Tuesday started out as ordinary as any other day, but ended with our family shaken to the core. In the span of 30 seconds, my 16 month old son nearly drowned right before my eyes.
October has been unseasonably warm and with temperatures reaching well into the 90s in the afternoons, we’ve been continuing our favorite summer pastime of playing “bucket of water.” On this fateful day, I filled up the tub of water more than I normally do because I was feeling pretty lazy and didn’t want to get up to refill it. The tub was actually overflowing with water because my four year old kept the hose on to give her picnic table a bath. She was diligently scrubbing her table down while Preston played with his bucket and I worked on my computer sitting nearby.
Preston loves airplanes and looks up to the sky and points anytime one flies overhead. I looked over and saw him pointing, looking up to the sky, with his back to the tub full of water. I looked over at Gabriella washing her table. “You missed a spot on the leg,” I told her as she quickly got back to work. I looked down at my computer and started to write a sentence…”I’m a go-getter. Failure is not an option.”
Then I looked up from my computer toward Preston and the bucket and my heart stopped. My world collapsed. My inner voice began screaming at me. All I saw were his two little feet, with blue neoprene water shoes on, sticking straight up out of the bucket.
My mother’s instincts kicked in and with a rush of adrenaline I threw my computer off of my lap and took three huge steps over to the bucket of water. It took me half of a second to look down and orient myself enough to reach down and pick him up. I realized that he had tripped and fell backward into the tub and was fully submerged in the water, basically in a headstand, with only the lower part of his legs and feet sticking up outside of the water.
I plunged my hands into the water, pulled him up by his armpits and looked at his face. Eyes closed. Lips blue. Body limp.
I turned him over with my hand supporting his face and him laying across my left arm and began to strike him on the back. It took three or four times and then finally the gush of water expelled itself from his mouth followed by lots of coughing and a very welcome screaming fit.
Within minutes, he was breathing normally and acting completely fine. We headed to the emergency room as a precaution to check for any water in his lungs because I remember reading about secondary drowning happening after taking in water. Preston checked out fine and thank God all is well.
I’ve always heard that children can drown in as little as one inch of water, but I never actually believed it could happen to me. I’m a good mom. I worked as a lifeguard for several years. I’m vigilant about water safety. But my son nearly drowned in a small tub of water while playing just a few yards away from me.
This frightful experience has taught me a lot. One of the biggest lessons is that drowning doesn’t look like it does in the movies. In a mere 30 seconds, my son tripped, fell backward into a bucket, had his face and lungs filled with water and stopped breathing. All while I was sitting right there. There was no splashing, no screaming and no signs of distress.
We’re using this experience as an opportunity to make some changes in our family and I hope others can learn from this as well. Here are three things we’ll be doing:
1. Never leave a child unattended near water.
Just 10 minutes before our near-drowning incident, I walked into the house to get my computer and fill up a water bottle. I’ve left my kids playing with a bucket of water on the patio while I cooked lunch inside or folded laundry always thinking they would scream if something happened and they needed me. Now I know that drowning can happen in complete silence and within seconds. The National Drowning Prevention Alliance recommends that when infants and toddlers are around the water, adults provide “touch supervision” and always be within an arms reach.
2. Install a landline phone and teach older children to call 9-1-1.
As soon as I picked Preston up out of the water and saw his condition, I yelled for Gabriella to go get my phone from the living room. She ran inside, but couldn’t find it. Fifteen minutes later after I was able to get Preston breathing and calmed down, I had to use the “Find My Phone” app on my laptop to find that my phone had fallen down in the crevice of a couch cushion where Gabriella wasn’t able to see it. We have a landline for the sole purpose of being able to call 9-1-1, but never got around to installing the actual phone. It’s a priority now.
3. Learn and practice CPR on a regular basis.
I’ve taken several CPR classes over the years from my years working as a lifeguard or at a daycare in college. We even took an infant CPR class before Gabriella started eating solids because I was paranoid about choking. In the heat of the moment, I had no clue what to do. My instinct told me to turn him over and pat his back to get the water out of his lungs. If that didn’t work, I’m not sure I would have known what to do next. My husband and I are going to take a CPR class and practice regularly.
Drowning is the leading cause of death for infants and young children between the ages of 1-4. It almost happened to our family and it can happen to anyone. Please watch your children closely not just at the pool or the beach, but in the bathtub, around toilets and buckets of water. I’m so thankful Preston is fine and won’t have any lasting effects from this incident, but I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Please share and spread the word that we need to keep our kids safe around any amount of water.