Since the UAE sits right on the Arabian Gulf, it’s not surprising that we see our fair share of drownings. However, when I first arrived here, I was shocked by this. Surely most people can swim, since they live near the water, right? WRONG.
Another early observation was the interesting swimming attire. Without fail, every day at the beach, you can find a nanny / some guy in jeans trying to swim or paddle in the water. Next to them, will be some very covered women, in what appears to be daywear, also in the ocean.
Clothes are heavy and restrictive when wet and don’t make for a leisurely “dip”. Add in the panic factor and the ever-present ocean current, and the result is a bad mix. I know that modesty is an issue- this is not the place for that discussion.
Drowning is defined by the World Health Organization, as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid”. Worldwide approximately 500,000 deaths a year are related to drowning. Toddlers and older teens are at greatest risk. Not all drownings are in pools / lakes / oceans. In fact, many infants drown in household bathtubs or in large buckets!
What happens when someone drowns? The submersion triggers breath holding, panic and a struggle to get to the surface. Air hunger sets in, leading to an involuntary gasp, which results in aspiration of water directly into the lungs. Once water gets inside the lungs, they no longer function as nature intended them to do. How badly affected the lungs will be is directly determined by the quantity of water inhaled. It doesn’t take much to really affect the lungs.
The strangest case I have seen was that of a hotel lifeguard who was found, face down in the pool he was guarding.
So what can we do? First and foremost know your own limits. It’s no shame if you’re a weak swimmer- most people are. Respect the ocean and the lifeguard’s warnings. If you have kids, get them a few swim classes to learn the basics (its exercise and its fun). Never leave infants unattended in bathtubs. The risk is real and totally preventable.
Lastly, as the old saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
Save yourself the headache and the heartache. Be careful.
By Dr. DMS