Here in a beach town we’ve always been acutely aware of the dangers of drowning and the potential effect on the local economy, but few of us stop to think about the global implications.
According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. There are an estimated 372,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide, but they admit that this number may be grossly underreported.
In the U.S., 45% of drowning deaths are among the most economically active segment of the population. Coastal drowning in the United States alone accounts for 273 million each year in direct and indirect costs.
For years we’ve been using different terminology to describe drowning events. Here in our part of the planet we’ve traditionally used the term “drowning” to mean death. “Near drowning” was an event where someone was submerged but survived. “Secondary drowning” meant they survived, but died later. Then there were “wet” and “dry” drownings which referred to whether or not the lungs were full of water or relatively empty upon recovery of the body. Other places used different terminology to describe the same things.
To try to standardize this and help coordinate research the W.H.O. put out a new definition of drowning a few years back. Now the official definition is that “drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid”. They also classified the outcomes as “death, morbidity and no morbidity”. So some type of liquid blocks your ability to breath and you either die or survive. If you die immediately your condition is defined as a “death by drowning” or a “drowning death”.
If someone is struggling in the water at 47th and Seawall and they go under water for a few seconds or minutes but are saved by a lifeguard and brought to shore and lives to tell about it the event is described as “non-fatal drowning with no morbidity”, meaning that they drowned but survived.
It gets a little harder to understand if someone was rescued who’d been under water and was brought to shore, but refused any kind of medical treatment and left the scene with salt water in their lungs. Let’s say that 5 hours later this person is laying on the couch watching TV and the salt water in their lungs causes fluid from the body to pass through the lung tissue and enter the lungs, filling them to the point that they couldn’t pass air and the person dies. Previously, this was called a “secondary drowning”, but now it’s a “non-fatal drowning with morbidity”.
It’s been a few years but even health care workers are still using the old terms. Eventually we’ll get them, but the care and treatment are the same. No matter the name, this possibility affects our local economy, public safety services, and collective psyche the same.
We work together as a network in our community to try and prevent this potential tragedy from happening to our locals and tourists alike for the good of the community and because it’s the right thing.