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August 5, 2010

Pool Safety: A Mother’s Cautionary Tale

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community/article/pool_safety_a_mothers_cautionary_tale_20100805

The author, Gabrielle Hassan with her son, Eli

The author, Gabrielle Hassan with her son, Eli

Whenever my son was upset or hurt or scared, I used to whisper in his ear, “Don’t worry, Eli, mommy will always save you.”  A few weeks ago, I almost wasn’t able to keep that promise.
 
We were spending Shabbat with my in-laws in Southern California, and we were all having a great time.  I took a nap with my daughter while my husband spent the afternoon playing with my son outside in the backyard.  When I woke up, my husband offered to change my daughter’s diaper, which I gladly accepted.  My son was running around the house playing as I followed my husband to the bathroom.  When I returned to the kitchen a short while later, I asked where my son was, because I couldn’t see or hear him anymore.  The reply was that he had gone outside and was playing basketball.  My immediate response was “he can’t be outside next to the pool by himself!!”

I ran outside.  There will never be enough words to describe the absolute horror of what I saw.  I still cry every time I think about it.  My precious child, who had turned three only six days before, was lying motionless at the bottom of the pool.  At that moment, it honestly did not even register that the body I was seeing could even possibly be my son, and to this day, I am wracked with guilt that I wasted precious seconds trying to figure out who in the world could be swimming in their pool.

When I realized it was my son, time just stopped.  I actually have no recollection of running across the yard, diving into the pool fully dressed in my Shabbat clothes, swimming to him, grabbing him with my left arm and somehow managing to pull both of us out of the pool with my other arm, all the while squeezing and pumping his chest as hard as I could.

It was only after I had gotten him out of the pool that I began screaming.  Primal screams that seemed to come from my soul.  I was screaming for my husband, for G-d, pleading and begging for my son to be okay.  I turned his cold, wet little body to face me, and when I saw that his face was blue from his nose down, my heart stopped.  I continued squeezing him until water gushed from his nose and mouth and he began choking and coughing.

I was absolutely hysterical.  I was soaking wet, my head was uncovered as my head covering had been lost somewhere in the depths of the pool, and I was holding and hugging my son, refusing to let anyone take him from me.  We stayed like that for a while, until the coughing subsided and his breathing returned to normal.  I was still crying, and at that point my son reached up and put one hand on each of my cheeks and these were the first words he said.  “It’s OK, mommy. I’m OK.”  This from the child who nearly drowned, all alone and terrified.

This is a perfect example of how truly special and unique my son is.  Three years old and comforting me, his mother, who should have been there to save him from falling into the pool in the first place, as I had promised him that I would, almost on a daily basis since he was little.

I haven’t told many people, just family and close friends, but when I do, they want to know details.  People want to know who was watching him, how exactly he was lying, and why there wasn’t a gate around the pool, and am I angry or do I blame anyone.  I suppose it is only human nature but I said the same thing to everyone.  It doesn’t matter how or why it happened, it just matters that my son is, Thank G-d, totally healthy.  It was a horrible, terrible accident, and without the grace and mercy of Hashem, could have ended a very different way.

My husband made the blessing Ha Gomel (this blessing is recited after surviving a life threatening incident) on Monday morning in synagogue, and we did a Seudat Mitzvah on Tuesday night to break the fast of the 17th of Av.  At the meal, I addressed the small crowd.  I was, and still am, struggling to process what had happened and was still very emotional, but I knew I had to find something positive from the horrible situation in order to help me recover.

Here is what I said.

It is very easy to recognize and be thankful for the “big” things in our lives: a new job, a first car or house, graduating from college, birth of a child and so on.  It is less easy to be thankful for the small things, things that we normally take for granted.  I had fallen into a cycle of self-pity, complaining about how hard my life was, and focusing on what I was missing without ever taking a second to see how lucky I really am and realize how much I actually do have.  I am using this terrible incident to publicly recommit myself to being thankful on every level.

Most of you will (please G-d) never experience or know how thankful I was when my son was found to be fully healthy, with no permanent damage.  I’m hoping that my story will inspire you to find all the little things that you are thankful for in your own lives, and give thanks where it is due.

A final plea:  Summer is here, and that means pools, water parks and beaches.  Please watch your children around all water carefully.  Take it from me, all it takes is a split second and your whole life can change.

I will never have enough words to thank G-d for allowing me to give life to my son a second time in his short life.

Follow Up:

It is now 6 weeks since my son almost drowned.  We have been working hard to get him back into the pool and feel comfortable in the water again, which we thankfully accomplished on our recent vacation.  Eli remains his usual precocious and amazing self and is extremely excited about starting school for the first time in September.

As for me, the bounce-back was a little slower.  I struggled for a few weeks with letting Eli out of my sight, or letting anyone else but me watch him.  I had nightmares about the event, and even when I was awake the image of his little body at the bottom of the pool was constantly present.  I finally went to speak to someone about what had happened, and I, too, slowly have returned to my usual self.

I still am making a concerted effort to remain thankful for everything I have.

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