Now that summer is here and temperatures are soaring, a lot of us will be spending time outdoors, chilling out by the pool, possibly by a lake or river, enjoying the cool water or relaxing as the children swim. Suddenly, you see someone struggling to stay above the water, thrashing around and unable to swim to safety. The person is drowning.
Drowning can occur very quickly, even in shallow water. Often it’s a child but it could be an adult too, your brother, sister, parent or a friend. It could happen anywhere, anytime. Would you know what to do?
How do you identify a drowning person? Usually the person shows some or all of the following signs: they are generally unable to call for help; their arms are thrashing around and they’re trying to swim but not making any progress; their body is vertical in the water and they’re very low in the water, with their mouth just above the surface.
So what should you do?
1. Yell for help so that other people close by can assist. If you’re the only person around proceed with help as quickly as possible. Above all, don’t panic. Try to stay calm and rational. If the victim is close to the edge of the water, you can pull them to safety by laying face down on the ground and reaching out your hand or sitting on the ground and extending your legs. Try using a towel, shirt, pool noodle, tube or the pole from the pool scoop to reach to the victim.
2. Enter the water and approach the victim. The safest way to avoid harm to yourself is to approach the victim from behind. A drowning person’s only concern is getting air. In fear, he/she may grab onto you and pull you under, resulting in two victims. If the victim starts to drown you, swim downwards – they won’t follow.
3. Place your arms under the victim’s. Once you get behind the victim, place your arms under each of the victim’s armpits. Bend your arms back so you are pointing at yourself and hold tight. If you are using a flotation device, keep it between you and the victim, across your chest.
4. Reassure the victim. As you pull the person to safety, calm them down by saying “Are you okay?” or “You’re going to be okay.” Swim calmly and slowly to the side of the pool or the shore while pulling the victim.
5. Administer CPR to the person if necessary and get someone to call an ambulance. First aid courses are offered by places like St John Association (St John House, 102 Baines Ave, 736911), MARS (3 Elcombe Ave, Belgravia, 739642) or EMRAS (81 Baines Ave, 797479). Keep the emergency ambulance numbers in your cell phone just in case.
5. Monitor the victim. Even if the person seems to be ok and breathing normally, keep a close watch for a while. Water left in the lungs can kill a person in just a few hours.
The best way to prevent kids drowning is to teach them how to swim. There are a number of places in Harare that offer beginners swimming lessons for kids – try Splish Splash Academy 0778 769 921, Mum’s and Babies Water Fun 0772 384 369 or Mwana Swim School 0772 260 443. At the very least teach your child how to float. All they have to do is relax and hold their breath for a few seconds, and they’ll rise to the top. Then they can extend their arms and balance and call for help and keep floating by taking deep breaths. It’s so simple, takes no swimming skill and even works if they’re exhausted.