool swimming class going on in one corner, a senior aqua size class in another, lots of folks there for lunch break exercise and folks enjoying the many hot tubs on the side.  There were life guards, of course, but not really enough to effectively monitor everything.  While some of the older kids had gone to swim in the deeper part of the pool, I was hanging out with some of the younger ones in the shallow area.  They found a basket of pool toys and had been pretty engrossed for a while, when the preschool swimming class ended, and the teacher came to collect the toys.  While she was going about her task of recovering them, a mom who had been standing off to the side observing suddenly came over and started shouting for her attention.  I tapped her shoulder to call her attention to the mom, who screamed "She can't swim!" The teacher looked confused, and either didn't hear her or didn't understand or something, and the woman gave up and started yelling for a life guard.  "The little one! There!  She jumped in after the big kids and she can't swim!" None of the lifeguards seemed to hear her, though, and as she grew more frantic my gaze automatically turned to the deep end of the pool.  There, right in the middle of a bunch of happily splashing children, I saw her.  She was a tiny kid, probably around 4 or 5, not in the deepest part where the other parents from our group were engaged with their kids, but in the mid-range depth where the class had been moments before, and she was definitely in over her head.  She was vertical in the water, head upturned, arms outstretched, bobbing and gasping, no splashing, completely silent.  I instantly recognized the behavior from that long forgotten article.

Without even thinking, (it was in the computer, just like Saskia said!) I took off in her direction, Calliope still on my hip.  There was no stranger danger in her eyes when I approached her, just an empty, glassy terror that gave way to relief as scooped her up and held her securely on my other hip. She hugged me tightly and sputtered to fill her lungs with air.  I talked to her lightly and soothingly as I carried her over to the frantic woman who I assumed was her mother.  It wasn't.

Her mom must have seen us from her spot on the bleachers, because she came running over just moments later, looking utterly heartsick.  She gave me the most genuine "thank you" I have ever received as she took her daughter from my arms, and turned to the teacher to demand to know what happened.  I turned back to my own kids after thanking the woman who had alerted me to the child's distress - this had all gone down in a matter of seconds, and no one else noticed.  Imagine if she hadn't been paying attention…But anyway, that was it.  For all the drama I've imbued in this writing, it was actually rather spectacularly mundane, or something.  I just did what needed to be done in the moment, more or less calmly, and I left feeling more on edge from hearing the teacher snap to the child's mom "you really should be watching her" than anything else.

Anyway, the classic "if it can save one life, it's worth it"mentality comes into play here, and while I sincerely hope that someone - one of the lifeguards or teachers - would have noticed and intervened if I hadn't, there is no way to know that for sure…and since I have now come so close to it myself, I feel a strong desire to 'pay it forward' so to speak, and make sure that you all have the information in the backs of your brains, should you ever be faced with a similar situation.

So, with the hope that it will never become practically useful to you, do me a favor and take a moment to read (or re-read) the article here: Rescuing Drowning Children: How to know when someone is in trouble in the water.