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Trouble in the Water MAG
AnotherFriday afternoon stuck in traffic, a routine I know all too well. I have fiveminutes to get back to work and when I do, I'll have just enough time to reapplysunscreen to my already-reddened skin. I look at the bank clock as my car crawlsby. It reads 101 degrees, and it's not even one o'clock. It's been one of thosedays I wish would end as soon as possible.
My day, as usual, started atfive in the morning, waking to the smell of bleach while scrubbing the neglectedpublic bathrooms, hosing down the gum-spotted pool deck and many other tedioustasks. About an hour after the early-morning shift, I returned to teach overlyeager kids how to swim. The lessons usually aren't that bad until the last hour,when the heat starts to creep in and all the kids want to do is disobey. By thetime the last kids were out of the water and I dried off, I had 15 minutes leftfor lunch.
Now, even though I've extended my lunch a few minutes, I stillmanage to get to work on time. I notice the line of kids is extra long today.They're all holding brightly colored towels as their parents apply sunscreen totheir squinting faces. The kids are becoming impatient since they can see theempty, inviting pool. I settle in the office as the first whistleblows.
We start out with two guards, but I am sure as more arrive, we willall need to be out in this unbearable heat without a break. Ten minutes race byand it is time for the next shift. The head guard announces we need four guards,which means the capacity of the pool has reached well over a hundred. I grab mywhistle and sunglasses, thinking I only have four hours to go.
As we getinto formation, we scope the scene. Being a lifeguard, you get to know who's whoaround the pool. Most of the kids who come regularly are either from day care orwith a group-load of kids. The ones who cause the most trouble are nicknamed"pool rats" by the lifeguards (which is more an inside joke than publicknowledge). They're the ones who purposefully do things to get our attention andare willing to cross the line. They're the ones we have to tell time and timeagain to stop roughhousing or running. Even though we bench them and threaten tokick them out, we know they are better off here because the pool is their daycare and the lifeguards are their babysitters.
Two minutes into my shift,I have already told six kids to stop running and three to stop dunking andshoving. My zone is near the diving board and covers the whole deep end. This iswhere the more experienced kids swim, but that means they are most likely tocause trouble, especially when it's busy.
A lot of the time it is hard tocatch everything that happens. As I tell one kid not to jump off the diving boardbackwards, I hear some others say there is a kid at the bottom of the pool. I runover to see what is happening. One kid is muttering, "I didn't mean to doit. I didn't even see him there." I immediately know what he means: he musthave jumped off the side of the pool and landed on someone, probably hitting himin the head and knocking him out.
This is the moment I train for, butalways wish would not arrive. All I can think about are the steps to take for adrowning victim. I blow my whistle three times quickly and deliberately. Kidsaround the victim have already moved, but are still watching in disbelief. As Idive in with my rescue tube around my waist, I remind myself how to rescue asubmerged victim:
Approach the victim with the tube on the surface of thewater. Wrap your arm around the chest to the shoulder. Pull the tube's cord down,and slide the tube between the victim and yourself. Gradually float to thesurface at an angle and swim to the wall.
I execute this just as I learnedin the training course. I'm at the wall now. Three other guards are there withthe backboard. We get the victim out, not thinking if we did everything by thebook. We knew in our heads and our hearts what to do.
As we get the victimout of the water, we all see that his lips are turning blue from lack of oxygen.I ask him if he is all right, trying to get a response. When there is none, Imove to rescue breathing. I do not see or feel a breath, so I give two breathsand check again. I then check the pulse. After searching for what seems likeminutes, I find a pulse, but it is faint - not a good sign. I continue rescuebreathing, giving the victim my breath, a vaporized form of life. I do not wantthis child to die, so I keep going. Even though I am getting tired and dizzy, Ikeep going.
The paramedics' arrival is a gift from heaven. Now that theyare here, I step aside and watch as they pull out their breathing masks andbag-valves. I hear the other guards explaining what happened. I can't speak. I'mstanding in my water-soaked clothes, shaking from the immense stress and fear. Irealized that the crowds are getting in the way. As we work to get them away, Ilook at them, seeing their puzzlement and fear. I realize that I'm not the onlyone who is wondering what will happen next.
All I can do is stare at thetaillights as the paramedics drive off. The guards close the pool. There areaccident and insurance reports to fill out, as well as questions from the policeto answer. I can't stop wondering what is happening to the little boy who was inthe wrong place at the wrong time.
I feel cold and numb as the policequestion me. I am a machine who has no feelings; I'm just giving answers. Theother guards are sympathetic, realizing what it is like to be in myshoes.
Then a call comes. The little boy with the lifeless body I rescuedis at the hospital in stable condition. The paramedics brought him back on theway to the hospital. A sense of relief washes over me and puts a half-smile on myface. I can tell the other guards are thankful he is all right, but I am stillaware that even though this was an isolated incident, people's carelessness cancause trouble in the water.