My almost six-year-old came over to me shivering, blue-lipped again. I wrapped her in her towel and she started to panic. "Mommy, I feel like I can't breathe good."
"Why? What happened. Just because your cold?" I kept my cool, sure it was just because she was cold and tired.
"I was underwater too long and drank a lot of water. I feel like I can't breathe good!" And as her voice became more frantic and her body started into a classic Sugarplum-style meltdown, my mind began to race:
"Holy crap! Here I am, alone at the neighborhood pool with the kids, no one else in sight and my daughter took on water and can't breathe! How did I miss her struggling in the water?! What if..."
I stopped myself right there, knowing that I just needed to get everyone taken care of and back home. "Okay Baby, let's get home and get dried off and changed into some warm jamas. Let me know if breathing gets harder, ok?"
"Mommy, what will happen if I keep not breathing good?!"
"We'll have to go to the hospital."
It seems a bit extreme, I know. I mean, I didn't have to drag her limp body out of the water, this wasn't one of the "near-drowning" incidences you hear about in mommy circles about so-and-so's neighbor's cousin's kid. She's a great swimmer and living in South Florida, pool time is a way of life. She had gotten herself back to the surface and out of the pool without me even noticing (how the hell did I not notice?!)
But I also know about dry drowning and I know that a child that takes on water is still at risk even after they leave the water. And I know they're at risk for secondary drowning for about 24 hours after an incident. And I know that my little Sugarplum isn't a complainer about things hurting or bothering her so if she says she can't breathe, she's most likely not exaggerating.
We headed home and I dropped everything (but the baby) by the door and walked Sugarplum upstairs, I got her changed into her warmest pajamas and could tell she was feeling better. I asked her how she was doing and she said "a little better," and I asked her to stay close to me the rest of the night.
When my husband got home he fussed at her for her shoes being left in the middle of the floor and the wet towels being dropped in front of the door. I told him what happened and we went on with our night. But once the kids were in bed (after our usual bedtime struggles) and I lay awake in mine as well, I started to wonder if he really understood what I'd told him about her taking on water and having trouble breathing.
I sent him a link to info on dry and secondary drowning and within seconds he was upstairs and said he was going to sleep on her bottom bunk so he could keep an eye on her. As I suspected, he didn't know it was a thing.
So the big question is: do you?
Have you heard of secondary drowning or dry drowning? Do you know the symptoms? Do you know what to do if a problem occurs?
Dry drowning usually occurs after a near-drowning experience where the water swallowed irritates the child's throat and the windpipe closes up making it hard to breathe and causing a shock reflex which then causes the lungs to fill up with body fluids. Usually this occurs shortly after the incident, within about an hour.
Secondary drowning occurs when the water enters the lungs and agitates the lungs by bothering the surfactants in the lungs, causing the lungs to collapse and then fill with body fluids making it hard to breathe (similar to dry drowning). This can occur anywhere between 1 and 24 hours after a child takes on water.
In both cases, it is crucial that the child get medical attention as soon as possible (like call 911 if you have to) in order to prevent a tragedy if breathing does become labored or extremely difficult after a child takes on water when swimming.
The occurrence of secondary drowning and dry drowning are very rare, happening in only a very small percentage of all near-drowning cases, but it is still enough for me to be cautious. And luckily this time it turned out to be nothing but we spend enough time around the water for me to know to watch for it and I hope that all other parents who are around water with their kids can become educated about it as well.
This was originally published on Beyond Mommying.