I Only Looked Away for a Second

When it comes to children drowning, a second is all it takes. A second is the difference between an afternoon at the pool and a lifetime of brain damage, or even death.

If you’re like me, the lives and safety of the children you hold near and dear are at the forefront of your mind when playing in or near water. Like me, though, you may have had an experience where you look up, and suddenly your four-year-old niece is leaning dangerously far over the edge of the lake, playing with a leaf floating in the water. Like me, you know how it feels to have your heart stop, and frantically rush to her side and scoop her away from a danger to which she is oblivious.

Beneath water’s inviting surface lurks a powerful and dangerous hazard for children. Water-related injuries account for a staggering amount of deaths among children, and a child’s caregiver can be completely blindsided by the speed at which a catastrophe around water can occur. The CDC cites that “drowning is responsible for more deaths among children 1-4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies,” a heartbreaking statistic that highlights the swift and silent way in which water can claim a child’s life right in front of the people who care about him most. A child submerged in water suffers from oxygen deprivation, and even when someone is able to pull them from the water before death occurs, they can still suffer severe brain damage.

Awareness and attentiveness, along with a few preventative measures, can mitigate these dangers and help keep a child from a terrible fate. Swimming lessons make a huge impact on children’s ability to stay safe in the water. Putting up a fence that completely surrounds your pool, and removing any toys that might tempt a child to enter a pool when there is no supervision present, can also help keep a child out of harm’s way when your back is turned. When you are present with a child for water-related activities, the best practice for protecting them from the water’s unflinching and inhospitable recesses is earnestly to be present with the child. A moment’s distraction, looking through a bag for a snack, turning to talk to somebody, is all the time needed for the water to claim a life. Keeping a child from the water when you’re not around, and being vigilant and attentive when you are, is the most important thing you can do for a child regarding water safety.

In a sense, I knew all of this intrinsically before researching for this article. Common sense and a slightly over-protective mother (for whom I’m eternally grateful) instilled in me a keen awareness of the dangers surrounding children and water. Even so, when I looked up and saw my beautiful niece squatting down, reaching to touch a leaf floating in the water, none of this mattered. There she was, as though caught up in the jaws of some invisible monster, and at any moment she could lean one inch farther and I would be powerless to protect her. The National Safety Council recommends knowing CPR in case of emergency, and looking back, I’m not sure I had taken a class at that time. I could have been faced with a small, soaking wet body lying on the grass, immobile, not breathing, and pale. Even now that I have taken a class, would this knowledge save her? Would pumping her little chest so hard it broke her ribs start her heart beating again? And would she ever be the same after so long without vital oxygen to her brain? With the right attentiveness and a little forethought, I hopefully will never be able to answer these questions about similar situations in the future.

Tragically, in communities where knowledge about water safety is less common, especially in underserved and minority communities, the rate of water-related injuries and deaths is greater compared to other communities. Educating leaders, parents, and children about the importance of water safety, preventative measures, CPR classes and swimming lessons, could prevent the needless deaths and disfigurements of a generation.

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