05 June 2011

Cory Drowned


Cory Drowned.  (pause)   He's OK, but... he really drowned.

I had just gotten in from the Iraqi border, where we were working with a drill log to set screens for a huge water well, and had walked into the house at 3pm to get my keys to the office.  I found Louise asleep, which seemed odd, and when I lifted the keys she sat bolt upright and told me this.


He's in Erfan Hospital...

I don't remember the drive to Erfan in downtown Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but Louise tells me that she just barely managed to jump into the passenger seat before I took off at high speed. I DO remember somehow finding our 14-yr-old siting upright on his hospital bed with a big grin on his face, and I also remember climbing up on the bed and giving him a huge hug.

It turns out that after you drown - assuming you are successfully revived - the next 48 hours are critical.  Louise had spent the previous night on the tile floor of the hospital room listening to Cory's breathing, which explained why she was asleep at 3pm the next afternoon.  I spent the next night on the floor myself, so Louise could sleep.  The reason I hadn't heard about this when it happened was the USGS mission chief had decided not to tell me, being fairly certain that I would take the helicopter and fly home.  He was probably right.

How did he drown?  He hyperventilated and tried to beat my hold-your-breath-underwater record (2 minutes 10 seconds). But Cory had been in the deep end of a pool - and had passed out.  His older sister suddenly saw him lying on the bottom of the pool at around three and a half minutes (she had been timing him and had gotten distracted), with his eyes and mouth open and his lips blue.  She hauled him out, dragged him over the lip of the pool, held his butt up to drain the water and blood out of his his lungs, rolled him over and started CPR.  Cory was one of those rare 2% (higher in children) who actually revive under CPR without intervention by First Responders.


After one of our geologists was chewed up very badly by a bear (she lived but lost both hands and an arm; I had dinner with her one evening and helped cut her food into bite-sized portions), USGS geologists working in Alaska did research on what were the greatest risks to geologists working in the field.  Bears came in #7.  Shooting yourself with your own weapon came in #3.  Hazard #2 would probably not surprise you: helicopter accidents, which killed my boss in Ketchikan Harbor in 1986.

The Number One Killer of geologists in Alaska is... drowning.

I almost became one of those statistics myself.  After a hot day (for SE Alaska) of geophysical profiling, and covered with dust (pretty rare in Southeast), I had put on some nylon shorts and jumped off the end of the long pier into the Fjord at Klawock, Alaska, where we were staying.  The outside temperature was  85F/30 C but the water was about 34F/1C, and I went into hypothermic shock as soon as I hit the water.  I couldn't control my arms I was shaking so hard, and only when I ducked my head underwater did the shaking stop.  I can recall three steelhead trout hovering, watching this skinny white seal thrash its way underwater back to the closest piling.  The water was high enough - high tide - that I was able to reach the pier and pull myself up onto it with the last ounce of strength remaining in me.  I rolled over onto my back and stared at the rare blue sky and realized: I almost became another statistic.

Where am I going with this?  My oldest son is divorced, and his ex-wife doesn't swim. She also apparently doesn't think it's important to learn how to swim, and Jared and his younger brother Cory are intensely focused on this. Whenever our grandson Mason is allowed to visit, they quietly talk and make sure he gets some swimming practice.

I know too many people who have lost a small child to drowning in a swimming pool.  One mom we knew in Saudi Arabia went crazy afterwards...  The first order of business in MY family around water is to secure PFD's (personal flotation devices), and make sure that everyone no matter how young knows how to survive for long stretches in the water.

There is absolutely no excuse for a small child not to know how to swim.  There is absolutely no excuse for a child drowning.  A drowning is something that you will not be allowed to forget for the rest of your life.  

And Cory?  He's a professional lifeguard supervisor and trainer, an Associate of Ellis & Associates, the national agency certifying water parks - and propagating the most militant lifeguard techniques.  I challenge you to find a lifeguard at a pool in the United States who is talking with someone while sitting in a chair.  Not on Cory's watch, not if the pool facility expects to get the certification required for insurance.

You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that the founder of Ellis & Associates lost a child to drowning, and founded the organization to make sure that that terrible tragedy, if possible, would never happen again.



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