Published: July 18, 2013
It's such a tragedy when someone drowns. It's twice as bad when someone drowns trying to rescue someone else. So many times, both deaths could have been prevented.
As a teen, I used to be a lifeguard, and one of the first things I was taught was to think before I acted.
Here's a typical scenario: A person is drowning. Another person jumps in to help. The struggling person grabs on to the second person for support and they both go under.
Even the best swimmers can drown that way. The point is, unless the person drowning is a small child or floating face down, don't jump in to help. Instead, try one of the following tips:
- Find something the drowning person can grab onto - a tree limb, an oar, a float attached to a rope or a rope.
- Shout specific instructions: "Grab the stick and I'll pull you out. Concentrate. Grab the stick."
- If the object is too short to reach the drowning person, you might have to enter the water. Put on a life jacket if it's available and keep your distance from the person.
If the person has fallen into the ice, take the object, lie on your belly and slide toward him. Use the same path as he did. That way you'll take advantage of the fact that he already has tested that part of the ice and broken off the weakest portion.
If there's another person who can help, that person should stay back and have an additional object for you to grab.
If the drowning person is unconscious and you have to go in the water, remember the life jacket or carry a float - anything to help you conserve energy. Get behind the victim. Grab a handful of hair near the scalp, or wrap your dominant arm around one side of the neck and then under the opposite armpit. Clasp your hands to close the loop and kick to safety.
After you're out of the water:
- Turn the victim's body and head to the side to let water drain that's in the mouth and throat. If there's a possibility of a neck injury, you're going to have to move the head and body as one (something you need to learn ahead of time). That's all you need to do in regards to draining water. If more is in the lungs, there's nothing you can do, and you're wasting valuable time trying to get it out.
- Check for signs of life - breathing, moaning, moving, etc. If there is none, check for a pulse. If you can't find one, begin chest compressions. (My understanding is current recommendations suggest if you're unsure about the pulse or how to check it and the person is showing no sign of life, you should start the compressions.)
- Continue compressions until you get a pulse, the person shows signs of life, you can turn the care over to someone else or you're exhausted.
I have more information on chest compressions, checking a pulse and moving someone with a possible spine injury at TheSurvivalDoctor.com. The best way to learn these things and more is to take a hands-on first-aid or CPR course organized by a local hospital, the American Heart Association or the Red Cross. If it's been a few years since your last one, consider a refresher.
Family doctor James Hubbard teaches how to survive during disasters at TheSurvivalDoctor.com