The Unexpected Signs of Drowning

June 11, 2013

566365_help.jpgPool drowning lawyers at Pintas & Mullins recently reported that Memorial Day Weekend marked the beginning of increased drowning risks in children. A recent article in Slate illuminated the fact that drowning often does not look like the drowning we see in movies and television: in reality, drownings are silent, motionless, and can happen in a matter of seconds.

The Slate article begins by detailing an incident that recently took place on a beach. A family anchored their boat close to the beach, on a sandbar, to swim. The mother and father were only about ten feet away from their nine-year-old daughter when a man jumped from the dock and began springing through the water. "We're fine!" the couple yelled, thinking the man believed them to be drowning. Instead, he swiftly moved past them to reach their daughter, who was drowning. As he brought her above the surface of the water, she burst into tears.

The story is meant to relay how the man on the deck could recognize the little girl was drowning when her father, standing just ten feet away, could not. It is because, unlike what we've seen on Baywatch and other sensationalistic TV shows, drowning is not the violent, splashing, screaming incident it is depicted to be. More often, drowning victims do not make a sound.

In fact, there is very little splashing, waving, or calls for help. Of the approximately 750 children who will drown this year, about half of them will occur within 25 yards of a parent or guardian. In some cases, the adult will actually watch the drowning happen, unaware of what they are seeing.

The actual bodily instinctive response to drowning looks more like this: except in rare cases, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help, as breathing must happen before speech can. Drowning people also cannot wave for help (despite the enclosed picture) - human instincts cause them to extend their arms laterally to press down on the water's surface so they can leverage their bodies and lift their mouths out of the water. Neither can they voluntarily control their arm movements, such as moving toward a rescuer or reaching for a flotation device.

Finally, from the beginning to the end of the drowning incident, instincts force people's bodies to remain upright in the water, without splashing with arms or legs. Those drowning can only struggle in this position for between 20 to 60 seconds before full submersion occurs.

This is not to say someone splashing and yelling frantically in the water is not in serious danger. Those victims are experiencing aquatic distress, and may be seconds away from entering the instinctive drowning responses. These people, however, are able to assist in their own rescue, by reaching for lifelines or flotation devices.

Other drowning signs to look for include the head being low in the water, with mouth at water level or the head tilted back with the mouth open. Their eyes may appear glassy, empty, closed, or unable to focus. Their hair may be covering their forehead or eyes. Legs would be vertical, unable to kick or tread water. They may appear to be hyperventilating or gasping for air. They may appear to be trying to swim in one particular direction but would be unable to get anywhere, or may be trying to roll over on their back. Lastly, some people in the act of drowning appear to be climbing an invisible ladder, in effort to bring their mouths above the surface.

Parents should always remember that children, when playing in the water, make constant noise, whether that be splashing, yelling or other sounds of activity. When children get quiet, even just for a few seconds, you need to get to them and find out why. Ask them questions. If they are able to respond at all, they are okay.

Drowning accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins will continue to report on any relevant news surrounding this topic, especially as the summer months ensue. If you or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in a body of water due to the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.