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Old 02-19-2009
The Swimmer The Swimmer is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 5
The Swimmer
Arrow A Tale Of Caution:Pt. 2 of 3

I take a few more strokes, but this isnít working. Everything is dark when I put my head in the water. Iíve spent entire swims to Scripps Pier and back (3 mi.) marveling at all the different shades of green the ocean has to offer. Now the darkness terrifies me. I flop on my back. I just need a few deep breaths of air and sunlight on my face. If I pass out, maybe I can still get some air. I know this is wishful thinking. ďKEEP SWIMMING!Ē Rick is relentless. I start swimming backstroke and forcing air in and out just to stay awake. Itís not pretty. Who knows what my arms are doing. I canít feel them but Iím moving and am able to lift my head a little out of the water. Less cold. Still fuzzy. Most of all, I can breathe. (There is something to be said for having gone through childbirth three times. Not to mention all the swimming and training Iíve done over the years.) I try to get my breathing into a rhythm and keep the haziness that is taking over at bay. I just need to stay conscious.

Iíve got tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is loss of peripheral vision with retention of central vision. In my case itís caused by blood loss or a drop in blood pressure in the brain. I can only focus on whatís immediately in front of me. I donít really see Rick, but I hear him and know heís beside me. Heís yelling for help in between strokes. Itís comforting, but I begin to wonder if anyone has heard him.

We were in the middle when my crisis came. We were about Ĺ mile from shore in either direction. The middle. It doesnít matter how many thousands of miles Iíve swum in my life, in these very waters, there is no way Iím going to make that last half mile.

I pray for strength. I think of my family and hold each of my children in my heart and pray that God will do the same with me. Mostly, I just pray for strength. Iím not expecting God to lift me out of the water, but I pray He gives me the strength and the will to keep swimming even though everything in my body is saying, ďSTOP, and let go.Ē

My judgment is impaired. It seems as though Iíve been swimming for 15 minutes since the trouble began. It was probably only half that. Iím still doing backstroke and I figure we must be getting close to the Cove. Maybe Iíll actually make it to shore before the lifeguards get to us. Iím in the washing machine, but decide to roll over and try to gauge where we are. Iím hoping for Razor Reef, which would mean only a few hundred yards to go. I turn over and see the ľ mile buoy in the distance which means we have well over ľ mile to go. My heart sinks. I try to ask how much further with a twist on the classic, ďArenít we there yet?Ē Iím not sure the words ever come out or if they are only in my mind. ďKEEP SWIMMING!Ē Rick doesnít let me stop to complain.

I return to backstroke. Itís working for me. Iím incredibly cold and in pain. More praying. My neck is getting stiff from trying to keep my head out of the water while swimming. (Iíve since learned that the Coast Guard specifically recommends that you NOT swim backstroke as it is the stroke that causes the most heat loss.) In my case though, it works. There is no way I can put my face back in the water. Iím losing blood flow to my head. The cold on my face just makes me want to clench my jaw and eyes shut and sleep. This will lead to a phenomenon called spontaneous inspiration or gasp reflex. It is another primitive response to cold water due to not getting enough air because of shallow breathing. These involuntary breaths will ultimately lead you deep into the drowning episode by aspirating water into your lungs.

I think Iíve been swimming for awhile and can tell we have company. There are a few swimmers with wetsuits, (a novel concept) and I recognize Bruce Beech. I can hear Rick issuing some sort of orders for them to get me to swim more towards the Cove. Like I said, it isnít pretty. (Who knows, maybe I was headed out to sea or swimming in circles.) The sun is in my eyes, but one of the guys offers me his neoprene cap. ďNo,Ē I say. I just have to keep swimming. Bruce, a pleasant and familiar face, gets next to me and offers to give me his wetsuit. If only he knew what was going through my mind. It's ludicrous. I tell him I canít stop. It would take too longÖ.at least, I think I said that. My flotilla of wetsuiters stays with me. I donít hear Rick anymore. I figure heís sprinted to get closer to the Cove to try to get someone to call 911. The lifeguards arenít due to come on duty until 9:00. City budget. Looking back and doing the math, it was probably between 8:30 and 8:45 at that point. I didnít have 5 more minutes in me, let alone 30 minutes. I look over, maybe Iíve stopped, Iím not sure, and I see Rick is at the ľ mile buoy and heís trying to climb on it and yell for help. He seems really far away. In my delirium I think, ďWhy donít I climb onto the buoy and hold on?Ē, but it seems too far away and Iím not sure I could hold on anyway. I keep swimming.

Eventually, I hear, ďTheyíre coming.Ē Huge relief! But I still wonít let myself stop swimming. I wait until the last possible moment as the lifeguard Jet Ski pulls up next to me, stops, and I reach for the rescue board thatís behind it. I canít see anything. I donít even know whoís rescuing me. There are handles on the rescue board. I grab on and surprise myself that I can hold something even though I canít feel my arms, or see. The lifeguard on the back pins me down so I donít roll off. Iím not going anywhere. I hear the lifeguard say weíre going to the Cove since itís the closest. It occurs to me that I probably hadnít swum that far after all. I was in the 56įF water for about one hour.

They plop me down in the Cove. Despite my previous impression that it was a washing machine, thereís no surf. The water is calm. Good. I canít stand up, but someone grabs me from behind. Somehow they get me going, taking a few steps. Iím wobbly, but I think I am walking on my own. The Cove lifeguard is there to greet us. Thank God he came on duty early. They do the hand off and he guides me up the stairs. It is someone I know, Jim Birdsell, an old friend of my husbandís. He asks me my name. I comply, but am wondering why he doesnít recognize me. Then it occurs to me that I must look like crap. It isnít until later that I realize he was gauging my condition.

He gets me into the warm shower at the lifeguard station. Iím a noodle and slink to the floor. Ahhhh, it feels good! I know Iím in trouble and not out of danger yet. Who knows what my internal core temperature is. Jim stays with me, talking to me and asking questions. I receive a few visitors. Rick looks in on me. I realize he didnít get the Jet Ski ride back and still had a ľ mile swim after they plucked me out. I tell him to please use the gallon jug of hot water I brought to pour over my head, as I wonít need it. (A custom among us winter swimmers, it's just enough to take the edge off.) Bob West, no stranger to crisis in the ocean, comes in to see me. He asks me if his wife Marva should call my husband. I tell him not to bother.

What was I thinking? I donít know, I guess I didnít want him to have to shuffle the kids. My perception was way off. Even though I knew I was in trouble Ė still, part of me thought Iíd be all set up after this nice shower. I had no idea how long it would take to recover. In hindsight, I wouldíve done a few things differently.

After 5 or 10 minutes in the shower, paramedics arrive. (Again, my perception of time could be way off.) They just look at me for awhile and talk about me as I remain a noodle on the shower floor. Finally I ask someone to take my temperature. Someone produces an ear thermometer, but he assures me that this is not my core temp. I donít want to leave the warmth of the shower, but just crane my neck and give him an ear. He tells me it is 94į F, but that it is not my core temp and if it were Iíd be dead.

Iíve since learned this isnít necessarily true; you donít go into cardiac arrest until about 86įF, but you will lose consciousness at 89.6į. Not that Iím encouraging anyone to push it further, but thatís what the medical texts say. I also know that even though I had a few more degrees to go before cardiac arrest, a loss of consciousness due to hypothermia or even due to hyperventilation from the panic that ensued, may well have lead to my demise.
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