Watchful beats mournful

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In the days before spring break rolled around, I racked my brain for a quick getaway to the beach.

Usually, we head to my aunt’s house in Orange Beach for a few days of sun and surf, but it had been an especially taxing week here at the paper, and I just didn’t feel like driving. After a trip to Walmart, I knew just what I was going to do. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a four-day trip, I would spend the money on a new above-ground pool. When I explained that for a little more of an investment we’d get a much bigger return, the girls agreed.

So far, we’ve been very happy with the arrangement. Thanks to lessons at Cooper Pool, all three of my children can swim. Still, I know that doesn’t exempt them from water danger. One can just as easily slip off the ladder and hit one’s head and drown before anyone is the wiser. In fact, an email from a colleague demonstrated the fact.

It told the story of a captain, a former lifeguard, who spotted a distressed child in the water. Just behind the child, her parents splashed back and forth in water about neck-deep. Directly behind them, not 10 feet away, their 9-year-old daughter was drowning.

The story explained how drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father – like most of us – had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until the child cried a tearful, “Daddy” as she was pulled from the water, she hadn’t made a sound.

This story should help us realize that drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. Experts say the waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning we see on television prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.

To get an idea of just how quiet and un-dramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the No. 2 cause of accidental death in children ages 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents). Let’s go one step further – reports show that of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. According to the CDC, in 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch the child do it, having no idea it is happening.

This story should serve as a reminder that we need to pay attention while our children are in the water. Don’t let your guard down just because the child knows how to swim. Sometimes things happen. It’s better to be watchful than mournful. I know I’m going to pay better attention.