Movies and TV shows – wrong about drowning

Any drowning scene from a movie or TV show, more than likely, portrays a drowning victim flailing arms and screaming for help. Sometimes, the victim is even able to gather enough strength to surface repeatedly above water and scream for help. Eventually, depending on the scene, the victim either drowns or is rescued, but this perpetuates an entirely wrong depiction of reality. In reality, there is hardly any splashing, waving or screaming, and the victim quietly sinks beneath the surface of the water, like the way the sun quickly slips beneath the horizon during the last minutes of dusk. Drowning is almost always quick, silent and unspectacular.

Unfortunately, these misleading depictions by TVs and movies do influence how drowning is perceived, and impairs our ability to identify a drowning victim and our subsequent response. Many preventable child drowning incidents happen within a close distance from the parents, as there are no cues to pick on like screaming and splashing to draw their attention.

According to CDC report, on an average 10 people die daily due to unintentional drowning in the US alone. 20% of such victims are children under 14 years of age. For every child that dies, five children need ER care for non-fatal submersion injuries. Some of the non-fatal injury victims suffer brain damage and long term disabilities. About 10% of these drownings, particularly of younger children, happened within a safe distance and under the ‘watch’ of the parents. Parents failed to recognize the child was drowning.

During drowning the victim’s natural instincts takeover, and the victim becomes incapacitated to perform any voluntary action like waving arms for help, moving towards safety or screaming for help. Breathing is essential to survival, but not speech. In order to avoid actual or perceived suffocation, the natural instinct forces the victim to extend arms laterally and press down on the water surface to lift the mouth out of the water to breath – a phenomenon referred to as Instinctive Drowning Response. Unless rescued, the struggle lasts for only 20-60 seconds before the victim loses consciousness and submerges under the water.

What some people confuse flailing of arms and scream of help with drowning is Aquatic Distress (or panic).  Unlike drowning, during aquatic distress the person has mental ability to scream for help, and respond to rescue efforts like holding on to rope, ladder, lifebelt, etc. Nevertheless, the victim still needs help. I personally have been a victim of aquatic distress. That’s for another article.

Drowning is silent, but let us break the silence to get the message out on drowning misconceptions.

– Meghna Sil


Treading water – a life-saving art

Why would someone jump in to a pool just to learn how to stay afloat in an upright position? An innocent question, right? That’s exactly the question my little sister asked me when I tried to teach her water treading prior to her swim lessons. I don’t remember if I had asked the same question to my dad when he took me for the first time to the pool.

I have had fear of water since I was a child. I was even fearful of stepping into the swimming pool. In the early stages, I would be gripped by the fear of sliding down under the water with no one to rescue me.

If my memory serves me right, it took me a long time to overcome fear of water and build confidence. My dad would make me stand on the shallow end of the pool and have me wade the water horizontally with the palm pushing the water away. Little did I know he was teaching me what I now know as sculling. As I progressed with sculling, I was encouraged to start kicking the water by gently moving my legs like a pair of scissors (what I now know as fluttering). It was not easy to let go of the floor, but it was a good exercise to overcome my fear. I would kick randomly in all possible ways, including bike paddling and throwing the legs like a frog. After lot of guidance, I got used to a kicking style-known as eggbeater style.

I vividly remember the day I was able to keep my body upright, head above the water, and move my hands and legs in perfect sync, and stay afloat without trying to grab anything. I was beginning to master the art of water treading. Actual swimming was yet to come.

Looking back, I am glad that I was afforded the opportunity to learn the techniques in a proper sequence. Confidence on my ability to tread water also tremendously helped to manage my fear of water. With added extra confidence, I was able to quickly progress through my swim lessons.

Ability to tread water will help keep your head above water – essentially a life-saving skill.

My advice to those who are fearful of water is to start with a simple step – learn to tread water. Start at the shallow end, have someone to supervise (and teach) and keep close to the wall. If need be, use a floatation board or a noodle. Build the confidence to take the plunge, and learn a life-saving skill.  And of course, treading water is a great exercise to burn calories without hurting your joints.

– Meghna Sil

Innovation & Swimming – Helping Resurface

During the summer of 2015, circumstances brought four like-minded high schoolers with similar interests.  The problem in front of us was – why drowning even among professional triathletes was high and what can be done?

Late night brainstorming and long hours in the labs resulted in a successful and working prototype of an inflatable device that can be worn as an armband and can be easily inflated on-demand by pull of a string. The device is capable of taking a swimmer up to 350 lbs. to safety when the disaster strikes.  ReSurface was born!

– Meghna Sil