Mild temperatures on fall days help make San Antonio a wonderful place to live, days with temperatures near 80 degrees in October. Five months ago, we were surrounded by family visiting from out of town, on one such weather-is-mega-cooperating day. Our family rented a house large enough for everyone to stay together, and on this sunny October afternoon, we enjoyed taking advantage of the rental house’s heated pool.
A few of us were inside the house, but most of the family was outside, in and around the pool. Family members splashed and played in the pool and some reclined in chairs while watching the kiddos. My husband asked someone to keep an eye on Ilana while he skimmed the surface for the barrage of leaves tumbling from the trees. Ben’s request was never heard.
This beautiful scene became marred by an incident we’d never thought would happen. Ilana, during the hubbub of the family pool recreation activities, wound up in the water. Those who noticed she was in the pool thought she was swimming. The moment anyone realized she was drowning was only when Ilana, under water and unable to swim upward to breathe, pulled at our cousin’s swim shorts. Thankfully he was there and knew instantaneously how to react.
This course of events happened in the span of a minute, probably less.
When she was pulled from the water, Ilana vomited great mouthfuls of water mixed with food, and understandably, she was lethargic. Though she never lost consciousness, we called 911. We figured it prudent to let professionals check her vitals and just verify she had escaped this situation unharmed.
Because seconds count in a near-drowning incident and because the amount of time she was underwater was uncertain and best estimated at around 30 seconds, EMS encouraged us to travel via ambulance to the hospital for a doctor evaluation. At the ER, the doctor performed a chest x-ray and blood work; two medical concerns of a near-drowning are that fluid will build up in the lungs (which can lead to a pneumonia-like infection) and/or that the rapid absorption of water by the body can upset the saline levels of the blood. Ilana was kept overnight in the hospital for fluids and for observation. We were released the next morning, feeling grateful and armed with the kind of knowledge you can’t believe you didn’t think to access before.
Talking to Ilana a couple of days after the episode, we asked what happened. Her recount of the events are enough to make me relive that whole near-drowning episode: Ilana thought she was jumping to someone in the water, not realizing that person was occupied interacting with his own small children. She tells that she ‘was jumping to a daddy…then the sun was in [her] eyes and [she] tried to ‘make a hole’ in the water with [her] hands but couldn’t.’
A realization came from her retelling of the events: there was now an opportunity to turn this experience into something more positive and productive, a realization that Ilana is ready for us to explain and ready to comprehend strategies to navigate dangerous life events. Pool safety is a big one—she now knows to wait and confirm with someone before jumping to them (and why it’s important to), to swim for the edge of the pool if she were to end up in the water, and she comprehends the potential risks of pools.
What’s more, processing Ilana’s near-drowning experience gave us an appropriate springboard for discussions about strangers and what to do if they offer things, for pointing out (wherever we are) who to look for and what to say if she were to become lost, for memorizing our phone numbers, for role-playing possible conversations with 911, and for forming strategies to handle smoke or fire in the house. These are topics we all know we need to discuss with our children, but finding that moment where it ceases being noise to them and real processing begins on their end is undefined and different for each child.
Our luck that day in October transcends the obvious— our precious Big Honey is with us today, safe and unharmed. Partially because of that experience, we began and continue to empower her for life’s situations that will happen when we are not right by her side.
The National Drowning Prevention Alliance website offers some great tips for pool use and swimming safety. In sharing my family’s story, I hope to underscore a truth that drowning and near-drowning doesn’t just happen to people who aren’t safe, to parents who aren’t watching their children—it can happen to responsible folks, too. It can occur when the people who love and cherish a child the most are around, and it can happen faster than you can roll out of bed and get your morning cup of coffee.
As swim season approaches, please use our family’s experience as an opportunity to talk to your kids about pool safety and as a time to do a temp check as to your child’s readiness for other conversations that can arm them with empowering actions to take.