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Tale of two drownings

1996

I am breaking in a new partner. He has been an EMT for about a month, and he is still gung ho. It has been a slow day so far, and we are only an hour away from going home. I can smell dinner already.

It has been a typical hot summer day here in Florida. The kind of day where it feels like you are 6 inches away from the sun, the air so thick with humidity that it takes effort to breathe.

When we got the call for a possible drowning, we were just a few blocks away, and it seemed to me that we arrived almost instantly. A sheriff’s deputy arrived at the same time. He ran through the house, and beat us by a good minute or so, as we had to grab bags and gear.

I arrive in the backyard and take in the scene. The pool is half filled with a green liquid, the color of pea soup. The deputy is standing in the water, and reaching down, he pulls a lifeless form from the pool and throws him onto the deck.

The child is grey and lifeless. It isn’t long before the helicopter arrives to take him away. Just after they depart, I notice that there is a little girl of about 8 years standing next to me. She says, “Is my brother dead?”

Divemedic: “We are doing everything we can to help him.”

LG: “Why aren’t you still with him then?”

DM: “The people in the helicopter are helping him now.”

LG: “I killed him.”

DM: “What?”

LG: “I threw him the ball, and when he tried to catch it, he fell in the pool. Now he is dead, and it is my fault.”

Ten minutes later, after talking to the parents of these two children, my partner found me. I was sitting in the rig, tears in my eyes. My new partner tells me, “You have to learn to shut it out. Don’t take these calls so personally, look at me. I am not bothered by it.”

I threw him out of my truck, and I refused to ever ride with him again.

2003

Three minutes after the initial call to 911, we arrived at the front of a small, well-kept house, a typical one for the area. There are toys scattered about the yard, undoubtedly left there by a small child.

The first through the door, I arrive in a rush and take in the scene. Even now, four years later, that image is burned into my memory as clearly as if it were yesterday. There is a small child lying on the couch in the living room, a small pitiful figure, his skin is a mottled gray. He is covered in water and appears lifeless.

An adult male is standing next to the couch. He is soaked from the waist down, his clothing disheveled; his eyes red-rimmed, he looks like a wild man. I will not find out that this man was the child’s uncle for another fifteen minutes.

I pick up the child, and he is cold. He does not stir, even when I harshly pinch his arm. I move to the door, to the safety and privacy of the truck.

On the way out to my ambulance, I quickly look him over. He is about three years old, 12 kilos or so. Lying lifeless in my arms, he doesn’t appear to be doing very well. He isn’t breathing and has no pulse. My mind already computing drug dosages and accessing protocols, I reach for my radio and called in a “code” to the dispatch center.

I place my lips over the child’s mouth, and give gentle breaths. Chest compressions. Breaths.

We arrive at the truck, and I select the proper sized ET tube, and slide it down his throat. My partner begins squeezing the bag, and I start an IV.

I place him on the monitor, and I note that he is in asystole. Not good.

I knew then that we had already lost the battle.

As the helicopter flew away, taking with it the small, pitiful body once so full of life, so precious to all who knew him, his Uncle approached and asked me what he should tell his brother. He wanted to know how to tell a man that his baby boy drowned in a backyard pool while his Uncle took a shower.

I keep hoping that maybe next time, if we are lucky enough, if we are good enough, we’ll be able to say just this once, an Uncle isn’t going to have to tell his brother that his little boy is dead, or a little girl won’t have to think she killed her brother.