Author Question: Drowning

Sally joins Redwood’s Medical Edge again with an author question. She had visited previously with a question about food allergies that you can find here.

Sally asks:

I have a character that someone is trying to drown. They hold her under water, and she runs out of air, but someone else pulls her up. I don’t want a scenario where she needs CPR or mouth-to-mouth, maybe just some coughing and choking, spitting out water. Does that work for her to be under water only a couple seconds and suck in water?

Jordyn says:

Yes, it works.

I like these types of injuries when writing medical scenarios because it offers you a wide range of things you could do to your character– from nothing at all to significant injury.

Not all people react the same when their head is pushed under water. There is what’s called a diver’s reflex where you will instinctively hold your breath and drop your HR when your face hits cooler water– which most bodies of water are less than your body temperature.

That being said, what a person does after those first few seconds is up in the air which is good because it gives you writing leeway. So the amount of water they inhale and at what point they would do that is for you as the writer to decide.

Possible patient outcomes for this particular scenario:


1. She is just fine (once she gets over her initial coughing and spitting up of water) and doesn’t need any medical intervention.

2. She inhales a little water where it might be good for her to be medically observed for a while but she suffers no ill effects and doesn’t need any medical intervention– just observation on a monitor. This may be only a few hours to twelve hours depending on the physician.

3. She inhales some water and she is symptomatic (low blood oxygen levels, increased respiratory rate, increased work of breathing like using accessory muscles) but doesn’t need any dramatic intervention– maybe just some oxygen to tide her over and medical observation until this clears up. Her shortest observation time would likely be 12-16 hours to watch for further developing lung injury.

4. She inhales a lot of water and develops respiratory distress to the point she would need to be intubated– or go on a breathing machine.

Every patient is different. Sometimes we in the medical field feel that the mechanism isn’t that impressive but the patient does suffer ill effects– so again, a lot of room for the author.

And remember– drowning doesn’t always look like what television portrays it as.

If interested in further medical posts are drowning they can be found here and here.

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Sally Bradley has worked for two publishers, writing sales and marketing materials, sorting through the slush pile, and proofreading and editing fiction. She has a BA in English and a love for perfecting novels, whether it’s her work or the work of others. A judge in fiction contests, Sally is a member of ACFW, The Christian PEN, and the Christian Editor Network. She runs Bradley Writing and Editing Services from her home outside Kansas City. A mother of three, Sally is married to a pastor who moonlights as a small-town cop.

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