We’d been at the pool at our local YMCA for a couple of hours when I started collecting our towels and packing up to go. The kids were getting their shoes on when we heard one of the lifeguards frantically blow her whistle. Another lifeguard shouted “Out of the pool! Everyone out of the pool!” There weren’t a ton of people there, but a small crowd started forming and the atmosphere changed. The last time I’d witnessed them clear the pool like that was when someone pooped in it. The very serious looks on the faces of the lifeguards let me know that this was a different scenario.
I didn’t want our kids to witness anything upsetting so I asked them to stay put while I walked closer to see what was happening. Once I could see the scene, I realized it was a training exercise. The “victim” was a Y employee that I’m friendly with. The lifeguard pulling him out of the water was completely committed and stone faced. Other life guards grabbed an electric defibrillator and one of those straight body board thingys that EMTs use. They moved the crowd back and put on plastic exam gloves. The people gathered around didn’t seem to know that this was staged and I felt bad for them. I walked back over to our kids to assure them that everything was okay.
Mia: “What’s happening, Mom? Is someone dying?”
Me: “No, honey. It’s a training exercise. That man is “pretend” drowning to be sure that the lifeguards react quickly and do everything they’re supposed to do.”
Mia: “How do you know that?”
Me: “Well, because I know the guy who was playing the “victim”.”
Mia: “Are you sure? They all look upset. And the crowd around him looks upset…are you sure he’s okay?”
She glanced back toward the scene to see a lifeguard doing fake (but believable to a bystander) chest compressions.
All of the kids looked a little freaked out and I decided to hang around so they could see that he was okay.
After a few minutes, the lifeguards relaxed and peeled off their gloves. The crowd began to disperse and the “victim” stood up and gathered together all of the lifeguards who’d just pretend-saved his life.
Me: “See, guys? He’s okay. They just want to be sure that the lifeguards are paying attention to the swimmers.”
Leo: “So you’re telling me he wasn’t dying?”
Me: “Right. He was acting, sweetheart.”
Mia: “Why didn’t they tell us that they were pretending? That really scared me.”
Me: “I wasn’t over there- maybe they did tell the people that were close by.”
Mia: “I don’t think they did- everyone looked upset.”
Me: “I don’t know. They should maybe have someone walk around to let people know that it’s just pretend.”
It became apparent that Mia was aggravated about having an emotional reaction to a staged scenario.
Mia: “That’s not nice that they let people think that guy was dying. I don’t like that. They should have told us.”
Me: “You’re probably right. He’s a good actor, though, huh?”
Mia (indignant): “Whatever. I guess.”
As we were heading to the exit, Chris, the “victim” was just finishing up the meeting with the lifeguards. I thought I’d take the opportunity to reassure the kids that he was okay.
Me: “Hey, Chris! Good job not dying! See guys, he’s okay.”
Chris waved and smiled at the kids and they seemed satisfied that he, in fact, was merely acting.
As we walked down the hall toward the parking lot, I heard this exchange between Leo and Mia:
Leo: “I can’t believe that guy was acting. That scared me.”
Mia: “I know, right? I didn’t really believe him, though, (yes, she did) ’cause he wasn’t coughing or anything. When you’re really drowning you cough and stuff. I didn’t believe him but I guess other people did. They really should tell people that it’s just pretend so that little children don’t get upset.”
Leo: “Yeah…I didn’t believe him either. What a bunch of assholes.”