A few years back, I celebrated the 30th anniversary of a water rescue that could have easily been a recovery effort. As I reflect back upon this eerie event, I'm reminded of the habits and skills I developed as a lifeguard that ended up making a difference in the life of one law student.
I can recall the details as easily as if it happened yesterday.
My friend, a fellow pool-rat, and I spent a marvelous summer day swimming and sailing at a colleague's family cottage. An invite to dinner, a round of board games, a sweat in the sauna and another dip in the lake enticed us to stay longer than we had intended.
As we were loading the car, a very drunken law student wandered over from the neighbour's cottage to steam himself in the sauna. We silently acquiesced to delay our departure and wandered over to the deck to talk in the fading light.
We heard from the sauna door screech open and watched a wobbly 'Fred' make his way to the lake. Quickly, Fred swam up to the raft and climbed aboard. The wind had suddenly stopped blowing and the light of the moon gone; we were draped in darkness.
In unison, as if we had practiced, all three of us rushed down to the beach. Afterwards, we found all three pairs of shoes neatly aligned. We dove into the water, fully clothed and swam out towards the raft calling Fred's name, but hearing nothing in response.
I recall thinking that it would be difficult to find him, given how dark it was. Just this side of the raft, we found him. He was floating face down and he was glowing, as if he was lit up from within.
All that practice in the pool kicked in. We knew what to do. We immobilized him and began artificial respiration. By the time the ambulance arrived, word had spread down the beach and a crowd had gathered.
The next day, when we visited him in the hospital, we learned that he had broken his neck in the dive. Eventually, we learned that he regained the ability to walk, despite being told otherwise.
My friend and I still get goosebumps when we speak of the series of seemingly unconnected events that led up to us staying, long after we had intended to go.
The big events stay with us. Dates, times, who was present, the weather; all these things are committed to memory and for some, these memories can trigger the stress response. It's as if they were being experienced anew.
But what about the little events - the ones that we barely acknowledge? Just because they are out of our immediate awareness, it does not mean that they have any less of an effect on us.
Pay attention to the everyday. Notice where you are being flooded. Rush hour traffic; deadlines at work; job insecurity; trouble with technology; squabbling off-spring; nagging health concerns; thinly-spread time and other events in an ever-changing world that can serve to drain, disappoint and damage one's health and well-being.
I often hear people say, “It's just stress.” However, there is nothing just about stress.
Avoid drowning in the everyday. Learn techniques that treat the cause of your stress - how you perceive the events in which you swim. Stay afloat in the everyday.
Do you know what to do if someone is drowning? On CBC's Early Edition (go to: 12:45) listen to how people on the beach at English Bay in Vancouver, BC responded. This piece culminates with water safety advice from Dale Miller, the Executive Director of the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and Yukon.