Written by Dr. Mark
A few weeks ago I was outside with my kids while they were swimming in the pool. The kids were playing around, as they often do. They were pretending to be in trouble and rescue each other. Well at one point my youngest, Micah, age 7, was showing signs of having a hard time. But he was above the water, and seemed to be in control, but had a scared look on his face. My wife then jumped in the pool and got him. He was definitely shaken up, but my thought was I’d watch him, let him compose himself, and get through it. Whether or not he really did need help, I’m not sure, my wife will say, yes, he did, and I agree she did the right thing, better to be safe than sorry. So that leads to the topic today, drowning doesn’t look like drowning. As sad as it may seem, I’ve never really thought about looking into this subject, but now as a pool owner I see its importance for me to be aware, and really think its good info for anyone to know.
What do they mean “Drowning doesn’t look like drowning?” They’re referring to how drowning is portrayed in tv and movies.
Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.
So why don’t people wave and splash and yell for help? Well, they physically can not do those things. We have what is called an instinctive drowning response. Our autonomic nervous system takes over and causes certain actions while preventing others in an attempt to keep us from actual suffocation from water. What it looks like:
- “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.
- Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
- 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.”
I should note that if someone is yelling and waving for help it doesn’t mean they are not in any danger, however they are less likely to drown.
Be safe – Dr. Mark