For longer than there has been written history, people have tried to make drowned people breathe again. I know of 36 obsolete techniques people have used in their attempts to resuscitate - restore breathing to - people apparently dead from drowning.
Early attempts included slapping or shaking the victims. Today’s doctors say that to "flail, thrash, beat or otherwise cause pain" sometimes could have been effective just because of handling the limp bodies.
Flailing with thorny branches or briars was one of the earliest techniques used to try to restore natural breathing. The ancient Chinese immersed lifeless bodies in hot oil! Where’s a big kettle? What kind of oil? How hot? We now know that getting ready would have required more than the three minutes before death!
Seventy years ago, I learned the Shafer method of artificial respiration, which originated around 1900. In my lifetime of being in and around swimming holes and various pools, I’ve seen only one person who required artificial respiration; I used the Shafer method - in 1945 - and resuscitated a boy who was about 9.
That technique and all the others now have been scrapped in favor of the Heimlich maneuver. There has never before been a way for bystanders to get water out of lungs and airways.
Almost 100 percent of water mishaps now have happy endings thanks to Henry Heimlich, the thoracic surgeon in Cincinnati who taught the world’s people, even children, how to save the lives of others who are choking. Drowning is choking on water.
Consider what happens when a person drowns: He tries to stand up to get a breath, but he’s in deep water. Tilting his heavy head back causes his body to go into a vertical position. He "climbs" with his hands and legs, with his head stretched back. While gulping for air, he takes in water. His epiglottis automatically closes the airways. Exhausted, he takes in more water. He loses consciousness, his body goes limp, and water enters his airways and lungs.
What can be done?
The Heimlich maneuver! It can be done with the victim flat on his or her back, sitting, vertical, on the beach, on the pool deck or in a boat.
Forget cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Forget rescue breathing. Forget American Red Cross first aid and life-saving techniques - which I’ve taught to thousands of people.
Nothing we taught before 2000 could have removed water from victims’ lungs. That year, American organizations teaching life-saving - Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, safety councils, American Heart Association, American Red Cross, gas and electrical companies - finally listened when Heimlich said you cannot force air into water-filled lungs. We all agreed. That made sense. Heimlich had been trying to get us to listen since l974, when he first proposed the technique for choking and drowning.
We finally are listening to the gentle doctor from Cincinnati who taught the world how to get water out of lungs and airways. He also is known for finding simple solutions to other major medical problems.
In a water emergency, let someone else call 911. Stay with the swimmer; he or she might stop breathing again and must be watched, kept lying down and warm, reassured, and taken to somewhere he or she can receive professional medical attention as soon as possible.
The maneuver can be done in one of several positions, depending on the slope of the riverbank, lake, pool, beach or other swimming hole. It is pressure on the abdomen between the navel and the rib cage and ends with an inward/upward pressure that forces water out of the lungs. Four "maneuvers" in only 10 seconds will clear the lungs of water.