What Drowning Really Looks Like: My 8 year olds Near Drowning Experience

(Eco's 6th birthday pool party 2012)

Drowning is silent and often goes unnoticed by those within arms length of the victim. I know because on Monday my son almost became one of the 4000 annual drowning victims in the United States. That's on average 10 people die on unintentional drowning a day, which means about 40 people have died since my son's near drowning, 40!

So everybody understands this can happen to anyone even to me the over protective pool mom,whose kids are usually the only ones in the pool with life vests on.

So what was different about Monday?

It was their first real swim lesson, I wanted them to be more comfortable in the pool and well everyone should know how to swim, right?. The kids all wanted to stay in the pools after their lesson and practice what they had just learned and I felt pretty okay about it, it was the shallow end and on either side sitting were TWO lifeguards and I was within feet where they were.

So what happened?

My son managed to drift just far enough that he wasn't able to keep his head up. The water was 3ft 9inches to be exact, my son is 48 inches tall. He could touch the bottom and the top of his head was still above water which made it harder to realize he was in trouble. His oldest sister was standing right next to him and was actually able to grab his hand but not able to lift his head above the water or even pull him back to the edge of the pool during the near drowning.

I had called to her early on in the drowning to give him a little help, he was just a few seconds under at that point, then the seconds just seem to add up and fly by (it wasn't slow motion like in the movies) he went from dunking his face in the water to full blown drowning in under a minute.

I call out to his sister I think I might be having trouble, I remember feeling like I didn't want to over react I called out again after I could see his long hair floating on the waters surface, I knew he couldn't hold his breathe that long, so this time I yelled out he's drowning, that over reacting thought flew out the window as I screamed over and over he's drowning. I found myself fully clothed in the pool lifting his helpless body up making sure his face was above water.

Lifeguards where are you?

They jumped in after I was in the pool, after I had lifted my sons head above the water, after I had called out that he was drowning, after they should have already helped.

 Most drowning victims don't yell or wave their arms to alert someone that they are in trouble. They are in a state of shock, and are often silent.

We pulled his limp body out of the water he was breathing, coughing, gasping for air and vomiting. I knew this was bad, I knew this wasn't a kid that just swallowed to much water this was a boy who was within seconds of being pulled out of that pool dead. But he wasn't dead.

What do you do after someone near drowns?

I had no idea! All I knew was my son was gasping for air and vomiting, my phone was in my pocket at the time so I had no way to call 911, should I call 911? I didn't know what the protocol was and the lifeguards just kept telling him he was okay and didn't offer to call for an ambulance or doctor so was it really that serious?

Yes near drowning is really that serious!

Call 911 no matter what!

But since I didn't know that and nobody seemed to want to offer that advice I grabbed all 4 of my kids we loaded into the minivan and I drove frantically to the hospital as my son complained he could see, his vision was blurry, he was scarred and I was going straight to the ER no matter what to find out the answers I needed about what to do after a near drowning.

We arrived at the hospital soaking went, water and air conditioning don't mix, they were so kind and gave us blankets. I explained what had happened and ask what you should do after  somebody almost drowns, she said CALL 911. If you child almost drowns, shows signs of distress like vomiting even though they didn't need CPR call 911! Chances are they inhaled water and could have life threatening complications like pneumonia. Some near drowning victims can died within the forst 7 hours from drowning! Yes drowning even though they made it out of the pool and another percentage can die days later from complications.

Holy Cow! I was overwhelmed at this point still in a state of shock that this happened to me, to one of my kids and at the same time I didn't want to leave his side or the hospital until they could tell me he was okay, that he was one of the lucky ones.

It one takes seconds for for a day at the pool, lake, ocean or river to turn tragic.

I'm thankful for that mom instinct everyone whose experienced it talks about, it kicks in and you feel like superwoman flying through the air and having the strength of a thousand men and conquering any obstacle. Saving my son didn't make me a hero like the Doctor told him I was or well I didn't feel like one, hero's are firefighter and those special human beings that don't think twice to helping a complete stranger. I felt more like a selfish mom who in no way was going to let my son die at 8 years old, and in no way was I going to let his little sister go back home to an empty room that she shares with her brother, and there was no way he was going to miss out on third grade , or learning to play baseball and there was no no way I was letting him go, not yet. I'm not a hero I'm his mom and that's my job to keep him safe the best I can.

Drowning is scary, drowning is life changing, drowning can be prevented.

My son describes what happened very simply, he went under the water, his feet were touching the bottom and he tried to jump back up but couldn't. He felt his sister grab his arm, he saw the lifeguards talking to each other, he felt like some one was holding both his arms down under the water, his body was heavy and he felt the water go into his lungs. He thought he was going to die. 

Everyone keeps saying get him right back in to the pool so he doesn't develop a fear of water. He is not afraid of the pool but wants to take a couple months before going back and I'm going to respect that.

Summer break has just begun for many and I hope that through our story others will  become aware of what drowning looks like or well doesn't look like (movies have it all wrong) and help make this a safer summer for all.

( Even though my son was not rescued by the Lifeguards on duty we still have great respect for those who do their job well, 
especially the ones that I have watch on several occasions rescue distressed swimmers)


  1. omg, this is so scary. I'm SO happy he is OK. Thank GOD for Mom's that pay attention to their kids and don't depend on other people to do sso.

  2. I'm so sorry this happened to you. Thank goodness he is ok. I am not saying anything on those particular lifeguards, but I have often wondered at some lifeguards seemingly carefree attitude. I was a lifeguard when I was in my teens/early twenties and I could not cope with the stress levels of constant head counting at the (non see through) lake. The time they had a drill when a kid was missing and we did the sweep at the bottom of the lake was horrific. I had no idea it was a drill and I cannot understand how some lifeguards appear to be more absorbed in their own appearance to the job they have in front of them. I hope he recovers well and you can all enjoy swimming again.

  3. I'm so glad you were watching and noticed fast enough to get to him. it must have been so scary for everyone. so glad he's ok too.

  4. Gracious, the stories I could share concerning the perils of water growing up across the road from a river, up the road from a damn, and having cousins who were not so fortunate and drown at the local lake. We have a pool and talk about an over-protective, extremely cautious mom - that would be me. Fortunately neither of my children nor any children who came to our pool ever came anywhere close to what you experienced - but I did have one occasion when my son who had been going off the diving board countless times, came up for air and yelled "I can't do it". He went down again, came up, looked at me and without another word I went in after him fully clothed. You have given a great PSA and reminder to all moms that there is no such thing as being over protective when it comes to water.

  5. I'm so glad you posted this. My hubs works in emergency response & sees this so often. People think that they know what drowning looks like- it's silent & nothing like they imagine. I'm sorry that you went through this. Frightening for sure.

  6. sorry your son had such a frightening experience! actually, I'm sure it rattled everyone's emotions! By all means, take it easy & follow his lead before another swim adventure is calendared. As Gina mentioned, this is a reminder that we often misread facial & body expressions... as happened in this situation.


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