A Tale Of Caution:Pt. 1 of 3
I received this newsletter from La Jolla Cove Swim Club (So.California) and I thought it'd be wise to share it. Due to the 10,000 word limit I had to post it in 3 parts.
"Succumbing to Liquid Medium:
The Anatomy of a Near Drowning from Hypothermia
by Cyrise Sanders
This is scary! Itís not the usual fun article about sea life encounters youíre accustomed to reading. I beg you. No, I implore you to READ IT ANYWAY! It may save your life or someone elseís life some day.
Maybe you remember me from my maiden name of Cyrise C. When it comes to ocean swimming, Iím tough. Iím among the most seasoned open water swimmers in San Diego, especially at the La Jolla Cove where Iíve been a Covite for 20+ years. I begin with my credentials because I want you to know that what happened to me was astounding, shocking, and unfathomable. It could happen to anyone. It could happen to you.
I swam the Catalina Channel in 1992 and was the first San Diego woman since Florence Chadwick 40 years before. She and I went to lunch to commemorate the event. I didnít have any training partners. Bob West was my friend and mentor, but mostly I swam alone, (still do) and thought nothing of it. I canít count the number of times I swam to the Tower at La Jolla Shores (2 mi.) or the Scripps Pier (3 mi.) by myself. I successfully swam across the English Channel in 1994 after failing in 1992 (more on that later). My crossing took 10 hours, 50 minutes with a water temperature of 59įF. I still do an open water race now and then, nothing too far, just 3 to 5 miles. Iím married with 3 kids. Priorities change.
Loving the ocean doesn't change. I look at the Cove on a calm day and think, ďOh, how peaceful and beautiful.Ē On a day when itís windy and wild with whitecaps I think, ďFUN!Ē Itís all good.
January 10, 2009 was a Saturday like many others. I set out for the Cove to swim with my friend, Rick Knepper. What a gorgeous day! Once I get there, I breathe a deep sigh at the majesty before me. It is a calm day. The sun is just slightly up so the sunlight streams over the red-tiled roofs at the Marine Room and the palm trees along La Jolla Shores, but, because of the angle of the sun this time of year, the hills behind La Jolla Shores are still shadowed. No clouds. No fog. Another epic day.
At the Cove there is the usual gathering of ďSaturday Ė 7:30Ē swimmers. I hook up with Rick and we get ready - just a bathing suit, goggles and two caps for me. We set out well after the crowd because it takes me soooo long to get in the water! Not unusual. I just get wet an inch at a time. Once itís up to my waist Iím in and we go. The water feels cold, but no colder than any other January day. I figure 55į or 56į F. Itís about 7:45 am when we start.
As we head to the Tower at the Shores, I feel okay. About ĺ of the way over I notice my feet are starting to hurt and they arenít doing anything. ďKick feet, kick,Ē I tell myself. I kick a little harder, but realize that the pain is not going away. I know myself and in the thousands of swims Iíve done in these waters, my feet donít usually hurt until after Iíve left the water. We get to within 100 yards of touching down at the Tower and I stop and tell Rick, ďI need to turn back now! Iím cold!Ē Iíve been cold before, itís not unusual. He says ďOkayĒ and mentions that we were slow coming over and that we did a big ďbanana arcĒ. Iím usually the compass and hold a good line Ė so I like to think. Not this day. Weíve now swum about a mile and been in the cold water about 25 to 30 minutes.
We turn around and head back. Iím pleased with my training lately. Iím consistent. Itís been a normal week. Monday: 3 mile run. Wednesday: Marine Room swim (1Ĺ miles) Ė I was by myself and felt fabulous. Thursday: weight training. Friday: 5:30 am pool swim with my local masters group (4500 yards). So Iím a little confused, frustrated actually, as to why I canít keep up with Rick today. Also, I start to think, ďWow, the tide must be really high because it feels like a washing machine from the backwash off the cliffs.Ē But, it occurs to me that there really isnít much of a swell, and besides, I love it when itís bumpy, right? Not today! Something is different. Something is wrong.
No sooner do I have the epiphany that itís me and not the ocean that my body shunts! Vasoconstriction, actually. Vasoconstriction is what occurs when our body shuts off blood supply to the extremities to protect the core (heart and internal organs). Oneís blood pressure actually goes up as a result of the ďextraĒ blood flowing in a more restricted area. Itís one of the most primitive self-preservation mechanisms in our bodies. Itís not something you think about. It just happens. So, I shunt. Thereís no feeling in my arms and legs. Everythingís fuzzy and my brain fades quickly. I feel like Iím losing consciousness. I stop. After a few strokes, Rick notices my absence and stops.
Iíve had a comfy feeling of numbness before. Most of us that swim out here in the cold do. This is different. This is a complete cessation of blood flow and itís not stopping at my arms and legs. The rest of me is going too. I recall saying later that I felt my blood pressure drop. Yeah, it was dropping in my brain; my internal blood pressure was likely much higher.
Iíve become disoriented. I feel like am going to sink like a rock. I am in trouble!
I never understood the stories of people sinking and drowning until just now! I know this is how it happens. I know I'm going down and nothing will be able to pull me up.
Although he is 60, Rick is no slouch. An ex-Navy Seal, he swam the Catalina Channel a few years ago and is currently training for a 36 mile swim. However, heís had double knee replacements and I know that rescue-pulling me is not an option. I know that if I pass out I am dead weight and am going down. Iím responsible for my own life.
As soon as Rick stops I yell to him, ďIím NOT okay! Stay with me!Ē Without hesitation he screams at me, ďKEEP SWIMMING!Ē So I put my fuzzy head in the water and keep swimming. I can hear and see Rick beside me yelling for help. It gives me comfort. As I keep swimming face down, my brain gets hazier and I feel as though Iím being forced to go to sleep. Iíve fainted once before, over 20 years ago, (on land,) and I know Iím about to pass out. This time, Iím in the middle of the ocean! The blood has shunted from my arms and legs and I can feel my head is next. My panic (and possibly hyperventilation, as Iíll find out later) only seems to hasten the affects. After taking a few strokes I stop to complain to Rick, even though I know there isnít much he can do. He doesnít even let me begin to protest and screams, ďKEEP SWIMMING!!Ē