Hidden Danger in Water
Summer heat draws families to public swimming pools or lakes or the ocean for a cool dip and fun.
In intense heat, bluish water under the hot sun is ever so alluring. But sometimes water demands a high price.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3,500 Americans drown each year. Twenty-five percent of them are children under 14, and in most cases the tragedy happens while their parents or other adults are near. Adult negligence is a common factor in drownings in this age group, and the danger is everywhere: It can be your own backyard pool or a crowded public pool.
Parents should never forget the fact that it takes only 3 to 5 minutes for a child to die when the oxygen supply is cut off from the brain.
While I was in the seventh grade, in Korea, I narrowly escaped a fatal accident at the beach. It was in August 1953, the fateful year when the war ended with the armistice.
All summer long, school kids in all levels had been demonstrating against the ceasefire agreement the world leaders were negotiating at the 38th Parallel, sometimes at the town square or in front of the U.S. Army base, marching and shouting, “We want reunification!” or “We’ll fight until the last man!” But the war ended anyway, and we had to catch up with the business of living again.
Our parents arranged a big farewell picnic for our relatives returning to their original homes in Seoul, and a dozen adults and more than 20 kids gathered at the beach on a Sunday, under a colorful canopy.
It was a windy day, which wasn’t unusual for this part of the Pacific coast.
After lunch, my father entertained my uncles under one side of the canopy, offering beer and rice wine, and my mother was on another side with my aunts, who were all excited about returning to their homes in the capital.
The kids scattered. While older boys played soccer and older girls dug clams, a cousin who was my age and I played with a beach ball in the shallow water. within minutes, the wind snatched our ball and took it to a deeper part of the ocean.
We had nothing else to do, so we began to ride waves from where water reached our waists. When waves were coming toward the beach, we jumped in head first, and the force of water pushed us back to the shallow area. It was lots of fun. We did this again and again, moving deeper and deeper, trusting that the waves would bring us back to where we were.
I should have never trusted the ocean. After a few more fun rides, I stood up to catch my breath, but my feet couldn’t touch the ocean floor. I panicked. My cousin was only a few feet away, but I couldn’t get to her. I screamed but no sound came out of me. The next moment, I caught a glimpse of my cousin running toward the sand strip and thought she had abandoned me.
All I could see was the water churning and whirling before my eyes, and I didn’t know which side was the sky and which the sea floor. I heard no human voices, only the shouts of ocean. Where is everyone? Why aren’t they coming to get me? Another wave forced me to perform somersaults and I was scared and lightheaded.
Worst of all, I couldn’t breathe! I’m dying here, all alone! I’m only 12… A crushing pain blossomed in my chest. God, help me! I’ll do anything!
Suddenly, I felt a hand on my arm and then saw a face zooming in. It was my 17-year-old Second Brother. I must have clung to him desperately, because he yelled, “Let go of me! Let go…” Now, we were both sinking.
I don’t know how long we were in that locked position, my brother trying to free himself from my embrace and me clinging to him. But I do remember a man lifting me onto a rubber tube. The next thing I knew, I was riding toward the beach.
My mother rushed to me, crying, “It was my fault! It was my fault!” The rest of my memory of the day is in fragments. Everyone, including total strangers, asked, “Are you all right, child?” Some hands pumped my stomach, hurting me. My father thanked my cousin again and again for saving me by alerting others where I was.
After that day, my parents never invited another family for a picnic at the beach. Many times, my mother said to me, “If I lost you that day, I would never forgive myself.”
Retired musician Therese Park has written two novels.
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