Today is Memorial Day. For our family it marks 4 years since my son Ryder’s near drowning accident. I enter this day with humble reverence. I don’t miss for a moment how lucky we are that we tell this version of the story. To be honest there is no holiday spirit in me, there is a nagging need for reflection and deep thanks, a desire to honor that day and its events, praise my son for how strong and brave he was and make sure everyone I know stays SAFE in the pool.
This experience I want to tell you about is by far the scariest day of my life as a Mom. I think we do so much as parents to bring our children into this life and love and care for them in every moment, the last thing that any of us want to do is face the thought of losing them. This day however, was the day in my life that I experienced first hand the thought of losing my son and how thin the veil between life and death is. The memory of this event will always remind me that it is way too easy to take for granted our children’s lives.
Leading up to the accident
My kids and I were attending a crowded busy Memorial Day pool party at our swim club. Both my kids, my daughter age 8 at the time and my son age 7, were strong, confident swimmers and had spent an average of 3 days a week swimming at this pool since they could remember. This pool was familiar and a second home to them.
It was the end of a busy 4 day weekend. It was also the first weekend of the year that the lifeguards were on duty so my kids were besides themself with excitement that the diving board in the deep end of the pool (12 feet deep) was going to be open.
Even though it was a long holiday weekend and weather that begged for swimming I had intentionally stayed away from the club all weekend. I had even intentionally gone late in the afternoon to the pool party to avoid the crowds. It was just after 5:30pm on Memorial Day. I had just glanced at my watch and was thinking about packing up and heading home soon. My kids and I had been at the pool nearing 2 hours and that was about as long as we usually stayed. The entire time my kids had been having so much fun playing with each other and playing with friends from school. They had been going off the diving board again and again, smiling from ear to ear, waving to me from the long diving board line and having a complete blast.
When the whistle sounded
The next thing I knew the Lifeguard was frantically blowing her whistle and clearing the pool. I looked over to where she was and I instantly saw my son’s swim trunks on the side of the pool. He was lying down. ‘Why is my son lying down‘ was my first thought.
To this day I can’t quite put into words what it felt like to see my son lying limp, face down on the pool deck. And trust me that scene is burned clearly into my memory. I heard my breathe catch and my voice whisper ‘that’s Ryder‘ and in a moment I was standing over my son. The lifeguard was busy clearing all the kids and parents out of the pool and away from Ryder but she recognized me and allowed me to come close to him.
“He has a pulse!” she said.
I had no idea how serious the accident was so those words didn’t mean anything to me until later.
As she said that, the Lifeguard lifted Ryder’s arm up and rolled him onto his back. I watched as my eyes fixated on Ryder to see his open eyes roll to the back of his head. Terrified, I dropped instantly to the ground. Something greater in me held this moment together. I experienced that surreal feeling of witnessing and participating in the events but my emotions were in a frozen trans state. Somehow,… I remained calm and 100% focused on Ryder. Somehow,… I knew exactly what to do. Instinctively, I heard a voice inside me say ‘call to him’. I laid down next to Ryder on the pool deck, holding his small hand in mine and just started calling his name.
“Ryder, Mom is here”
“Ryder, come back to me”
“Ryder, you are safe”
“Ryder, come back”
There was a confidence, a calmness, and strength in my voice that was above my fear in the situation.
Ryder remained unconscious as the lifeguard had now propped him up to lay on his side. I continued holding onto his hand, calling to him and staring into his now closed eyes. I didn’t think for a moment, “What if he doesn’t come back?!” My baby. My son. I just stayed in the belief that he belonged here and my job was to tell his soul that.
Then there was the miracle moment jolt.
What seamed like an eternity but someone told me later was more like 2-5 minutes, I felt a jolt, a miracle moment jolt… Ryder’s chest heaved a breath so big he started coughing. His eyes popped opened. Our eyes locked immediately. It was like the same moment when he was born and the doctor laid him on my stomach and his eyes popped open to meet me. In that precious life moment, I found myself saying the same words as I did at his birth:
“You are here”
“Thank God! YOU are here”
Ryder continued to gasp and uncomfortably cough blood. His eyes closed to rest as I could tell he didn’t have much strength. “My throat hurts” he complained as he tried to touch his throat. I was being handed small white towels to continue to wipe his face and hands of the blood he was coughing up. The blood didn’t even phase me, all I cared about was that this beautiful brave boy of mine was conscious and alive. “You are going to be okay,” I said again and again, as if willing it to happen. “You are going to be okay, you are going to be okay” my voice kept assuring both him and me. I continued to talk to him and keep him calm as the paramedics arrived.
I stood when the paramedics raised Ryder’s stretcher. The only strength in my legs to stand was the powerful knowing that Ryder was at least conscious. Fatal drownings take 3-4 minutes. Ryder was at the bottom of the pool for 1-2 minutes. As a Mom who loves deeply, if I even think of this longer than a moment I am tearfully undone.
Friends were everywhere offering help. It was quite a blur. Somehow I was able to get a dress over my bathing suit and friends promised to take care of Carleigh, Ryder’s Big Sis, who had bravely watched the whole thing. I gave her a loving and relieved squeeze, ” I love you sweetheart, your brother is going to be okay”. Feeling with every breath, heart beat and cell in my body that when it comes down to life and death moments your loved ones really are the only ones you can think about.
Once in the ambulance the magnitude of what had just transpired started sinking in.
I was texting Ryder’s Dad to tell him what had happened. I praised God for Ryder’s consciousness and asked Erik to lift him up in prayer as we headed to the hospital to make sure he was alright. We had no idea what injury Ryder had experienced in the accident. All we knew was he was conscious and breathing.
Breath !! My friends, IS LIFE.
We arrived at the ER. For 3 hours Ryder complained of his neck and back being in pain. I didn’t even want to think about the horrible “what if” questions that were racing through my head…like what if a kid had jumped on him from the diving board and he was paralyzed…what if my son could never be an athlete, or a cyclist, or, or…’Don’t even think that‘ the voice inside me took over. I intentionally tried to override my thoughts from going there. Breathe. Stay in the present moment. Everything is going to be okay I kept reminding myself.
The ER team worked to cut off Ryder’s swim trunks, wrap him in warm blankets and stabilize his lungs.
Ryder couldn’t stop coughing blood. He had experienced pulmonary edema, he had breathed in pool water as he sunk to the bottom of the 12 feet pool. His lungs were filled with blood.
I sat by his side. Well as close as they would let me be to him and be out of the way of his amazing ER team of Doctors and Nurses. I mostly stood, I couldn’t sit. My prayers were continuous over my son and over his doctors. Ryder was conscious. They had even cheered him up by turning on the TV. I’d never been so happy to hear the voices of the Nickelodeon show “Go Diego go” on because that felt like something kid like and normal. Not to mention I heard Ryder’s laugh. Hearing his laugh made me feel relieved that he was in pain but could still laugh. As time in the ER went on, my boyfriend brought me dry clothes as a hospital worker reminded me to eat something. Of course I couldn’t eat anything. I needed to know my son was going to be alright.
Somewhere near midnight the good news came
Good news, one of the Doctor’s told me, “Your son’s lungs have stabilized” we can get him into xray and check injuries to his neck and back.”
With deep breaths and shaky legs for the second time that day I followed Ryder in a stretcher. The nurse wheeled him into xray. When the Doctor wheeled him out, “Your son is fine! Nothing is broken” the wave of thankfulness that took over me can not be expressed. Another hurtle cleared.
By 2 a.m. Ryder was settled into a room for the night to recover at Children’s Hospital. When his Dad had heard the news of the accident he had jumped in his car in Eugene, Oregon and just kept driving the 8 hour drive south to where we were.
As Ryder drifted to sleep from pure exhaustion, I too collapsed into the chair/bed next to his hospital bed. Knowing I was beyond exhausted and needed rest I tried forcing myself to get some rest. I soon found out that sleeping became worse than the event itself. Every-time my eyes closed the images of what Ryder went through,… being unconscious at the bottom of the 12 feet deep pool,… what would have happened if he hadn’t come conscious on the pool deck,… if he hadn’t still had a pulse when the lifeguard pulled him out,… Ugh ! My imagination and fear kept getting the best of me. I would awaken myself back up and just stare at Ryder . “He’s okay, relax” “He’s alive” “He’s Here” I would say some prayerful tearful thanks and force myself to close my eyes and find sleep again.
It wasn’t until a couple hours later when Ryder’s Dad walked in the room at 6.30 a.m. that I finally surrendered to my emotions and got some relief. I left Ryder’s side for the first time since the accident. I wondered blurry eyed to the hospital cafeteria. Not hungry for anything but knowing my body had nothing left and needed something.
I sat there staring out the window in the cafeteria. A coffee in hand. It was then that all the events of the last 12 hours caught up with me. I finally collapsed in tears. It was such a stressful and scary ordeal to go through and yet my body had saved it all up for later. This now was the “later” moments to feel it all.
The veil between life and death is so very very thin.
As I retell the story above, I admit this event still shakes me to this day. As a parent, I admit how hard it is while raising kids, especially on long or overwhelming days, to stay in thankfulness for your children’s lives. But please trust me when I say this, “Don’t take any moment of your child’s life, their consciousness and certainly their breath for granted.
I share this story to remind you to be safe in the pool particularly this holiday weekend but of course at all times as well. I also share this story to remind myself and my family how forever thankful we are and will be that our Ryder came back to us that day.
Live your life as if every moment is a miracle, because it is.
Yours in the Healing journey,