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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Toddler Nightmare: Toddler Blown Into Lake Michigan Submerged for 15 Minutes and Lives


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You'd think this wasn't a comedy blog anymore. It is! But no parent can help feeling bad for the grandfather who saw his 2-year-old grandson blown into Lake Michigan and founder underwater until he was pulled out and rushed to a hospital by emergency crews after 15 minutes submerged.

A parent's nightmare. Really. When you first realize that your wife is pregnant along with the joy are the worries of all the things that have gone wrong to others that creep into your thoughts and dreams. A friend saw her three-year-old bounce off the bed, through a screen and out the three story window of her apartment. Fortunately into the bushes below.

"Mom! Can I do that again!"

She still quivers a little when she tells that story behind the laughs as she tells it.  Be careful where you let your toddlers bounce is the moral of that tale.

The moral of this tale is, be very careful when walking a small child along a pier along any body of water if you yourself cannot swim.

When my son was three I took him down to the harbors along the lakeshore.  I let him walk down the piers and look right into the water. He laughed and giggled and had lots of fun. But this story does not make me worry that this was a dangerous thing to do. I was prepared for that activity.

First, it was a calm weather day. No heavy winds.

Second, as a teenager I earned both the Boy Scouts Scout Lifeguard Award, the rough equivalent to the Red Cross Water Safety Instructor except that it also has a rowing requirement, I followed that up with Red Cross Advanced Life Saving and Red Cross CPR in College, then before our son was born, my wife and I got certified in Red Cross Infant and Child CPR at a local hospital.

If my son had fallen into the water I would have been able to pull him out in seconds. Had he stopped breathing, I knew what to do while running to a phone to call 911. Though I had a cell phone with me so that was not needed. But I was prepared. You can be too.

If you live near a large body of water be careful near it. Keep close to kids, near the water if you can't swim.

The grandpa in this case did one thing right. By not jumping in when he did not know how to swim he did not cause a double-drowning. Instead, someone saw him and that gave his grandson the best chance he could get.

Never risk a double drowning, but if you know how, this is the order to do it.




But only go if you know how. If you do, try to bring something that floats, like a ring buoy (life preserver) (they are to be thrown over the shoulders of a victim and drawn back not aimed at the head!) or an inflatable something. 

Don't ever let a panicked swimmer grab you. Especially by the neck.

Let's keep this family in our prayers.

And as the sporting season starts, make sure you have a safety vest for everyone on your boat. Not only is it the law, but it prevents tragedies on very small craft.

They are an absolute must for canoes.

I will never forget the year after earning Scout Lifeguard being on a 30 mile canoe trip with a non-swimmer in the bow of my canoe. We were on the White River, near Whitehall, Michigan, just where it starts to feed into White Lake. About a half hour before we would land at Arf n' Barf.

He was wearing his vest. But he was also painfully thin.

It was a windy day and we actually had waves on this part of the river that were 6 to 8 inches high. Very unusual. Most of the river is only a foot to 3 feet deep. But at this part it opens up to about 12 feet deep. I was in the stern, the back of the canoe that controls or steers where the canoe would go. He wanted to move further back and I told him No!

He stood up in the canoe to move back anyway. Without his paddling we started to turn sideways to the wind and waves. I yelled to him as gently as I could to be careful and stay low so that he would not present himself like a sail to the wind. He stood straight up to hear me better, then lost his balance. Over we went.

The canoe turned upside down. I immediately came to the surface. He was not on my side of the canoe. I dived, wearing my vest this was hard, under the canoe to make sure he was not trapped underneath it then came up on the underside of it. He was not on the other side. But his vest was.

The kid was so thin that he had slid right out of his life vest and gone straight to the bottom of the river which had a mud bottom. I yelled to some of the older kids behind us to come then dove down to the bottom.

I could see him down there, barely, through the muddy water. He was not moving or struggling. Fighting the pull of the vest was one of the hardest things I have ever done, the water was at least 12 feet down and perhaps 15, it took all my strength.

He looked up at me, reached up to me with his hand, I grabbed it and pulled him into a cross-chest carry with control and the vest rocketed us up to the surface. At the top he exploded out the breath he had been holding.

When I shouted at him why hadn't he tried to come up to the surface he shrugged and said. "I was waiting for you. I knew you'd come get me." Nice. Very nice. By this time a couple of the other canoes got there and I had lashed the kid back into his vest and pushed him into one of the other canoes. We then did a maneuver called canoe over canoe rescue.

To do this you need a second canoe. While the overturned canoe is still upside-down you push one end down so that the other end comes up over the middle of the other canoe. Then you push the over turned canoe up until it is balanced on the middle of the other canoe upside down. Then when it is balanced in the middle, you can turn the canoe over out of the water and slide it back into the water floating. Then the person(s) in the other canoe can hold both canoes together by the thwarts, sides, to make it easier for the people in the water to get back in.

This was in some ways the most panicked of all, I wanted us to get back in the canoe before our Scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster came around the bend and saw what had happened. I did not want them to know that I had dumped a 10-year old non-swimmer to the bottom of While Lake and almost drowned him. The current had been moving fast. If I had missed him on that first attempt, I don't know if I could have found him on a second try. It was terrifying.

I also did not know if I had the strength for a second or third try given the depth and the strength it took to fight the life vest and my own considerable natural buoyancy. The senior scouts with me and the kid looked at each other in shock.

"Pete", one said, "You almost really screwed that one up."

"Yeah," said another, "But you didn't."

"Hey," I said, "What Willy doesn't know," our Scoutmaster, "won't cause him any lost sleep or tears."

"Right." They all agreed.

"You!" The biggest of the lot said to the kid. "Keep your mouth shut about this and your butt in the bottom of the canoe."

I used what we called Willy-rope, rope our Scoutmaster used to get from tossed-out rope from his employer to tie the vest onto the kid and sat him down while we were still together. I was tempted to tie him to the canoe, but that was unsafe. We moved close to the North bank of the river, the Arf N' Barf side, and moved together as a group the last mile or so to our landing place well ahead still of the last of the 30 canoes with Willy in it.

I don't know if he ever learned that story.

Ten years later I was at my one of my sister's weddings and the kid's sister came up to me.

"Hi Peter," she said in a manner that was a lot friendlier than I would have expected given our lack of time spent together. She was my sisters' friend after all. I said Hi. She looked around. Noticed that we were sort of alone, then she grabbed me and kissed me. Hard.

"Wow! What was that for? I mean, thanks."

"You'll know what that was for if you think a little.:


"Done any canoeing lately? Say on the White River at Owasippe?" Then the penny dropped. I knew that she knew. "Thanks. I really have liked having my brother around for the last 10 years. You know he only told me that story recently so its still a little shocking. I don't know what I would have done..."

That's more than you need to know. It made me feel good that someone knew and remembered what had happened. Not my stupidity in letting the situation get that far, though I had done all the warning I could have. But I was even gladder to hear how well he had done since then. That was the best news of all.

Switching back to the news story. This toddler has a possible future just like the kid in my story. It may be that he goes on to a great life. I sure hope so. But all those involved in his rescue deserve kudos for the attempt, from the stranger who stopped and called it in, to each hospital worker. Each life touches so many others. Each one we save, touches thousands more.

And I did not act alone. I was in the position to go to the bottom. But I had the support of the other canoes that rushed to my side. They just didn't help me hide it from Willy. That really wasn't important in the long run. They helped me get the kid out of the water fast. And back into a safe canoe, in a life vest.

When you go out in the water this summer, make sure you wear a properly fitting life vest.

For more on the toddler story on CNN click here

To see maps of the area of the canoe trip around the White River and the Owasippe Scout Reservation click here or at the Help Save the Owasippe Scout Reservation link at the top of my Sidebar. You will have to navigate to the maps of Owasippe. 

Note: The White River trips started at Canoe Central near the Administration Center and Horse Corral and Ended in Whitehall at Dog 'n Suds which had great food. After almost two weeks of camp food it was like heaven on earth despite our nickname for it.

Peter, Chief Editor and Spelling Wrecker
The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Jokes, Satire, Commentary and Videos

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Blogger Reinhard said...

Four things on your White river rescue.
1. An incredible job well done.
2. Whoever planed that trip from canoe central to Whitehall was an idiot.
3. Who ever put a non-simmer in a canoe is an idiot.
4. The White River does not start at canoe central. In fact Canoe central is on Cleveland Creek.

Old Owasippe Camper

4/22/2008 5:32 AM  
Blogger The Peter Files Blog of Comedy said...

First, thanks for commenting. It lets me know that someone out here is really reading this blog. A hit count, no matter how high it gets, is not a measure of reading or satisfaction.

I'll take your comments in reverse order.

4. True. I had forgotten that the trips started on Cleveland Creek, or did they? Perhaps not. Perhaps just some of the many trips I took did. I went there as a camper from 70-75 so its hard to tell.

They all started at Canoe Central and then we were taken up to the start of our trip wherever it happened to be which was almost always upriver of Ad Center and Canoe Central. I never thought about the fact that we did not pass Canoe Central on the way.

3. That was a joint decision made after a lot of thought and based on my near perfect record of not having overturned a canoe one one of these trips unintentionally (that is while gear was in it). The only time I did, the leader was the one who put us in the position where we were overturned.

That trip may have been the year I was actually on OSR staff and had rearranged my time off to go on the trip with my troop while they were in camp.

Ultimately, though, it was the Scoutmaster's decision, who had more than 30 years in the saddle as it were and was about as good a judge of character and talent as I ever met in scouting. If I had not also had the Scout Lifeguard certification it would not have happened.

2. The trip itself was an annual trip. The troop did it the same way from when it was formed in 1968 through when it eventually ran out of Leaders in the 1980's. This was the first year that a non-swimmer went along and while I may not have told the story, I may have recommended that he not do that again in the future.

In all of the years I had been on that trip we had never seen that kind of weather on the part of the White River past what you would recognize as the Indian Burial Grounds. I am sure it was called that when you were around.

1. In the end, I responded to the training provided by Scott Weber (the Kickin' Chicken) and his aquatics staff at (Super) Camp Stuart one of the originals Section Camps that at that time were part of the Owasippe Scout Reservation which is still one of the finest camping places in the United States available to Boy Scout Troops and Explorer Units (and other groups). It now also has a high adventure program.

The Scout Lifeguard training program when properly executed gave me the skills I needed to perform that rescue without thinking about it. It also taught me NOT to take off my life jacket while doing the rescue since it was already on. Had I been onshore I might have started the rescue without one, but once it was on, I was not going to cavalierly take it off without sincere attempts to pull him up with it on. In part because, as I mentioned in the writing, once I had him we rocketed to the surface once I had him. Without the jacket I could have been caught in mud or reeds below.

But thanks.

It helped I suppose that the year I earned the award/certification an idiot from my troop put us through hell by forgetting to check out of the swimmers area. This caused a reservation-wide emergency alert involving several hundred staff members (at that time Owasippe had something like 9 section camps across its 50,000 acres. I forget if that includes the Lone Troop Camp.

At any rate, the Scout Lifeguard trainees were in on the diving line for the missing swimmer who we quickly found out was from my troop, so we wound up in the line that walked into the lake, dived to the bottom, moved back a little, dived again and so on.

At first, of course, you are looking for someone who can be brought back to life, but as you get into deeper and deeper water and the clock gets to the 25 minute mark, you know you are just looking for the body. A very scary thing when you know it is your friend's body and you are 15. I use the term friend a little loosely - he was a bit of an idiot, so I was not his best buddy in the whole wide world.

My friend Mark, who was diving next to me was. He had gone through the training in the same summer.

The divers arrived with motor boats and grappling hooks about the time that I started to run out of steam and could no longer reach the bottom. I think we must have been trying to go about 15 feet down, it was well outside the swimmers area and I may even have been rowed back in. Not sure. The mind is vague.

I wrote a poem about the whole incident that was published in college and a couple of other places - I may reprint it here.

At any rate, I got back to my campsite Stuart, Site 13, on the Lake Side of the Fire Bowl at the bottom of the big hill, just about the time about 20 angry staffers showed up with my troop mate in a stake truck.

You can imagine how relieved and angry I was at the same time.

However, that experience, prepared me well for the one the following summer. Or was it the one after?
I know I only went up for one week in 75 so this must have been 74. It took two weeks to do Scout Lifeguard.

That was an interesting two-week period. The same week, while we were doing our lifeguard practice time I was on the end of the pier and my friend Mark was on the raft at the end of the swimmers area when a fire spread from an ironing board from one of the private cabins on the lake to their home sized propane tank causing a huge explosion - one large enough to knock Mark down on the raft.

But thanks for the props.

Ironically, the year I went for it one of the assistant Scoutmasters screamed at me because he thought I was an idiot for going for scout Lifeguard when it was not required for Eagle. A waste of time.

But in the situation I wound up in, Lifesaving merit badge would not have been enough. I needed to know everything I did that afternoon and that made the difference.

That's why we need to keep places like Owasippe around. The Chicago Area Council wants to Sell Owasippe. But readers of this blog can find out how to preserve this valuable natural resource with dozens of protected plant and animal species on it by clicking on the "Save the Owasippe Scout Reservation Link" near the top of the sidebar.

Oh, Reinhard. Is your first name Bob? Do I know you from Owasippe? I Worked at Wolverine South in 76 and Robert Crown in 82?

You can write me at Thepeterfilesblog at gmail dot com

4/22/2008 9:00 PM  
Blogger The Peter Files Blog of Comedy said...

By the way, comments are always welcome at this blog. For those who want more information you can also use the blue search box to search my blog for "Owasippe" - its in the sidebar. It will also let you search google, and ebay.

The other Owasippe article will lead you to the Owasippe Staff Association Website and the Chicago Area Council Boy Scouts of America web site too.

Oh, and don't bother ranting about the membership restrictions. Preaching to the choir here.

4/22/2008 9:04 PM  
Blogger The Peter Files Blog of Comedy said...

Oh, the "Idiot" in question more than earned the Silver Beaver award he got many years ago.

He was responsible for encouraging many young people to go farther than they believed they could including myself.

He believed that anything was possible if you just tried and seemed to never lack patience to let people try. I just remember now that the reason he let the non-swimmer go was that the person in question was having motivation problems in wanting to learn how to swim. So he was allowed to go on this trip only and never again would be allowed to go until he became a swimmer.

Interestingly, this experience motivated the heck out of him to want to learn to swim! Imagine that! In two days on getting back to camp he moved from non-swimmer to beginner. I assume he made swimmer in time for the short canoe trip the next year.

As for the scoutmaster, his encouragement of my singing at campfires eventually lead me to involvement in more than 40 stage productions including starring roles in Equity Productions of Annie (Warbucks) and Company (Larry).

At his funeral I sang his favorite song, one he asked me to sing at almost every campfire from the time I was 11 once he learned I knew it. "The Impossible Dream". A song that says that we all should strive to dream impossible dreams. I think he had me sing it for more than just the encouragement it gave me. I think he was trying to send a message to everyone in my troop. Don't you?

4/22/2008 9:13 PM  

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