Visions of the Drowning Man


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Search for:. Blog at WordPress. Post to Cancel. Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Plethoric persons, or those in whom the degenerative processes of old age have weakened the coats of the arteries, may have a stroke of apoplexy, partly from the sudden emotional shock, and partly from the chill of the water, which, by driving the blood from the surface, over-fills the vessels of the internal organs.

In fact, it is estimated by Taylor, in his "Medical Jurisprudence," that of all drowned persons twenty-five per cent, die of pure asphyxia, and in the remainder the asphyxia is complicated by syncope and apoplexy. The chances are, then, three out of four, that a person who falls into the water and drowns will die a painless death, because he becomes insensible on the instant. But what about the remaining fourth?

In the first place, it is to be remarked that persons who have come so near drowning as to be unconscious when taken from the water, and so must have passed through all the suffering that attends death by drowning, say that they remember no feeling of pain whatever. This declaration must have great weight, for it is not to be supposed that they could forget such terrible distress as that which follows when the respiration is suspended voluntarily. They all describe their feeling much in the same way: "I remember falling into the water.


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  6. It was dreadfully cold. I felt my clothes clinging about me and hampering my movements, and as I rose to the surface I gasped for breath. My mouth was filled with water, and I sank again. I was chilled through and through; then a sort of delirium came over me, and there was a ringing in my ears. I remember nothing more. It is probable that the entrance of water into the lungs has a great deal to do with the painlessness of drowning.

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    It is certain that unconsciousness comes on more quickly when the person is deprived of air because the lungs are filled with water, than when the air-passages are closed, while the lungs remain intact. Most persons can hold their breath for a minute, very many for a minute and a half, some for two minutes. In one of the variety theatres of New York appeared recently "The Brilliant Pearl of the Enchanted Grotto, christened Undine, who performs, while under water, incased in a mammoth crystal illuminated glass tank, feats of astonishing suppleness and almost unbelievable endurance.

    I have myself, watch in hand, seen Johnson, the celebrated ocean-swimmer, remain under water, in a tank before an audience, for the astonishing space of three minutes and twenty seconds, and, before he rose, the involuntary contractions of his respiratory muscles were uncomfortable to witness. In such cases, although extreme distress may be felt, there is no approach to unconsciousness. But if a person's head is under water, and he does not hold his breath, unconsciousness will usually come on in one or two minutes at the farthest. If this be so, it is evident that a person will drown more quickly if he loses his presence of mind on falling into the water than if he retains it.

    In the former case he will swallow water with his first gasp after sinking, while in the latter case he will hold his breath as long as he can.

    The latter will suffer more than the former. There is also a difference in the amount of mental agony in the two cases.

    A person who cannot swim sinks at the first plunge, but, as soon as the impetus of his fall is destroyed, his frantic struggles or a kick against the bottom, if he happens to touch it, sends him up to the surface, for the specific gravity of the body is so nearly that of water that a very slight motion of the hands or feet is sufficient to keep one afloat. Arrived at the surface, he gasps for breath, swallows a quantity of water, sucks some of it into his lungs, catches hold of straw's or small floating objects in a wild, senseless way, and, every time he lifts his arm above the surface, produces the same effect as if a piece of lead had been tied to his feet.

    So down he goes again half strangled, and the same process is repeated. As soon as unconsciousness comes on, the struggles cease, and the body remains beneath the surface. During all this agony the suffering of the drowning man is undoubtedly chiefly mental.

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    It comes from the instinctive dread of death which even the stoic cannot rid himself of, and is of the same nature as the mental agony of the condemned man before his execution, though less prolonged. A swimmer, or a person whose presence of mind enables him to keep his head above water for some time before drowning, passes through a different experience.

    But, although data are wanting on this point, it is probable that his final agony is short and painless.

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