Rescuing and treating a drowning victim

Outdoor activities in Cayman almost always involve the water in some way and while we shouldn’t fear the ocean it is important to respect it.

Before we look at providing emergency care to a drowning victim let’s spend some time reviewing basic water safety rules.

Alcohol and water do not mix! This is by far the most common cause of problems in the water as alcohol affects judgment and motor skills.

Observe local water safety rules and be aware of your physical condition. Don’t attempt to swim, snorkel or dive in an area that exceeds your training or abilities.

Never allow children to swim or play near water alone or unsupervised regardless of their swimming abilities. Always keep the kids in your line of sight.

If you are a non-swimmer or are nervous around the water, take swimming lessons or a water safety course. These courses are a lot of fun and will greatly increase your confidence.

In the event that you need to provide emergency assistance to a drowning person, first remember to ‘Stop, Think, and then Act’. Stop and assess the situation; what dangers may be involved in assisting the person?

Think about the best way to provide assistance; will you have to go in the water or will it be possible to assist the victim from shore or a boat? Is the victim conscious?

Act on the information you gathered and begin assisting. With a conscious person it is always more effective to provide assistance from shore, a dock, a boat or some type of stable platform. Throw a line with a life ring or float attached.

If you must enter the water to assist don’t go empty handed. At the very least try to put on fins and a mask and take some form of floatation. Be very careful when approaching the victim. People who are drowning will panic and their perception will narrow (tunnel vision).

A drowning victim’s only concern is to get their head as far out of the water as possible and as you approach they will try to climb onto you to achieve this goal.

Extend a float to the victim if you have one, try to calm them and assist them to safety.

If you don’t have a float, make sure you stay out of the victim’s reach. If they do grab you the best way to break free is to drop under the water. You will want to assist the victim from behind – out of their grasp. Cradle their head and try to calm them then assist them to safety.

Unconscious victim

When assisting an unconscious victim activate EMS as soon as possible by calling to someone on shore or in a boat. If the victim is face down roll them over onto their back and conduct a breathing check. Remember ‘Look, Listen, and Feel’. Look to see if the chest is rising and falling, listen for breathing and feel for breath on your skin.

If the patient is breathing keep the head above water and assist them to shore or a boat. If the patient is not breathing you will begin rescue breathing at a rate of one breath every five seconds.

Tilt the head back, pinch the nose, and deliver a slow rescue breath. Continue rescue breathing while towing the patient to safety. Since chest compressions cannot be performed in the water it is not necessary to check for circulation at this time.

Once you arrive on shore or another stable platform give the patient two slow rescue breaths and remove them from the water.

Once the patient is on a stable platform give them two more rescue breaths and check for signs of circulation.

Continue rescue breathing and CPR (if needed) at a rate of two breaths to 15 chest compressions until EMS arrives.

Remember that anyone who has aspirated water, regardless of how good they feel, must consult a physician immediately due to complications that may arise.

Note: There is a handy piece of equipment called a Pocket Mask that is very effective for performing rescue breathing in the water. Divers carry these items in their pocket while diving in the event that an emergency occurs. Contact a dive shop for more information.

This weekly column is only an introduction to emergency care skills and is designed to increase interest in First-Aid/CPR training. For information on courses please contact the Red Cross, a medical professional, or a local dive shop.