Saturday, August 14, 2010
Some Things are Providential
I never go to water parks with my students, and I certainly never don a swimming suit and get into the water with them. It's undignified.
However, knowing that it was going to be 104 degrees on Friday, and not being able to effectively come up with an excuse not to go to the Student Council back-to-school party, I had decided to wear a suit with long shorts over it and a tank top to protect my lily white shoulders. If I needed to drive students down and supervise them the entire day, I was determined not to die of sunstroke within sight of the water.
"I'll sit in the water up to my eyeballs and poke my nose out like a hippo" was the phrase I used.
However, it turned out to be very providential that our school had decided to go to that park, and that I had decided to get in the water, and even that I chose to bounce buoyant in the wave pool instead of tumble twisting down the water slide again.
Here's my official report of what happened yesterday, August 13, 2010:
Realizing that details become clouded in ones memory over the passage of time, I feel like I need to write a thorough report about an incident that happened yesterday at the Comanche Nation Water Park in Lawton, Oklahoma, where I was present in the role of supervising teacher for a back-to-school party.
After lunch, I was standing in the wave pool, in fairly shallow water. Quite a few of our students were in the water, enjoying each others' company and bouncing on the waves. There were two life guards posted, one on either side of the pool in elevated chairs overlooking the water: a girl was on my side and a guy on the other.
Presently, the waves stopped and the waters calmed. Many of the students began to make their way out of the pool and back to other attractions. I waded into deeper water so I could swim a little. Suddenly, ahead of me and to my right, I caught sight of a little girl, floating on her back. Assuming she was a child I had seen in this pool earlier, I thought little of it, but I had a strange impression and looked again. She seemed to be floating too deep in the water to be comfortable. A splash of water over her face didn’t bring any reaction that I could see. Alarmed, I looked for a parent or grandparent in the vicinity. There was a lady standing in the water nearby so I addressed her.
“Hey, is she alright?”
She glanced toward the child and I did too. Now the little girl was floating on her stomach with her head in the water.
“She’s fine,” she said quickly, “She’s just playing.”
“She doesn’t look right to me,” I countered and began wading toward the child. The water was shallow enough for my feet to be solidly on the bottom of the pool, but deep enough to make movement slow.
The lady was brusque: “She’s fine. She does this all the time. Just a minute ago she was floating on her back.”
Still, I didn’t feel good about the child. There was no movement of head or torso that I could see and the limbs were hanging limply. I kept moving toward her.
“I don’t think so.”
“She’s ok,” continued the woman adamantly, “she grew up on the ocean.” However, she did begin to wade toward me as I waded toward the child.
“I don’t think so.” I repeated, as I reached the child and stared at her.
“Go ahead, then. Turn her over,” said the lady, with just a bit of hesitancy in her voice. What we were both noticing was how long the child had been in the same position.
I grabbed her and pulled up. She didn’t move at all, just hung--a dead weight. I turned her over. Her eyes were closed and her face was completely blue, especially around the mouth. There was a frothy spume coming from her parted lips and some of this was smeared on her face as well. She made no reaction whatsoever and her little body seemed very heavy.
I think I said something obvious like, "She's not. She's not alright."
The woman reacted quickly, wading over and taking the child and heading for the edge of the pool. I don’t remember much about everything around us…just a terrible feeling of grief and shock. We yelled for the lifeguard who jumped off his chair and met us at the edge of the pool. Someone began to blow a whistle and everyone started wading out of the pools. I remember looking back and seeing a man running with the child toward the first aid pagoda in the middle of the park. Some of my students, wading near me as we exited the pool asked me what happened. I remember saying:
“Don’t look. She’s dead. Someone is dead.”
And when another student asked me why we were all getting out of the pool, I said
“A little girl just drowned.”
At that point I didn’t even consider that she might be revived. I did not go rushing forward to see if there was anything I could do. I just stood and shivered in the 100 degree sunshine. People were rushing into the pagoda. I stood there. It seemed like a long time.
Suddenly, at the edge of my cloudiness, a familiar face came into focus. It was the face of our health teacher, Mr. Smith. He was talking to the students huddled around and saying the welcome words: "She's ok. She’s crying.”
“She’s breathing?” I asked, still doubting. “I could not imagine that anyone who had looked like the child had looked when I pulled her out of the water could possibly breathe again.”
“Yes. They had her on the table, waiting for someone to arrive. I just gave a couple of thumps on the back and she started coughing. They're in there now with oxygen.”
Feeling weak, I grabbed my shirt, put it on over my swimming suit and shorts, and walked over to sit in the shade of a nearby tree. I remember noticing four lifeguards standing in a little clump, their eyes fixed on the pagoda. Two of them were crying openly—the girl and the guy who had been on duty at the wave pool.
A fellow teacher asked me if I had seen anything. I told them I was the one who found her in the water. “They are looking for you over there,” she said. “They want you to tell them what happened.”
We walked over. A lady was sitting in a chair with the little girl on her lap,speaking gently to the child and trying to keep her from going to sleep. The child was wearing an oxygen mask and occasionally opened her eyes. Her legs were trembling and still looked a little grayish. I could see her belly, which seemed swollen, but it might have been because she was scrunched into the lady’s arms.
Someone in a uniform asked me if I would stay and fill out an incident report. The woman I had spoken with in the pool, who was being addressed as the child’s “caregiver”, stood there crying, and another woman, the little girl’s mother, they told me, was filling out papers. She turned, crying, and told me thank you. There were several men standing around. I don’t know if they were employees or family members. As I waited to fill out the report I heard someone say: “She was found in the kiddie pool, floating, face down.” Then I heard the caregiver say that the child had run from the kiddie pool over to the big pool, and that she had been looking everywhere for her. I turned to the park official, the one holding the incident reports and said: that’s not how it happened. She was in the wave pool. They both were.
“Write it down,” she said quietly, and handed me a pencil and clipboard. As I was writing, trying to cram as much as I could into the small space on the form, the ambulance arrived and two men came into the pagoda and began asking questions. One man asked if the child had ever stopped breathing. Someone else answered, “No. she was breathing fine when we found her.”
I spoke aloud: “No. She was not breathing when we pulled her out of the pool. In fact she didn’t start breathing until Mr. Smith thumped her back.”
Someone then told the questioner: “a man just tapped her back lightly. She started coughing and crying.”
I wrote all I could fit into the space. Meanwhile, someone told the mother that the child would have to go to the hospital because although her oxygen saturation level looked good, she had taken in quite a bit of water. I turned in my report, and watched the ambulance pull out of the parking lot.
A large group of our students were standing in a circle, holding hands and praying for the child, the mother, and the ambulance crew. I walked over and joined them. We looked up to see a subdued park around us. Then people began making their way back into the lazy river and up the water slide staircase. Life was back to normal.
After a few more minutes of observing this burst of oddly ordinary activity, we teachers began to collect our students and call it a day.
When I got home I noticed that my shirt was on wrong-side out.
I’m glad our school was at the water park yesterday.
Some things are providential.
P.S. Since then I’ve asked myself a lot of questions. What if the child had already released too much oxygen from her lungs and sunk to the bottom of the pool? What if the waves had lasted another five minutes? What if the life guards are never told the true story and spend the rest of their lives wondering why they didn’t notice a five-year-old child, all alone, entering the wave pool? Why was the caregiver lying about where she was when it all happened? Who would have taken a five year old into a wave pool anyway? The waves at that end of the pool were strong enough to knock me down. Why wasn’t someone holding her? Anyway, I don’t know any names, or if this report will ever be needed, but I wanted to record what happened.