I work in a hospital lab and at least once a year and unfortunately sometimes more than that, a phlebotomist from the emergency room will hand me some tubes of blood taken from a child that has been found unresponsive in a pool, sometimes some other body of water, but mostly, it will be a pool. I suppose sometimes the child lives, but from my experience and memory, mostly they will not.
My co-workers and I shake our heads, trying not to visualize, trying not to think of the unspeakable pain a parent must feel when this happens. We inevitably ask “How did it happen?” perhaps to quickly insert the details and circumstances away in the “I will never do…Please God, let me never ever do” file: A busy birthday party, an open dog door, a toddler forgotten for just a few moments or other children left to watch a baby for “just a minute”
I always feel a particular pain, and my heart speeds up, because I remember
once when Erik was four I was visiting my grandparents in Florida. One of their neighbors I was friendly with had a pool attached to the house, all screened in. She had invited me and Erik over so Erik could play with her son who was the same age.
It was a beautiful spring day and I didn’t have a bathing suit with me but Erik “swam” (He hadn’t had swimming lessons yet) in his shorts. While J and I sat by the pool talking and enjoying glass of wine, Erik and L. bobbed around in the shallow end. We were right there, I always remind myself, right there.
To this day I’m not sure what made me look over from the chairs where we were sitting involved in our conversation, but I did, and saw my four year old in the middle of the deep end. He had somehow bobbed his way over there and I think he had already gone under once or twice. His head was just out of the water and he was staring at me, his eyes wide with fear. He was making no sound. There was no splashing, nothing. Just a terrified child about to drown while his mother sat nearby chatting over a glass of wine.
I don’t remember saying anything, I just jumped in and walked across to the deep end and violating life saving rules I’m sure, reached over and pulled Erik to me. We sat on the edge of the pool and Erik clung to me, shaking violently. He didn’t cry or speak. I don’t remember how long we sat there until J said. “Wow, you were really calm about that.” On the outside maybe, but on the inside I was feeling as though I had just stepped back from the most deep and horrible abyss into which a parent can ever fall.
So when I hear people ask the question “How can these things happen?” I know exactly how they can. I’ve asked myself a million times since then “What if we’d gone into the kitchen to refill our wineglasses? What if, What if?” It’s all too quick and easy, and very quiet, the destruction of many lives.