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Whenever I get into a pool with my wife, this ‘change’ comes over her; a hangover from her childhood I suspect. She calls it wrestling but in any sane person’s mind it’s closer to attempted murder. I’m a lover not a fighter, so I usually just take what’s coming so we can get back to relaxing.

Last week, while on holidays, we’d gone a full half hour relaxing before Dr Jekyll left the building and Mr Hyde arrived. I must have been feeling brave this day because I thought I’d have a crack at the title.

She then decided to help me see the error of my ways; this confusion between my aspirations and ability. Let’s just say she got… a little over enthusiastic so when I did eventually get to the surface I knew what was happening. As water entered my upper airway my larynx constricted so that the water couldn’t enter my lungs. Then I got the over whelming urge to cough really hard to get the water out, only trouble was I couldn’t because, remember… my larynx was shut. As my larynx began to relax I started to cough and gag so hard that I thought my breakfast was coming with the offending half teaspoon of water. I spent the next 60 seconds recovering and hanging onto the side of the pool.

It had been a while since I’d experienced this kind of thing. I’d actually forgotten how painful it is. I know why kids start crying and then beat the b’Jesus out of their brother, screaming “YOU WERE DROWNING ME!”.

But did I drown? Or more to the point, did my wife drown me?

In our dealings with the general public you’ll routinely hear people say “one of the kids nearly drowned”, or “one of the kids drowned, well not actually drown, he didn’t die”.

Wrong; both kids drowned and as industry people it’s important we know and understand the difference.

The definition of drowning is respiratory impairment from being in or under a liquid. So regardless of how long you were under the water, if your breathed the stuff, you drowned.

Because here’s the thing; drowning is a process, not an outcome; a process which can have one of three outcomes;

  • Survival without lasting injury.
  • Survival with permanent injury.
  • Death

Many of us, at some stage in our lives, have drowned and are in the first group. Others will also be in the first group even after receiving full blown, not to mention awesome CPR.

Then there are those who live, but with permanent injuries. How long they live varies considerably. Their injuries are usually hypoxic in nature. Vital organs need oxygen to function. Deprive them of it for a few minutes and irreparable damage begins to happen. The longer the period, the worse the damage.

Then there are the people who die.

It is estimated that some 1.7 million people drown each year. Around 372,000 are fatal and 82,000 of those are kids under 5.

After speaking with both parents of kids who have died and kids who have survived with significant injuries, I think the jury is out on which is worse. Generally, both sides think they got the better deal of the two outcomes and wouldn’t want to have to deal with the other. Neither is a place you want to be. As a father, just thinking about either option I find is deeply unsettling.

In the drowning prevention game, it’s useful to walk in another’s shoes from time to time. There are lot of well-meaning messages of ‘drowning is preventable’, and in the majority of cases they are preventable, but we also need to realise that these messages, at a personal level, can be very painful for the people who live with the consequences of drowning. Especially if it was their own brief slip in supervision that resulted in the event.

Drowning is a process not an outcome. A process with only 3 outcomes. Last December Royal Life Saving WA produced a short video clip featuring parents who lives that are a result of the 3 very different outcomes.

Want to walk in someone else’s shoes?