I came across an article someone shared on Facebook that’s relevant to all of us with summer fast approaching. Arthur Mario Vittone, in his article Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning, reveals to his readers that water drownings aren’t always accompanied with a victim’s thrashing of hands and shouts for help. According to Vittone, “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. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents). Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or another adult. In 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.”
Vittone references the term named by Francesco Pia, Ph.D., as The Instinctive Drowning Response and the description of the response follows:
*Drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is a secondary or overlaid function. *The mouths of the drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale or call out for help.
*Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface in an attempt to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
*Throughout the Instinctive Downing 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 second before submersion occurs. (Source: On Scene magazine: Fall 2006 page 14)
Vittone adds, “This doesn’t mean that a person who is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble—they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long, but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, reach for throw rings, etc.”
Swimming safety should never be left up to second guessing. One primary way of certainty is to ask a swimmer, “Are you alright?” If they can answer you, great; however, if they return a blank stare Vittone says, “You may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents—children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find out why.”
Drownings can happen at all ages; even experienced swimmers succumb to drownings when other injuries or medical variables are involved. Remember, we’re all in this together when it comes to saving a life. Be proactive and alert to all things happening around you during water activities.
Originally published in the Bay City Tribune on May 6, 2018
Originally published in the Bay City Tribune on Sunday, May 6, 2018