Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Downing, Almost. A Mother's Story by Tamara Buhagien




According to the CCTV footage from the pool, 19 seconds is what it took from the time my 3-year old daughter began drowning to the time her father lifted her out of the water. She was already unconscious and had stopped breathing.

At the time, she was being supervised by her father, who was doing a great job with our two kids at my son’s Pokémon-themed 6th birthday party. He thought she was safe for a moment while he turned around to look at our son. In fact she wasn’t even in the water yet. She did what he didn’t anticipate…she went under a railing and dropped straight into the pool…without a splash.

In the midst of cleaning up from my son’s party, I walked over to the large pool to help a little boy find his mum, when I walked straight into the most distressing scene I had ever laid eyes upon. It was my daughter drowning, with only her pink goggles on her forehead as an indication of where she was in the pool. There was no splashing, no screaming, no arms waving, it was a silent scene.

I saw my husband (her father) frantically trying to get to her, but unfortunately by the time he reached her she was unconscious and no longer breathing. In just 19 seconds. I watched in horror as he laid her down next to the pool. Her body seemed lifeless. My husband who is a GP, and two other friends, a doctor and a nurse, were all tending to her as I knelt next to my little girl, my hands over my face because I could not bear to see what was unfolding in front of me.

Moments before they would start CPR, she began to scream on her own. I held her, and could never imagine letting her go again. She recovered very rapidly and was eating lollies from the party bags within 30 minutes. We were lucky. So so lucky. If my husband had been distracted for even 5 more seconds, or couldn’t spot her in that sea of playing children, a different ending may have resulted.

The days to follow were full of both tremendous pain for my husband and I from the guilt and the “what ifs,” as well as tremendous gratefulness that she was still here. We became immediately proactive, as I didn’t want any of us to be carrying this fear and trauma into the future. We knew the first step was to get her back into the water as soon as possible. As it turns out, my triathlon coach, Bill Evans, is also a children’s swim instructor so I turned to him for advice. He and Rachel Kranz were incredible with my daughter and managed to encourage her back into the pool with enormous patience, kindness, and playfulness just 5 days after the incident.

By the end of the session, my little fish didn’t even want to get out of the pool with “Mr. Bill.” What a relief! In January both kids will begin swimming lessons.

My daughter is 3.5 years old, and since I had begun working, finding time to continue with her swimming lessons had been difficult, and I admit, not a priority. The lesson I take from this, is a message that I have already heard a million trillion times before, but didn’t take so seriously until now: SWIMMING LESSONS ARE A PRIORITY.

It is the only tool we can give our children to self-equip them for those moments when we are distracted and they are curious. You WILL BE distracted, and it will likely be for more than 19 seconds. It will happen to even the most vigilant of parents and the most obedient of children.

No one is immune to what has happened to us. Equip your kids the best that you can. You see…I only saw a paddling pool, cake, and presents. I didn’t think for a moment that at my own son’s birthday party, where I had thought out EVERY single detail beforehand, that I would have nearly lost my daughter in a drowning incident. SUPERVISION requirements change depending on our environment. It turns out my daughter was sufficiently supervised for a quieter scenario, but given this busy birthday party at a busy public pool, both of my kids were under-supervised and at risk.

I hope that our story is a learning opportunity for us all.
Tamara grew up in Kaministiquia. Here is a link to her blog. https://manascripts.com/2016/12/11/when-it-happens-to-you/

 

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