My brothers daughter went to a private pool party that had a life guard and a 4 year old drowned. Apparently there were a lot of floaties in the pool and no one noticed him slip in. I was living in Miami at the time and it shook me immensely as I was a new dad, pools are everywhere, and the thought of losing my son who was 2yo was unbearable. I was at the apartment pool chatting with a friend who is a very advanced swimmer - the type that swims laps seemingly endlessly - and she asked “have you ever seen what would happen if he fell in the pool?”. I said no, and then she suggested I try it so that I would at least know. So I picked him up and with no warning tossed him in. He immediately froze under water, arms and legs outstretched in literally stunned silence. I counted to 5 and pulled him out and he was trembling with fear.

At that point I realized that the time it takes for a kid to drown is one breath. That may be 3 seconds, may be 10 seconds. It’s considerably shorter than the time it takes to run to the restroom, answer a call, pick up the pizza at the front door etc. They won’t fight for their life and splash, they’ll simply freeze stiff and die in silence.

I literally shared that story with every close friend I have with kids to warn them about how fast it can happen, now I’m happy to share it with you. I won’t bore you with another story concerning my brothers daughter who almost died while in swim class at the MIT pool but suffice it to say, if you haven’t taught your kids how to swim, I advise you not to trust them with anyone but yourself and your partner.

Drowning is one of the depressingly common ways that young people die that somehow never gets discussed. Drowning is the leading cause of death for Americans age 1-4, and the second leading cause (after cars) for ages 5-9 and 10-14, being displaced by "accidental poisoning" (nearly 100% of which is opiate overdose) by age 15 [1]. Younger children are more likely to drown in pools; older children are more likely to drown in natural bodies of water. By age 35, the bathtub becomes the second-most common location to drown (again, probably drugs).

[1] https://wisqars.cdc.gov/lcd/

> A thought came into my head, momentarily paralyzing me: these might be your last few minutes.

I have had this feeling twice. Both times my overwhelming thought was “Wow, I’ve been an idiot.”

The article describes how that can happen: when your enthusiasm and risk exceed your skill (or luck). Also both times I was doing something I tell my students never to do, which is be alone in the back country. Your dog is not a substitute for another human.

I had an almost the exact same experience, couldn't flip back up after rolling over, and first time whitewater kayaking, rocks hitting my head, etc. However, my feelings about the event afterwards were completely different. I was in a state of complete euphoria for more than a week. Watching, listening, interacting with anything brought me joy. The food tasted better, the birds flying around made me happy, anything... It was as if I took oxy or anti-depressant pills. I was just SO happy to be alive, I couldn't not shake the warm glow that I was still here.
Damn, this is a haunting read.

I don't know why I was expecting to read that Kadin would die before she got to that part. And it's gutting, given how the author talked about their bond but also how she struggled to communicate fully with him.

Sadly, I know too many people who have drowned to death. One of my two childhood best friends died that way, and the other best friend lost his younger sister in a rafting accident, when she got caught in a strainer. Reading this makes me imagine what their last minutes may have been like. It's heavy.

I've had my own instances of realizing I was in way over my head in a situation. Not quite as bad as what the author describes. To me, her situation is one where you've crossed over to the "default dead", and I have to imagine that's a whole other level of emotion than anything I've experienced.

When I was very young, maybe kindergarten, I was given permission to walk outside across a field to watch some kids playing ice hockey on a piece of ice (not a rink, just frozen water). This was in Ottawa, Ontario. I had to cross a ditch to get there. Water was flowing underneath and there was a thin layer of ice on top. I stepped on it and "fell" into the ditch water. It was probably under 12 inches of water, and I panicked and screamed. Luckily, one of the kids (probably grade 3 or 4) walked over and used his hockey stick to save me. I thanked him and walked one minute to my aunt's house, telling my family that I'd almost drowned. I don't remember their exact reaction but it was muted. I am almost positive I would have actually drowned if that boy hadn't decided to wander over and help me. It was over 50 years ago and I'll never forget it.
This is a powerful story.

I nearly died drowning, too. I was probably in my late 20s, on an island in the Outer Banks of NC.

The area was (and is) prone to severe riptides - a current formation that surprises swimmers by pulling them out to sea rapidly. These are very difficult to spot visually unless you know exactly what you are looking for.

I saw a boy out in the water, far deeper than he should have been for his age (maybe 8-10 yo). He seemed OK, but I knew enough to know that "drowning doesn't look like drowning." Without much thinking I just swam in after him.

Once I started out I realized quickly what was going on. I made my way to the boy. He was absolutely panicking. I told him to remain calm, and we would be OK. I am a competent but not amazingly strong swimmer - mainly I was able to give him somebody to hold onto so he could stop swimming and wasting his own energy.

We made our way back in, but I could feel the current against me. This is the nature of rip tides. Even fully aware of the phenomenon I wasted a LOT of energy swimming directly against the current. I was worried I wasn't going to make it.

Finally I managed to move far enough down the shore to escape the rip tide, and we made it back safely.

It felt so anticlimactic. The kid ran to his family. I ran to mine, and collapsed on a beach towel. My family asked if I was all right, to which I could only really answer that I was. A few minutes later the mom came by and thanked me.

But I knew the truth. My miscalculation nearly cost me my life. It didn't look like that from the shore, but if I hadn't escaped the rip tide when I did I know full well I would have panicked and drowned.

To this day, that moment sits with me, and it keeps everything in perspective.

> I’d never practiced rolling a kayak—the roll clinic was still on my long list of goals

Everybody has the right to enjoy outdoors activities but being out there deserves a lot of respect and I have only learned that with time and mentors. I feel nowadays there is no such such thing and most people only see pictures and likes and I see it everywhere, climbing, back country skiing or hiking.

One of the most important things you have to learn is that almost every time you put yourself in danger you are dragging others with you, either your partner, others that are sharing the space with you or a rescue team that has to fly in a helicopter.

And I say it with a couple decades of experience and almost having killed my partner because of my stupidity.

That was very well written, rarely a text can grip and wrench my heart so much, but this one did it easily.

My experience with "adventuring" and NDE are less dramatic. Once we went out on a winter hike across the mountains with friends, but we underestimated how much effort crossing in the snow would be - or overestimated our capabilities. We ended up going down to the valley, where we knew was a village instead of trying to reach the other peak with lodgings. When taking a shower by the end of the day I realized how cold I really was and that if we hadn't reached proper shelter and instead improvised one, we would have likely frozen to death. Luckily one of us insisted on carrying on even though we were exhausted and wet from the waist down by the end of it. I keep going back to this experience in my mind once in a while to marvel on how close we were to some sort of tragedy (either death or permanent injury due to frostbite).

I have nothing to say other than that this piece made me cry, and I'm grateful for it.
After I nearly drowned, I couldn't play the first level of Sonic Adventure for months. The part where the orca chases you over the dock freaked me out (I was 8)
I nearly drowned in my early 30s surfing in conditions that were the biggest I had ever experienced (double to triple overhead). On the skills vs risk chart the author mentions I was low-mid skilled in a higher risk environment. I grabbed the first wave of a large set that rolled through and ended up wiping out. Somehow in the washing machine my leash lasso’d around my legs making them virtually worthless in my struggle. Imagine swimming without legs…it doesn’t work at all. The set waves behind mine were crashing over me and keeping me under. This particular storm was angled perfectly for my break and was very strong at a relatively close distance meaning set waves came in groups of up to 10 as opposed to the normal 2-3. I don’t know how long I was under. My struggle was intense. I feel like the entire time I was thinking clearly but only bc I didn’t have time to panic, maybe? Like the author I thought about my family. I remember being close to the surface once and then getting pounded again. Then an extreme calm came over my body. My vision went black and I remember thinking “this is it, it’s time”. Next thing I remember I surfaced… maybe it was right after I thought it was over, maybe I passed out for some time? Like the author I pretended to just shake it off like no big deal. I told the story like a badge of pride, showing fearlessness and strength or whatever. Never once did I say I was stupid for being out there in the first place. But I was almost that idiot that died after saying “hey y’all watch this”. I do hope my eventual death feels like the calm that came over me here though. I’ll never forget how peaceful that felt…
Swimming is one of my favorite things, but it's alarmingly dangerous.

On the middle school swim team we had a day of different fun races. One was underwater swimming for distance. A girl passed out around 45 meters. She just stopped swimming and started sinking. The assistant coach jumped in and pulled her out and she came to quickly. I love underwater distance swimming, my best was around 65 meters, but every time I think of that girl.

In high school, I was a swim instructor for some elementary schooler. I was subbing for someone who was out and misjudged the group: I started them in the deep end of the pool. I asked the first kid to go and they pushed off and immediately started drowning. The lifeguard and I both immediately noticed. I just stepped in, pulled him to the wall, and moved the lesson to the shallow end. Oops.

Last year I was doing some canyon hiking and swimming. The water depth was very unpredictable based on rain fall and the submerged rough terrain. My wife spotted a man about 30 meters ahead of us who had just started drowning. I raced over and grabbed his arm. He was a very built guy and complained his muscle had cramped. He was exhausted from fighting the water and terrified. I sat next to him for a while and he held me while he recovered. No one else was around and we had only just rounded a corner to see him.

I swim a lot with my kids (6 and 8). Both can swim well and dive to the bottom of a 10 ft pool. Even still, I always watch them.

The whole time I read this, I kept thinking she was only underwater for 20-30 seconds, maybe a minute max, and thinking that that's doable, because I couldn't even imagine what it's like to be trapped upside-down for longer. A few minutes underwater? Without even a breath before going under? Wow.
Excellent writing. I was enthralled in the author's experience.
This is a fantastic article. I had my first panic attack in a church when I was 14. I was there praying with my family when I suddenly got this weird, almost unreal feeling of "super-reality". It wasn't that everything felt unreal. It was that everything felt VERY REAL. It was like waking up from the Matrix, realizing that "this is it" - this is your life and it’s definitely going to end someday. It hit me hard that death isn't just for others, my brain really got it, not just on an intellectual level but for real.

After that, I started having frequent panic attacks, along with feelings of depersonalization and derealization. It took me years of therapy, almost a decade, to return to a mindset where I could just live my life without constantly thinking about death.

Realizing you're alive can feel really, really weird. It's like waking up from a dream. You start wondering, "Why isn't everyone else panicking?" You think everyone should be in a constant state of terror about their own mortality.

It seems to me that the author of the article had a similar experience, except during an actual emergency - she suddenly understood that "One day there will be no ME."

"We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one".

Near-death experiences are what separate those that live in bloody defiance of their mortality - from those that unequivocally respect it. It's a sobering experience; but ironically, a close-call to the loss of life has also saved many. Thanks for sharing.
I wonder what happened to the friend, if that was a risk thing or something else.
Even those with no fear get scared:


Moving story. Beautifully told. I distil two lessons.

1. It's worth going through a bit of awkwardness to thank people or tell them what they mean to you while you still can.

2. Never go out on the water (or more generally engage in risky activities) alone.

The book "Death of a River Guide" offers quite a fascinating perspective on this
Powerful read. My Dad was the sole survivor in a boating accident in the Med when I was about 3 yrs old. He doesn't really talk about it. This has helped me understand some of what he has gone through, esp the aftermath.
Drowning incidents can be incredibly traumatic and overwhelming...
amazing / sad / deeply touching story. Thanks to author for sharing!

maybe, unrelated, but I have this burning question- what was the reason for Kadin's (untimely) death and how that happened?

When I was about 8 I was walking on pond ice, fell in, swam out, walked home.
Weird reacton from him tbh.

When i draged the kayak of my step parents down the lake and set myself, i thought 'wtf how do i get out if i flip this?!'.

Apparently its a real issue and i had the right feeling about it.

I actually didn't went out because it was so snug, that i didn't trust it.

I was at summer camp when I nearly drowned at around age 11 or so, and by all accounts, it was entirely my fault.

I had discovered I could stand up at the top of the ~15' water slide and drop in by kicking my legs out from under myself for a dramatic speedup traversing the side. I did this two or three times before the lifeguard told me to knock it off. I (fingers-crossed) promised to stop, only to try my luck and tempt fate one last time, with nearly dire consequences.

I subsequently discovered that the 90 degree curve to the slide between the top of the slide before it overhung and exited into the pool was designed with a retaining lip on the sides of the slide, which was more than adequate for normal speeds and operation; I learned about conservation of motion as I cleared that lip and continued over it at speed, flying ass over teakettle over the lip.

I immediately realized too late my mistake as I launched off the slide in horror, as I was now flying dangerously fast laterally midair ~10' above the concrete poolside with just enough angular trajectory to watch myself fall in perceptive slow-motion onto the poolside, slamming my entire body onto the concrete, knocking the breath out of me while slamming my head on the immovable surface, rolling into the pool and stunning me. I remained conscious just long enough to realize I had made a terrible mistake, as I couldn't move as I sank under the surface, got tunnel vision, and blacked out as wondered about my life choices.

My last memories before blacking out were of everyone around me immediately flipping out and rushing toward me. Fade to black.

When I regained consciousness, I was laying on the bleachers on the opposite side of the pool. My camp counselor and the camp owner/administrator were there, and no one else. I have no memory of being saved, but clearly I was. I don't know if I ever stopped breathing, but it's entirely possible. I remember how pale they both were. The suddenness of entire sequence of events and the dreamless certainty of unconsciousness were quite unnerving, and I was shaken by the blow to the head and my inability to move afterward. I felt immense equanimity, strangely calm, incredibly embarrassed, and upset that I didn't feel more upset. I wanted to both stay there with them and ask them what happened and to run away and be alone. I wanted my mom and yet feared putting my mother out by calling her. We lived quite some drive away and I felt like I was wasting the money she had paid for me to go and cutting her time away from me short.

I ultimately couldn't bring myself to stay. I didn't feel safe, and I knew it was all my fault. I feared getting in trouble with my mom, and I didn't want my mom to get mad at the camp staff, since it wasn't their fault, and I was already embarrassed enough as it was. Most of all I just wanted to go home.

Years later I would get caught in a riptide off the coast of New England, and I could barely hear a different lifeguard yelling at me to come back. Without realizing it I was hundreds of feet out in the ocean. I was always a strong swimmer and competent floater, but I learned how to swim in rivers and streams; this was my first time in the ocean. I realized that I was in a rip when I was nearly spent, and had to float on my back and rest as the waves crashed over me, over and over, for what felt like minutes. It was a slog.

I finally reached the shore and nearly collapsed from exhaustion. It was the heat of the summer but I had lost a lot of body heat. Everywhere I had a scar was deep purple. I had nearly drowned a second time, and had inhaled enough water to likely be at risk of dry drowning. It was probably the most harrowing experience I've had on the water, as it happened so gradually, until I realized it was very nearly too late to return to shore.

I now have a healthy respect of all bodies of water, and a better understanding of my own limits, and a rational fear of how quickly things can all go south despite my best intentions.

Stay safe out there. Learn the signs of drowning. Watch out for each other, even strangers. The life you may save could even be your own.