Memorial Day weekend kicks off a lot of things that bring out joyful memories for many of us, and the promise of new ones. But it also kicks off pool season. As this mom, Rachel Lister, learned when her daughter nearly drowned, pool danger can come quickly. We’re running her story here with permission. It first ran on her site BusyMommyMedia.com.
— Amy Joyce
By Rachel Lister
I ran into the ER with mismatched clothes and wet hair. “My daughter was just brought in. She was in a pool accident,” I said.
A pool accident. That’s what they’d called it when my friend’s little girl drowned a few years earlier. I wondered what it meant at the time but now, I couldn’t bring myself to say “my daughter almost drowned.”
We’d celebrated my oldest son’s birthday with a pool party. Everyone had a great time and my 2-year-old daughter loved splashing around in the water in her life jacket. We are careful around water. I thought I knew how quickly an accident could happen. As we were packing up to leave I removed her life jacket, wrapped her up in a towel and put her on a deck chair.
“I go hot tub,” she said.
“No.” I told her. The hot tub was one of her favorite things but I knew that once I she got in it would take me forever to get her back out again. “It’s time to go home now.”
I left her sitting on the deck chair as I packed up a few things. We had six adults standing there so I felt like I could relax a bit. After all, what could go wrong with so much supervision? The truth is, you can NEVER relax when you have kids around the water. Never.
A few minutes later something jerked me to attention and I looked around for my daughter. She was nowhere to be seen. I scanned the pool first but she wasn’t there. The gate was open so I thought she may have wandered out and worried about cars. I nearly went there first. Now I am so glad I didn’t.
There are four-foot-tall bushes between the pool and the hot tub that have grown thicker over time so I ran over there to check the other side before I went looking outside of the gate. What I saw as I came around the bushes horrified me. My daughter was face down in the center of the hot tub . . . and I had no idea how long she’d been in there.
I screamed for my husband, “She’s in the water!” and went running for the hot tub, jumping in fully clothed.
I don’t know if it was the shock of the situation or the fact that I was only a month out from my c-section and hadn’t fully recovered yet but I couldn’t get my body to move the way I wanted. I couldn’t get my daughter’s head above the water fast enough. I’d managed to push her closer to the edge and by then my husband was at the edge. He was holding one of the twins and reaching into the water with his other hand.
They always say that time slows down in an emergency but it’s an odd sensation when it happens to you. What must have only been a matter of seconds felt like an eternity. My husband quickly passed off the baby and began frantically working on my daughter.
She wasn’t breathing.
That image will stay with me for as long as I live. Her eyes were open but there was no life in them.
I’ve taken many CPR classes in the past but it’s been a while since I had a refresher and I froze. What was I supposed to do? What was the first step? There was no room for any thought in my mind except that my child was not breathing.
My husband did a Heimlich maneuver of sorts and pushed some water out of her tiny body. Reflexively, she began to vomit. Finally she coughed and took a breath.
We had 911 on the line and, right or not, since she was breathing we felt like we could get her to the hospital faster than we could direct the ambulance into our community pool, so my husband grabbed her and rushed to the hospital.
I followed behind after changing out of my wet clothes and making sure the other kids were settled with my mom. Thank goodness we had help available so I could rush out the door and follow them.
At the ER they took me straight back. My daughter was sitting on my husband’s lap on the gurney in a large room surrounded by a team of doctors. Her oxygen levels were in the 80s. That was bad they told me. Her carbon dioxide levels were high. She had fluid in her lungs.
I was able to give my daughter a quick hug. When she saw me she teared up and with her sweet little voice said “mommy.” The doctor said they needed to intubate her to help her breathe while her lungs healed. He kept telling me she was going to be fine but I didn’t believe him yet.
My daughter was sedated and intubated and we were told she’d need to be life-flighted to the children’s hospital. The team from the children’s hospital arrived and after stabilizing her they loaded her up and wheeled her away, leaving my husband and I standing in the hallway holding my daughter’s wet bathing suit as strangers took my daughter to the helicopter that would fly away without us.
How does this happen? It took only minutes. There were plenty of adults around. None of us heard a thing.
Most moms have seen the “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” post that has made its way around Facebook. We’ve heard that drowning is silent but until you see how quickly and quietly it can happen it doesn’t really sink in.
My daughter made no noise . . . she couldn’t. She didn’t splash. She didn’t yell for help. We were all standing 10 feet away while she drowned.
At the hospital we were told they see their worst case scenarios at family gatherings when there’s plenty of people to supervise. Everyone thinks someone else is watching. Everyone thinks they can relax.
We got off very, VERY lucky. The doctor told us my daughter likely had another 30 seconds before her heart stopped. When I think of how close things were I get chills. After 24 hours on the ventilator and another 24 hours in the hospital for observation my daughter was able to come home with us, but not before yelling at her nurse for pulling off the tape that held her IVs in place.
Today she’s every bit as stubborn, smart, and wonderful as she was before her accident. Whenever I work up the courage to go back to the pool with my kids, you had better believe that I will not be taking my eyes off of them for a second.
You cannot relax around kids and water. Drowning can happen in seconds. It’s quick and it’s quiet and it can happen to your child. Fortunately our experience had a happy ending but we’re all feeling a bit traumatized and that experience is going to stay with me forever. The water is never going to look quite the same.
Rachel knows what it is like to be busy and worry about balancing everything without losing your sanity. As a homeschooling mom of 6 incredibly different kids, including newborn twins (and one tiny angel who passed away at birth), she’s just about seen it all . . . when she isn’t too sleep deprived to notice.
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