View Full Version : Feelings of almost drowning

08-25-2010, 03:42 AM
I have a female character who can't swim. She just fell off her raft into the deep end of the pool. I want her to panic and almost drown before a neighbor saves her.

Can anyone give me some idea of what it's like to almost drown? I'd rather not test it out myself.


08-25-2010, 04:35 AM
Ack, I just answered the electrocution question, and now this... No, I was not stalked by death my whole childhood.

From personal experience:

I couldn't swim worth a flip, but was (as teenagers can be on occasion when there are others present and their IQ's drop) stupidly playing along with a bunch of people playing along a pier. We'd push ourselves down to see who could go the longest and deepest.

I went deep enough that I couldn't get back to the surface, and although it sounds like a moment where you should panic, I didn't feel scared in the least. The whole movie moment of "OMG, I'm drowning" is a myth. I didn't feel my lungs burn or think about the fact that I was low on air, all I could see was the sun past the surface of the water and all I could think was that I needed to be there instead of underwater.

No idea how I got out of the deeps, but I was able to pull myself back up to the beams.

And the "no panic" thing wasn't a fluke. That happened when I was about fifteen, but it was the 2nd time I almost drowned. The first, I was much smaller and actually tried to breathe under water when I ran out of air. The sensation of drawing in water made me kick hard enough to go up.

08-25-2010, 04:40 AM
I can only partly answer. When I was about 20, my nephews (5 and 7) wanted to go off the high diving board. I wouldn't let them until I checked it out first. I went feet first, didn't hold my nose, the impact forced all the water out of my lungs, and water went up my nose. My feet touched the bottom of the pool and I looked up and saw the light above me - it looked like it was miles away. I came close to panicking, but made it to the surface. Needless to say, my one and only experience with the high board. Puma

08-25-2010, 05:06 AM
Swimmer or non-swimmer. It makes a lot of difference.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

08-25-2010, 05:10 AM
Here is an article I just read last month. Perhaps this will help a bit.


08-25-2010, 05:56 AM
There was the big political thing about waterboarding a few years ago. Some say it simulates the feeling/experience of drowning. Here's a video of radio personality "Mancow" getting waterboarded (voluntarily). The actual pouring of water starts at about 2:15-2:20, and only lasts about five seconds, in case you want a warning/spoiler and don't want to actually see it, but it doesn't look "bad" to me - he's lying down with his eyes covered, and some other guy pours a pitcher of water on his face until he raises his hand to say "stop." If you want to skip the act, go to about 2:30, see him blow his nose and all - the real description starts at 3:00 - he tells of a childhood incident of drowning and being revived, and this was just like it or worse.

Mancow Waterboard

The same event and audio description from a different camera angle:


08-25-2010, 06:00 AM
I just took a kayaking lesson where they had us flip, and for a moment I got stuck...this was all like under an hour ago so its REALLY recent lol

I agree that you don't really panic and think oh my god. You've just got to get your ass out! I can swim, but I was stuck under the kayak I've been stuck under a raft too, so perhaps I can relate to your MC. Anyways I managed to get my head up, gasp for help. Your lungs feel really tight when you do this, like they're on fire almost. Thankfully the guy flipped me back over. My expirence was really brief, but still a bit scary. Underwater I had a flashback to when I got stuck under a raft at my grandparent's house on the lake.

Usually a person isn't under for very long, and you've got to think fast.

08-25-2010, 07:03 AM
I went innertubing on a lake once behind a friend's boat. Some lame-o jet skiers thought it would be funny to zoom really close to me and ended up flipping my inner tube when their wake collided with the boat's. This was at 35 MPH.

This caused me to shoot headfirst into the water at that speed. It was one of the most viscerally terrifying moments of my life. According to my friends in the boat I was under for less than a minute, but it felt like a really long time. I can hold my breath for a little over 4 minutes, so must have had the wind knocked out of me because I was on the verge of inhaling water the entire time. All I could see was blackness, and that made me start panicking because I didn't know which way to swim. I remember feeling very disoriented.

Right before I surfaced, I thought I might die because no matter how much I struggled there wasn't any light to show which way was up. For some reason that made me feel calm. Then my life flashed before my eyes, which is a really weird feeling when it happens. Right after that my head broke the surface and they pulled me out.

It was a major adrenaline rush, which may have had more to do with being flung off the innertube than the actual "drowning". I felt really jittery and it took about 20 minutes to stop shivering from that.

I can swim/dive, but not float for some reason. And I was wearing a life jacket.

08-25-2010, 04:58 PM
Then my life flashed before my eyes, which is a really weird feeling when it happens.

Canotila, may I ask what that was like? Was it the way you see on tv/movies, where rapidfire scenes from your life cycle through your brain? Did the events seem random, or was there a sense to them?


Calla Lily
08-25-2010, 05:10 PM
When I was a teenager, I took swimming lessons but was still a fairly poor swimmer. At a friend's pool, I decided to swim from the deep end to the shallow end. I misjudged where the cutoff was (that line in a big in-ground pool where the bottom slopes up really fast and the depth is only 4-5 feet). When I tried to touch bottom, I couldn't. I didn't panic right away, just kept trying to stroke to that shallow spot. But I couldn't--because I was a poor swimmer. After 3-4 tries, that spot seemed to be getting farther away (not sure if it was or just my perception of it) and that's when I started to panic. I knew how to take quick breaths, but I was sinking farther down with each attempt.

Fortunately (since I'm still on the planet :)) my friend's aunt saw what was happening--I was very quiet through all this, concentrating on breathing and getting to the shallow end)--and jumped in to pull me to that end. I am forever grateful to her, not only because she kept quiet about it and didn't embarrass a hormonal teenager :D, but because she'd earlier announced that she didn't want to get wet that day (new suit? new hairdo? I forget) yet immediately jumped in when she saw me in trouble.

08-25-2010, 05:45 PM
The reason I asked whether the person is a swimmer or not is because the experience and reactions are vastly different.

A non-swimmer will quietly sink until the nose is in the water, making upwards pushing motions with their hands that are below the water, and moving their feet in a sort of scissor kick. None of this will be very effective, but it is completely automatic. Even if the person is aware that they are drowning, they won't be able to raise their hand or otherwise indicate that they are drowning. Most non-swimmers, however, will not even be aware that they are drowning, as their mind goes onto auto-pilot. They frequently don't remember anything after being rescued.

Swimmers, however, have a skill set that enables them to use some level of logic. They will try concerted actions to breathe. Their minds will frequently be completely focused on those actions. Puma describes the feeling fairly well, as the mind becomes very goal oriented. As the person continues to struggle without success, a feeling of hopelessness begins to descend. At that point you can have flashbacks or remember your life. Once you kick into real panic, most people won't remember anything, other than a feeling of being overwhelmed and scared. Real panic makes you go on auto-pilot, destroying our ability to think in a higher fashion. Swimmers early in the process may wave their arms and/or call for help. As the process continues, they no longer have the energy for it.

I've pulled out enough people, but never felt the need to try it myself.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

08-25-2010, 08:04 PM
Swimmer or non-swimmer. It makes a lot of difference.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

She can't swim.

Thanks for all of the wonderful replies. This really helps with the scene I'm working on!

08-25-2010, 11:21 PM
I had a head-on collision with another swimmer a few years ago. We were swimming as fast as we could, so the shock was intense. I got propelled backwards and went underwater. I was dazed. I couldn't tell where was the bottom. My sense of direction was so *gone* that the floodlights from the ceiling high above could have been just under my feet.

I wasn't in any condition to swim, but I managed not to swallow any more water than I had already. After some spinning around, I popped up. I asked for help; I'm pretty sure it came out as a gurgle. The other swimmer dragged me back to the edge of the swimming-pool. I didn't kick him or panick when he grabbed me, probably because I was aware of what he was doing.

Got away with a broken nose, and a very sore neck. It could have been worse.

ETA: I can't say I was afraid. I didn't have time for that -- I remember thinking I could die, if I didn't get my bearings. But I felt, hmm, cold. Detached. Focused on the task at hand, if you want.

08-26-2010, 02:17 AM
I was messing about with the kids and a heavy wave knocked me down deeper underwater. Turned over on one side, tumbled over. Being underwater was a completely different world - I was fascinated, just as I was also realising (time was irrelevant here) that this was a here-and-nowHAPPENING, it wasn't just some nice unusual experience.
I was suddenly in union with all the drowned sailors and suicides; it was a genuine experience, no longer different from them.
Land was something far away, a difficult concept. (Really, the shore and town was near and all this probably took seconds.) Flailing about, the water was a beautiful jade green and seemed rock-hard. Meanwhile, of course, the body had done all the self-rescuing movements, got itself swimming and thereby ruined the metaphysical moment.
Surfaced spluttering salty water, nearly sick. Strangely, years later, I still feel cheated of reaching something (infinity?), while never swimming in the sea again.
It was that clear conflict between this-second-now and that-far-forever and being right in the middle of two. Scary. Can still feel it.

08-26-2010, 03:41 AM
Surfaced spluttering salty water, nearly sick. Strangely, years later, I still feel cheated of reaching something (infinity?), while never swimming in the sea again.
It was that clear conflict between this-second-now and that-far-forever and being right in the middle of two. Scary. Can still feel it.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. That's it. I remember that time-twisting. A whole second of infinity.

08-26-2010, 05:41 AM
I agree completely with the strangeness of time. I definitely felt like I was under for hours? Days? Years? Time had no meaning at all.

Mine was a stupid kid bet. I was about 9 or 10, a strong swimmer with a backyard pool. My best friend was on the swim team...huge difference in stamina levels, as it turns out. We were at Wet and Wild on a summer day camp trip, and we decided to race across the wave pool. From the shallow end diagonally across the pool to the ladder on the other side at the deep end. Keep in mind that the wave machine is along the back wall directly behind that ladder. So we were swimming against progressively stronger waves.

I was fine most of the way, winded and tired but determined. Then I got to the deep end--8 1/2 feet deep with massive waves coming every few seconds. Exhaustion caught up with my body as I struggled against the waves. I could have ridden a wave back to the shallow end, but it was a competition. I was determined to get to that ladder. I fought on.

A few feet from the ladder I gave out completely. No strength left at all. I started sinking. The wave pool was packed, but no one noticed. I didn't have the energy to wave my arms, and I couldn't get my head up high enough to call for help. I went under.

I had my infinity moment for who knows how long, really, and then something clicked in me. A sort of crystal clear "I refuse to die under here." I shot up to the surface almost by instinct and powered myself to my goal. No way I could have done it on my own, so I'm thinking (insert higher power here) must have been with me. I got to the ladder and rested my arms and chest on it, bobbing with the waves. Took me another several minutes to have the strength to pull myself out.

Found my friend a few minutes later. She had gotten about halfway to the goal, realized it was a stupid and futile exercise, and exited the wave pool via a ladder on the same side as we started, halfway along the pool. She figured I'd do the same.

08-26-2010, 06:05 AM
I couldn't imagine now how it would feel to sink in a pool, but when I was first learning to swim, I did. I had figured out a back stroke, but I accidentally went into the deep end and freaked out that I couldn't touch the bottom. All I can remember was that it was very hard not to totally sink. I could doggie-paddle in shallow water, so I don't know what the deal was, other than panic.

My sister jumped in to save me, and I even pushed her head down like you hear people do.

Now it's so instinctive to tread water. It must be what Jim describes, because however I was moving wasn't stopping me from sinking, and I was trying hard.