That Time When OBB Got Super Serious…

This is the first in a series of posts about water safety. To read the post I wrote 1 1/2 years after the accident, click here. To learn more about water safety, check out this post.

I’ve literally spent the last few days agonizing about whether or not I should write this post for a number of reasons. I don’t want to make things weird between us. I feel like I’ve told this story over and over again and it feels weird to tell it again. I feel like I’m opening up a huge facet of my private life by sharing this story. I want to share information but not sound like an encyclopedia, and I want to make things personal but not have it sound like a bad Lifetime movie. So bear with me here.

I’ve gotta warn you guys that I can totally see how this can be a hard story to read, and that it might get under your skin. And I totally understand if you want to stop reading. But. I think what I have to share is important. I promise, because it’s something so intensely personal, I wouldn’t be sharing it if I didn’t think that it was important. I feel like if what I have to say can prevent even one accident like we had, it will be worth it.

I also ask that if you have something potentially unkind to say, to think really, really hard before you post it (and I subsequently delete it–just warning you now). I promise, there is nothing you can say to a parent in this situation that they haven’t already said to themselves.

Ready? Whew.

So as you guys know, Sara and I have been traveling a lot lately (and we just came back from our last trip! Woo-hoo!) We generally try to leave as late in the week as possible and come back on Sunday so we can be away from our families as little as possible, but it still takes its toll on everyone.

Last weekend, our event was in Salt Lake City and Sara had been planning on bringing her whole family. Through a series of kind of crazy and unusual circumstances (unexpected days off school, obscenely cheap airfare, unused frequent flier miles, a trip my dad and husband planned on taking together), we decided to bring our whole family as well. Sara’s and my kids completely adore each other and it was a chance for all of us to hang out for a few extra days and take a little mini vacation.

The night we got in, I was getting the kids ready for bed when Sara invited us to go swimming with them. I hadn’t brought my swimsuit and I didn’t really want to bring the baby in the water, but our kids were dying to see each other and hey, we were on a vacation. My kids have had a few summers’ worth of swimming lessons and can swim the length of the pool, so I wasn’t worried about playing around in the shallow end.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to water, bad things can happen quickly, and, unlike you see in TV and movies, those things are quiet. Here’s a fabulous article that talks about what drowning actually looks like and it’s something everyone should read and pass around to anyone who spends any time around water.

In our case, my oldest son was bouncing in an area where he could easily reach. And he did what anyone who’s spent a reasonable amount of time in a swimming pool has done–he landed where the pool started to slope. And it caught him off guard, and all it took was a gulp of water instead of air.

One of the reasons why I wanted to post this sooner rather than later was because KSL News in Salt Lake City did a story (you can read the whole thing here) on the teenage boy who pulled my son out of the water and I wanted to include it before the story and video are unavailable, largely because it spares me from personally having to share the harder details.

We’re not exactly sure how long he was underwater, but by piecing all the stories together and the fact that we were right there, it could have been anywhere from 1-3 minutes, but however long it was long enough to stop his heart and turn his skin blue. We really, truly could have lost him (and I thought we had).

After Greg pulled Clark out of the water, Sara’s husband gave him CPR and was able to revive him. He was rushed in an ambulance to Primary Children’s Medical Center where he spent a few hours in the ER and then was admitted to the PICU because he was having a hard time staying awake and his breathing was labored. Aside from the fact that hearing “ICU” is totally terrifying, it was really awful because I couldn’t stay with him (my husband did) because I had a nursing baby who wasnt allowed and there was no way for anyone else to feed him.

So I headed back to an empty hotel room quite literally in the middle of the night. And to say it sucked is the understatement of the century.

The next morning, he was much better and I was able to leave the baby with my husband and spend the morning with Clark in the ICU. They kept him long enough to get out of the danger zone and he left the hospital the day after the accident super tired with a cough, no appetite, and some antibiotics, but was otherwise completely fine (read: no brain damage).

In terms of facts and figures, I strongly encourage everyone to read the article I talked about earlier (and here it is again so you don’t have to go hunting for it). But I want to share, as a mom, some things to think about.

Kids aren’t as mature as we think they are. I think it’s easy to forget that bigger kids (like in the 6-10 range) are still pretty little kids, especially when you have younger kids in the mix. You’re used to relying on them to be mature and responsible, but in reality, they’re not as mature and responsible as we sometimes give them credit for. Additionally, Clark is my super-cautious rule-following kid; if I had to peg someone for a serious accident, it would have been my daughter.

Swim lessons (or floaties, or noodles, or life vests, or anything inflatable, or the presence of a lifeguard) are not a substitute for close supervision. I was there, keeping an eye on things, checking the pool, but I had a baby in my arms and friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and it had been a long day. Things literally happen in seconds and in the time it takes to run to the bathroom, have a serious phone conversation, deal with a fussy baby, listen to a child’s story, watch another kid jump off a diving board, or answer a text, it could be too late.

Supervision is not a substitute for excellent swimming skills. Like I said earlier, my kids have taken swimming lessons and Clark especially is a good little swimmer, but I think sometimes we forget that they don’t have the life experience necessary to not freak out if something catches them off guard. We’ve talked about the accident with him and told him he doesn’t need to get back in the pool tomorrow, or next week, or next month, but he does eventually need to continue with swim lessons and feeling comfortable in the pool.

Everyone should learn CPR. I don’t know what we would have done if Sara’s husband hadn’t been there that night. If I was hiring a babysitter and one of them was CPR-certified and the other one wasn’t, I’d most likely hire the CPR-certified babysitter, and yet I’ve been a mom for nearly 8 years and I haven’t had more than a brief overview of CPR a time or two as a teenager. I’m signing up for a CPR certification course ASAP so I never find myself in a situation where I couldn’t help someone who needed CPR. You can register for Red Cross classes here and even in my tiny community, there are a gazillion options available.

Don’t swim when you’re tired. My kids had been up late the night before in anticipation for our trip, then we’d been flying all day. It was an hour later for them than what the clock said and they were up way past their bedtime. Bad idea.

Don’t swim alone. That’s more for adults and teenagers, but even good, experienced swimmers can underestimate how close they are to a pool wall and hit their head or experience any number of other little accidents that normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but when you’re dealing with water, they become a big deal.

We all think it’s not going to happen to us. It’s so hard to strike a balance between being neurotic and thinking things aren’t going to happen to us; neither one is a good thing. Car accidents happen to bad drivers and water accidents happen to neglectful parents. Except that they don’t…they can happen to anyone. This accident has been a wake-up call for safety in all areas of my life, not to a point where I’m crazy, but it’s just reminded me that there are easy things I can do to make things safer: Water safety, locking doors, unplugging appliances, using car seats and boosters properly, not running the dryer when I’m not at home or while we’re sleeping, making sure our fire and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly, and ignoring the fact that my text alert has beeped 6 times in 2 minutes while I’m driving. You don’t have to live in fear, but a little caution goes a long way.

Thankfully, within 48 hours, he was nearly his old little self. Here’s a picture of Clark (the one with Perry the Platypus) and Sara’s little boy Tyler two nights after it happened.

and all the OBB kiddos (minus Baby Will)…

As for us, we’re doing fine. Clark had a little freak-out the night he was discharged from the hospital, but he seems to be handling it really well. Generally, I’m good, although I’ve been busy. Sometimes in a quiet moment, those scary images and “what if” thoughts creep into my head, and sometimes they completely blindside me when I’m out and about and they kind of take my breath away. I’m just so very grateful to all the people who happened to be there that night–Eric (Sara’s husband), Greg (the awesome teenager), Nate (who helped Eric), Sara (who kept me from completely and totally losing it and who drove me to and from the hospital a few times in the middle of the night), the nice ladies who held Will, the paramedics, ER staff, and Jen the ICU nurse who Clark is completely enamored with.

For those of you little detectives that figured out what happened after I posted last week and have sent such sweet comments, emails, thoughts, and prayers, I appreciate them so much. Thank you guys from the bottom of my heart for being such fabulous, supportive blog readers.Thank you for sticking with me through such a heavy blog post! I hope sharing our experiences will help keep your families and loved ones safe!

564 comments

  1. I had a drowning incident as a child in my own backyard pool. Although I was a decent swimmer, a friend of my parents threw me into the pool while I was wrapped in my towel. All the other adults were distracted and no one noticed me. With moments to spare I was able to get out of the towel.

    Rest assured I got over my fear of the pool after that. Your story is a great reminder of how fast things can happy. thank you for your bravery to share your story.

  2. How awful when mom nightmares come true. My only child, a nearly 2 year old, burned his hand this week on the lawnmower and it totally freaked me out. I like what you said about striking the balance between being neurotic and saying it couldn’t happen to me. We would be such happier moms if we could find that balance!

  3. So glad that everything is ok. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for all of you. Thank you for sharing…it may save a life!

  4. So glad to see that your little boy is okay. What a frightening experience! Your tips at the end are definitely good reminders for all of us parents.

  5. Kate, I can’t even imagine the horror you have been feeling! Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us to be more cautious–even now that my children are almost grown and they have to walk out of my house and make their own choices, I still worry! We can’t protect our children 100% of the time, but we can teach them and pray for them!

  6. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. What a blessing that your Clark is OK and that everything worked out well. Trials are there to refine us, but it stinks anyway, huh? Good luck and God bless.

  7. I’m so sorry you had to go through that but so very grateful all is well! I’ve had a close call myself (different circumstances) and it makes a person realize how many things could happen and how even a few seconds can matter. Thanks for your tips – hug those kids extra close and thanks for being brave enough to share and help others.

  8. All I can say is prayers and blessings for all of you. I think I understand why you had to write this post… you and Sara are public figures and share many parts of your life… and this was a major incident and to not share it would have been less than authentic. So, thank you for your courage in opening yourself up.
    You remind me of Proverbs 31: Strength and dignity are her clothing.

    Blessings, Catherine

    Rev. Catherine MacDonald
    United Memorial Church
    United Church of Canada
    Halifax, NS
    Canada

    1. Another vote for Catherine’s comment! It is hard to talk about something really difficult, but the upside to something terrifying like this happening is that the rest of us can be a little be sober for a moment and become more watchful. Thank you for sharing, and phew! I was scared for a minute–so glad Clark is okay.

  9. That is so, so scary. You’re right; it can happen in a moment. Even when I don’t have any distractions, I still find myself not paying close attention to my kiddos while they’re swimming, but I will now. Thank you for sharing your story.

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