What I Learned Trying to Save Someone’s Life

Few things require less effort than sitting in a tube, lazily floating down a river. Beer in hand, neon sunglasses on, a smooth coat of Bronzer SPF -30 applied evenly to the skin (negative SPF actually amplifies the sun’s harmful rays), and not a care in the world.

To be clear, the southeast Texas body of water I was floating down would have been better described as a moving mass of watery dirt. Though on this particular day, the water looked clearer than normal — visibility was a solid two inches (compared to the usual one and a half). My toes dangled off the edge of my black rubber tube as I lapped up the sun’s rays.

The Brazos river is pretty damn calm. Think of it as a long, winding toilet bowl that never actually flushes. Along the length of this toilet bowl are a few dropoffs— two to three foot precipices, which you can either brave on your tube or bypass via a side walkway.

It was pretty entertaining to loiter at the base of these dropoffs and see passing, hapless morons eat shit simply because they weren’t paying attention. And this, my friends, is where we find our protagonist, a freshly minted college graduate, on this hot June day.

To be clear, I had just gone of off the edge of one of these dropoffs and been the one eating shit. I was in the midst of trying to suppress a freak out because my car keys had fallen into the water and were nowhere to be found. Furiously feeling around in the water for any hint of metal and plastic, I looked up and noticed that an older gentleman, fully clothed and wearing a sombrero was about to take the same plunge as I did.

I paused and watched, waiting for the imminent head over heels plunge to occur. 3…2… 1… aaaaand there he goes. I put my momentary freak out on hold to chuckle at this fellow’s bad luck. However, unlike me, he didn’t immediately surface. And then a couple moments later I saw a pair of hands emerge above the water, writhing around in desperation.

Immediately, my “OH F*CK” reflex kicked in. It was pretty clear that this sombrero-clad vaquero was drowning. In the process of capsizing in his tube, he had been sucked into a small vortex formed by the mini-waterfall. Combined with the fact that he had no idea how to swim, his life appeared to be in imminent danger.

My primal man instincts took the helm of my brain, and I jumped in the water and swam towards him. I had never performed any sort of water rescue before, nor had I been trained in it. My plan of attack was to swim towards him and, using my brute strength, pull him to safety.

Time seemed to stand still as I applied forceful strokes to the water, quickly approaching the man in need. In my mind, I pictured a smooth, seamless water rescue. He would comply with my rescue attempts and gracefully hold onto me as I dragged him away from danger. Zero to hero— boom. I’d be hailed as a champion. What happened was quite the opposite.

Apparently, when people are drowning, they will grab onto anything that can help them re-surface to get air. It’s a survival instinct, one that doesn’t utilize the pathways of logic. In standard lifeguard training, they teach that the first method of rescue should always be to throw a floating object or use some sort of long implement to pull the person to safety. Then, if that fails, go in the water and grab them from behind. I, however, did NOT know this.

When I got within three feet, I reached out to get a hold of the drowning victim. Instead, el vaquero grabbed my head and shoulders and thrust me under the water. The whole time he continued to flail furiously as he gasped for air. I tried to overcome his applied pressure, but the adrenaline that was flowing through his system provided him with a level of strength that was far superior to mine. In a matter of seconds, the situation had done a 180.

All of the sudden, I was the one experiencing the helpless feeling of drowning. It was terrifying. I couldn’t get him off me, and my internal oxygen supply was quickly being depleted. My mind went blank, and I honestly couldn’t even fully comprehend what was happening.

Strangely enough, the only thought that crossed my mind was “Dammit, I can’t believe I lost my keys.”

An eternity of uncertainty passed.

Then, out of nowhere, I felt the weight of his thrashing body removed, and I emerged back to the surface to take a glorious breath of air. Another good Samaritan (per standard lifeguard protocol) had grabbed el vaquero from behind and wrestled him off me. With our combined efforts, the two of us were able to drag the older gentleman over to the shallow part of the river.

The drowning victim looked dazed and distraught, and I asked if he was alright. He didn’t say a word (I don’t think he spoke English?)… just wandered off to a group of people who looked to be his family.

I walked back over to my inner tube, the dark realization of my keys being lost setting in once again. I flipped the tube over, preparing to solemnly navigate the final portion of the river when something caught my eye. It was a glint of sunshine reflecting off metal. Somehow, my keys had maintained their hold on the tube’s netting! I thanked the gods of karma and made a mental note to never swim directly in front of a person who was drowning again.

Title Photo Credit: flickr