Drowning does NOT look like drowning

In many child drownings, adults are nearby but have no idea the victim is dying. Here’s what to look for.

Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why….”

Please, please follow this link to Sunnysleevez blog post on what to look for re drowning. In that post you will learn about the Instinctive Drowning Response, and what it looks like from the perspective of someone outside the pool looking in. This is vital where small children are concerned. But it also applies to adults.

I’m Australian, but I was born in Hungary, and when I was twenty-one I traveled to Hungary to visit my relatives. I was there during summer, and my aunt took me to a huge swimming pool complex called the Palatinus.

Picture a stinking hot day with the sun beating down on hundreds of people, all swimming and playing in the  open air swimming pools. Now picture a long rectangular pool with the shallow ends being along the sides instead of at one end the way ours are.

I assumed the whole pool would be shallow. So I waded in from the side and dove underwater. I swam a few metres to the middle, and put my feet down…

I don’t know whether I exhaled because I expected my feet to touch bottom and my head to be above water, or from surprise. But my feet kept going down and my lungs were virtually empty.

My feet never touched bottom so I could kick my way up. The deep end was straight down the middle. I could see the surface, but I just couldn’t seem to reach it.

I remember this terrible feeling of disbelief when I realised I was going down for the third time. That meant I was drowning didn’t it? But how could I drown in a pool full of people? Yet that is exactly what was happening.  I suddenly knew I was drowning.

Until that moment I’d been fairly calm, just working to reach the surface, and maybe feeling a little silly. And then the panic set in.

According to the research, they don’t know what people are doing with their feet while they go through this drowning response, but I can tell you. You kick madly. Not consciously perhaps, but you do kick. I know because I kicked someone. Hard.

That kick is the only reason I’m here to write this post. It got me to the surface with enough force to let me go horizontal and start swimming. I made it out to the edge of the pool on my own. And not one of those happy, laughing, splashing people knew I was drowning.

My near-drowning happened because :

a) I did not know the place in which I was swimming, and didn’t realise I was way out of my depth, and

b) I had learned bad habits – i.e. exhaling too soon.

Little kids are always out of their depth, and they probably have as many bad habits as I did. Put those two things together and you can have a dead child in 60 seconds. And you won’t know a thing until someone notices that child floating quietly below the surface.

I was so very lucky. Too many kids aren’t.



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

15 responses to “Drowning does NOT look like drowning

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    Drowning is an all-too-common death for children with autism and yet our children LOVE the water, so we always take special care. But drowning is something that can happen to anyone and definitely worth public reminders.


  • metan

    Glad you managed to make it out! What a scare that would have been, who would think that the deep bit would be the middle?

    I have seen kids struggling at the pool before and you are right, they are quietly sinking, not theatrically drowning. I guess that sometimes a scare like that has a positive aspect, making you aware of your limitations.


  • Candy Korman

    I’m another cautious swimmer. Learning to swim — and learning sensible habits in and around the water — is essential. Every summer kids drown or are rescued at the last minute because they dive into water without supervision and without knowing how to swim.

    My best friend is a serious swimmer, but getting her son in the water was been a difficult process. He didn’t like the water. Not even the beach. She tried everything including trying to teach him to swim by herself, swim classes and getting him a swim coach. Two years ago, when he was 12, she finally sat him down and told him she refused to be the mother of one of those kids who drowns so he was going to learn. He did.

    Learning to swim — like learning to read, learning basic cooking skills, etc. — is critical. It’s about being able to take care of oneself.


    • acflory

      You’re so right about those life skills. We all need to know at least the basics. They are all survival skills. Life is tough even with those skills. Without them? -shudder-


  • David Prosser

    Ach, finally I know who kicked me.If it wasn’t for the fact you’re helping save lives I’d sue you ! I too am glad you made it or I’d have no-one to insult.
    xx Hugs and thanks xx


  • alexlaybourne

    Blimey Meeks, that is a horrifying tale. I am glad that you made you way back to the surface. It does go some way to show how oblivious we are to the world around us.


    • acflory

      It’s also to do with our perceptions of ‘what a drowning person must look like’. I wasn’t screaming or calling for help, splashing around. None of that. So no-one recognized what was happening, not even my aunt who thought I was just mucking about.


  • EllaDee

    Terrifying story. All the more terrifying with all those people around you. Stereotypically we think of drowning as an isolated quiet experience. It’s an understatement to say I’m glad that panicked kick saved you. I also hate being out of my depth and avoid it but as evidenced by your experience can happen out of control so it’s better to not swim alone if possible, and be vigilent, not underestimate the environment. And yes, children must always be supervised adequately by adults.


    • acflory

      I’ve never been a strong swimmer but if that article is right about the drowning instinct, it does make you wonder doesn’t it? Here in Australia we have a love affair with water and that’s not going to change, but it would sure help if we /knew/ a bit more.Especially about kids.


  • Jennifer

    I read a similar story posted by a life guard and shared by a friend on FB, it’s incredibly scary stuff.


    • acflory

      It is. 😦 I’m still terrified of being out of my depth, all these years later, but thought it was just me. A one off, weird event. Like everyone else I had this TV image stuck in my head. So very wrong. No wonder so many of our kids die in the water. 😦


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