The grim news Sunday April 30 announcing the death of the 2 year old daughter of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett comes as many pools in North Carolina are opening for the summer season. Mario Vittone, an Elizabeth City based rescue swimmer who spent 22 years in the United States Coast Guard, authored an article published in Slate on June 4, 2013 where he detailed a major misconception about a drowning victim.
“Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect.” Some people believe that drowning is what they have seen by watching television.
“Vittone, the former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, notes that drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.”
“The Instinctive Drowning Response - so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind.”
“Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard's On Scene magazine, described the Instinctive Drowning Response like this:
Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.
Drowning people's mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale and call out for help. When the drowning people's mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people's bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.”
“People who are yelling for help and thrashing about are experiencing aquatic distress which is not always present prior to the Instinctive Drowning Response. These people can assist in their own rescue. They may not look like they’re drowning but appear to be treading water and looking at the pool deck.”
“One way to be sure? Ask them, ‘Are you all right?’ If they can answer at all, they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.”
“And parents - children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.”
Mario Vittone - Slate