It only took a few seconds – one quick glance away to put my things on a chair – before Carson was completely submerged in our hotel’s hot tub and I was running toward him at full speed.
It is the gurgling sound you only want to hear from a newborn overcome by his own saliva during a giggle, not your 3-and-a-half-year-old desperately gasping for air as he bobs up and down clinging onto a fleeting breath. Carson stands just 38 inches and the center of the hot tub when the water is at full capacity reaches 42 inches.
There was no time to rip off my snuggly, Sherpa-hooded sweatshirt and terry cloth pants before plunging myself into the 100-degree water to seize my helpless child.
One quick grab and Carson was just fine. There was no commotion; nobody else even saw it. As I scanned the pool, all sunbathers were carrying on. That’s how silent a drowning can occur.
Carson stopped crying within a minute, although it took nearly 10 minutes before I was able to ring out my clothes and peel my little guy silently suctioned to my body. I’m not sure who it scared more – me or Carson.
I spent much of high school and all of college working as a lifeguard. I even spent time training lifeguards and managing pools. I worked at various public and privately owned pools – even at a lake on the East Coast one summer. And I believed my water safety skills were intrinsic at this point.
But this past weekend’s incident at a hotel pool with all the chaos and newness of the environment, my safety skills were tested, and thankfully, I marginally passed.
Home (or non-lifeguarded) pool drowning is the leading caused of death for kids under 5, according to the American Red Cross. And it’s usually when the child is under the care of one or both parents who might have stepped away or looked away for a moment.
It can happen just that fast…
And no matter how much training or experience you have with something, with kids, it just takes one little mishap, an accident or distraction to cause another much more severe one to follow.
After the initial shock wore off, after about 20 minutes, Carson was leaping across the cold-water pool into my arms, still oblivious to the proven fact that he sinks when unassisted.
So how do you have fun and be safe? With all the hot weather, I thought I could use a refresher myself:
The Red Cross recommends designating at least one adult to be solely responsible for watching those in and around the water, even if a lifeguard is on duty. Parents should watch their children at all times and maintain a distance of an “arm’s length” to give them the ability to make a quick grab, should an accident happen.
Parents should also maintain high alert with portable pools, as the dangers are high because lifeguards are not on duty in most backyards. This is compounded by a parent running inside for a quick second and walking away thinking nothing will happen for the short time they are gone.
Many parents opt for inflatable pools that can be purchased at almost any drug store and inflated and filled with water. These inflatable pools, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, cause a significant amount of death and injury as the sides of the inflatable pools are flexible and sometimes slanted or low making it easy for a child to climb inside. The agency estimates that an average of 280 children under the age of 5 drown each year in swimming pools and an estimated 2,725 children are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for pool submersion injuries, mostly occurring in residential pools.
So cool off and enjoy these hot summer days, but arm yourself with the tools to make it a fun and safe experience:
Always keep children at an “arm’s length:” Maintaining active supervision is critical with children. Children are less coordinated based on age and development and can slip under the water quickly. Maintaining an arm’s distance will enable a quick grab should a situation mandate it.
Learn to swim: Even basic water exploration can help a young child be a tad safer when in and around water. Swim lessons helps to teach water safety and how a child should get to the side of the pool if he or she falls into the water.
Never swim alone: This rule of thumb is essential for children, but encouraged for adults alike. Having a buddy, lifeguard or supervisor will reduce the magnitude of any emergency.
Avoid loose clothing: Loose clothing can get caught in drains or pumps in pools.
Watch the clock: Keeping an eye on how long a child has been in a pool or hot tub will lessen the likelihood of that child becoming fatigued and less coordinated. Keep a child hydrated and give frequent breaks from the sun and water to prevent exhaustion.
Reduce Temptation: When not using the pool, avoid leaving toys and floats in a pool that can attract young children and cause them to fall while reaching for an item.
Keep emergency equipment handy: Try to remember to bring with you a phone, a whistle, a pole or throwing device to be able to retrieve a distressed swimmer quickly if there’s a problem.
Know CPR: Being able to administer CPR is critical in a life-threatening situation.