Here in Lewis County we like to spend a lot of time on or near the water. Whether you are canoeing on Skookumchuck, water skiing on Mayfield or fishing for trout on Riffe Lake, Lewis county is full of creeks, ponds, rivers, and lakes. All of this fun on the water means that the threat of drowning, even for those who can swim well, is an ever-present threat. In fact, Washington has a higher drowning average than the rest of the United States. According to the Washington Department of Health “In the latest data available from 2010, the unintentional drowning rate in Washington State was 1.6 per 100,000. There were 133 Washington State residents who died from unintentional drowning, including 17 boating related drowning deaths.” Those numbers should be enough to remind you that even a beautiful day on the lake can quickly turn tragic.
Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you: TV and movies have lied to you. I know, it’s not really a shock but hear me out. We are programmed to think that drowning looks like a lot of splashing and yelling however, that is not usually the case. Drowning is often quiet, a response from the brain to conserve as much air as possible to breathe. This phenomenon is called the Instinctive Drowning Response named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D.
Think it sounds a little suspicious? According to the CDC “From 2005-2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. An additional 332 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.” If you plan to be on or around the water, these are statistics you need to be aware of. Not just to keep yourself safe but your friends and family as well. Children are one of the highest age groups. The report goes on to say that drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents). 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. In 10 percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.”
According to Pia Instinctive Drowning Response looks like this:
Silent: the person drowning has no extra air to call for help, their brain focuses on just getting air in and out of their lungs.
Bobbing: They will bob up and down in an effort to get their mouth above water to inhale or exhale.
Stiff Arms: Their arms will be out to the side, hands on the water’s surface in an effort to help them stay afloat.
Still: They won’t be kicking; their legs will be straight and unmoving. Remember, movement takes energy, and the brain has signaled to conserve as much as possible
This response last anywhere for 20-60 seconds before the person goes completely under water to stay. This does not give anybody much time to respond. Sometimes even trained professionals miss the warning signs. “When a person is actually drowning, in many cases they seem to be playing,” says Gerry Dworkin, a professional aquatics safety and water rescue consultant for Lifesaving Resources LLC. “That’s one of the problems for moms, dads, and even lifeguards. They see somebody floating on the surface, but because of the movement of waves, they appear to be moving or playing even though they may be unconscious.”
Knowing how to swim is important. But even good swimmers can drown, and it can happen fast, Steinman says. “Never take your eye off children in the water. You have to watch them all the time. You can’t look away.”
Don’t let a day of fun in the sun, spent on one of our favorite water ways turn to tragedy. Enjoy the kick off to summer this Memorial Day weekend and keep it safe!
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