June 20th, 2014

Swim—or Sink

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Summer has just begun and already there has been a rash of drownings. All are devastating and often avoidable tragedies. When we interview nannies, we ask if they can swim since there is a great likelihood that they may end up in the water with the children they care for. It’s always surprising to us that people who grew up in island countries never learned to swim. I am convinced that relying on the lifeguard at a pool is not good enough protection, especially in the case of younger children who do not know how to swim or who are not yet confident swimmers. Someone needs to be in the pool next to the kids. I have a strong memory of my son at three when he raced in a flash to the steps of the high dive and jumped off. Only one problem: he did not know how to swim. Fortunately, my husband was able to rush in and catch him as he rose to the surface. The next week we enrolled him at an American University swim program where he learned to swim. I can still replay that scene as if it were yesterday.

Now in addition to worrying about your standard drowning, there is something called secondary or dry drowning. This is quite scary. The CDC reports that there are ten such drownings a day. Secondary drowning involves the inhalation of water into the lungs, either after a near drowning or as the result of a sudden rush of water.

“They initially look well, and then over — usually the first six to eight hours, but it can be as much as 24 hours out — they can develop a lot of increased trouble breathing,” says Dr. Erik Schobitz, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

After a near drowning, a child can develop an inflammation or swelling of the lungs called pulmonary edema, which limits the body’s ability to get oxygenate blood.  Inhalation of pool water can also lead to chemical pneumonia, or lung inflammation caused by the chemicals in the water.

“That is why we have to watch them carefully after any one of these near drowning events,” Schobitz says.

Lindsay Kujawa, a blogger (Delighted Momma), who went through this frightening experience with her own child suggests that “… if your child has experienced a near-drowning experience, watch for a sudden change of personality or energy level. You can save your child’s life if you act quickly and get them medical treatment immediately.”

Summer and lazy days spent sunning and splashing at the pool are synonymous, as they should be, but it never hurts to be reminded that even our favorite sunny day activities involve risks. Have a wonderful summer and please swim safely!

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