PDA

View Full Version : Is drowning a painful way to die?


filmyak
05-22-2004, 06:01 PM
Yeah, I know it's a hard question to talk about. Tough to get first hand accounts and all that.

Basically, I spent most of my life figuring that drowning would really suck. Not just the dying part, but the extreme amount of pain involved in the process. But about 10 yrs ago, a friend of mine who had nearly drowned told me it was acutally fairly painless (more on this in a second). And now I'm reading a fiction book that has a character drown in it, in which the author describes the agonizing pain step by step. Not that it's a genuine resource, but it peaked my curiosity so here I am, asking the dopers.

Now, back to my friend who almost drowned. Here are the details as he described them. He was in a car accident, and ended up upside down (strapped in to his seat via the seatbelt) in a few feet of water. His head was fully submerged. I have no idea if this was fresh water or salt water, but I assume fresh. If it makes a difference at all...

He said he had trouble getting out of his seat, and he held his breath as long as he could until his body overrode him and he took a "breath" of water, which he could feel filling his lungs. He said he was surprised that his body was actually able to pull some oxygen out of the water -- his mind cleared up briefly, as he described it, like he had a breath of air -- but not very much. Just enough for a slight amount of relief before everything started going black. He described it as fairly calm and peaceful, not painful at all.

Now when the passenger of the car managed to get him out and he had to heave the water out of his lungs, he said THAT was INCREDIBLY painful. But I'm not concerned about that, I'm curious about the actual drowning process.

Is there any empircal evidence regarding the pain involved in drowning?

Wesley Clark
05-22-2004, 06:03 PM
I dont have cites offhand but i have heard most forms of death are actually pretty peaceful, not just drowning.

filmyak
05-22-2004, 06:08 PM
I dont have cites offhand but i have heard most forms of death are actually pretty peaceful, not just drowning.

Maybe some of them are, but I can think of several ways to go that sound like they just suck:

fire
heart attack
getting shot
stabbed
psianide poisoning (did I spell that right?)
arsenic
slow painful debilitating disease

I'm sure there's more.

Wesley Clark
05-22-2004, 07:10 PM
Well in Sanyika Shakurs book "Monster" he says when he was shot he felt the same kind of peace your friend described.

cyanide poisoning.

danceswithcats
05-22-2004, 07:33 PM
The closest I can come to answering the query of the OP is to say that when you're deep inside a building, and the air pack alarm goes off, you have ~5 minutes to get out. That's if everything goes well. Partial building collapse, changes in fire conditions, and other factors can make 'going out the way we came in' a non-option. Put a few people on your crew, all of their bells or whistles are singing, and all I want is to get them safely outside. The doorway is in sight-maybe 50 yards, and my alarm stops. I've got nothing. It's what we call 'sucking mask' because there's nothing to inhale. Adrenaline replaces oxygen as you crawl towards the opening, and once you're outside, you rip off your mask and breathe in the air as greedily as a starving man would devour meat.

Struggling to stay alive is not peaceful, IMHO.

kanicbird
05-22-2004, 07:41 PM
He said he was surprised that his body was actually able to pull some oxygen out of the water -- his mind cleared up briefly, as he described it, like he had a breath of air -- but not very much. Just enough for a slight amount of relief before everything started going black.

My WAG is it wasn't O2 from the water but 2 effects of breathign water:

1 - he was able to use O2 in the 'windpipe' which was unsuable till it was inhaled into the avioli.

2 - By inhaleing he equalized the pressure inside his lungs, this allowed a higher partial pressure of O2 which allowed a higher percentage to be abosrbed.

Qadgop the Mercotan
05-22-2004, 08:11 PM
Near-drowning victims pretty much universally describe the experience of drowning as being very, very unpleasant up until the very last stages. At that point, the overwhelming anxiety due to "air hunger" shuts down, as do the muscles involuntary efforts to breath. It is at this near-terminal stage that many encounter a sense of peace.

Or so studies have reported.

QtM, MD

msmith537
05-22-2004, 08:55 PM
Don't know but according to Homer Simpson, getting eating by a crocadile is just like falling asleep...in a giant blender.

jastu
05-22-2004, 09:08 PM
My father almost drowned and he described it as being very peaceful and actually quite a pleasant experience.

stuyguy
05-22-2004, 09:54 PM
Sebastian Junger devotes the better part of a chapter of the Perfect Storm to the physiology of drowning. I don't recall if drowning itself was painful, but I certainly remember that reading that chapter was!

jesuscrust
05-22-2004, 10:16 PM
i remember reading that it was one of the least painful. there is only the initial moment of panic before you drown. i can't find the website though.


this has tons of info though:
http://insecurities.org/library/suicide.html

Ring
05-22-2004, 10:57 PM
As a kid I almost drowned to the point where I lost consciousness and had to be revived. I clearly remember the experience and there was panic but no pain. As soon as I inhaled water it was all over. If I had to pick a way to croak, other than peacefully dying in my sleep, drowning would probably make my short list.

OttoDaFe
05-23-2004, 12:04 AM
I find myself more than a bit surprised that the thread has gone this long without a citation from The Master (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_211.html). It doesn't bear precisely on the topic at hand (and where it does, it reinforces what Qadgop has to say), but I thought sure there would be better memories than mine by this time.

torie
05-23-2004, 01:14 AM
i remember reading that it was one of the least painful. there is only the initial moment of panic before you drown. i can't find the website though.


this has tons of info though:
http://insecurities.org/library/suicide.html


This is one of the strangest sites I have ever read.

ACID BATH
Time: depends on acid
Available: a lot of a very strong acid
Certainty: fairly good
Notes: [from alt.suicide.holiday]
"summer heat got you down? Try the new and improved neighbourhood acid bath. Most metal working plants and some auto-repair shops will have a nice soothing acid bath. This, of course, is for those of you who enjoy extreme pain and don't want to make a mess for others to clean up. If you don't leave a note chances are they will never know what happened, aside from the shop / plant being broken into."

Ephemera
05-23-2004, 07:05 AM
I've almost drowned three or four times; it isn't a very pleasant experience and is a death I would avoid at all costs.

Mbossa
05-23-2004, 07:09 AM
Could it be possible that some of these near-drowning victims suffered a form of retrograde amnesia, blocking their memories of the most painful parts of drowning?

ioioio
05-23-2004, 10:36 AM
I almost drowned as a child. I was about 8 and was at a church camp for older children with my minister father. Campers swam in a river, using the buddy system, with adult supervision. I had taught myself to dog paddle. There was another girl my age there, who was appointed as my buddy; she told me that she too had taught herself to swim.
We were walking around in the river, holding hands, when we stepped into a hole where the water was above our heads. The girl would not let go of my hand. I remember struggling to make her let go of me and being very angry that she had lied about being able to swim and being very angry that she wouldn't let go of me so that I could save us both. I was too concerned with trying to free myself to feel panic or fear. There was no pain.
Next thing I knew I was lying on the shore next to my father. Obviously, I had been pulled out of the water, although I have no memory of this. When I came to on shore, I felt nauseated.

aerodave
05-23-2004, 11:41 AM
Almost everyone on this thread (especially those who have never experienced near-drowning) seems to assume that drowning would be painful. But I don't get that impression at all. And the stories of those who have dealt with it seem to reinforce my presumption.

What, exactly, would cause all this supposed pain? A big breath full of water is all I can think of, but I can't imagine that hurting all that bad. Someone above said that expelling water from the lungs hurt. That I can understand.

Other than that, the only thing associated with drowning is a steady decrease in blood oxygen levels, leading to unconsciousness and culminating in death. It's asphyxia, suffocation. Someone tell me where the sensation of pain would come in.

I can understand how it could cause indescribable anxiety and panic. Mainly because there's enough consciousness remaining to realize your fate. Panicky, yes. Painful, no.

Enola Straight
05-23-2004, 12:00 PM
As a child at the shore I once got a lungful of water when I got a faceful of breaking wave instead of air.

The water hurt in my lungs.

Now, its nowhere near as bad as being burned or eaten alive, but I certainly wouldn't call it pleasant.

aaslatten
05-23-2004, 01:16 PM
I've almost drowned three or four times...

Good God, sir, stay away from the pool!

pesch
05-23-2004, 03:51 PM
Another near-drowning victim checking in. Maybe we should form a support group. Or a bouyancy group.

It was at the lake. I was 8 or 9 and chasing after some kids in a raft. I wanted to hang on and pull myself in. I can still remember being on tip-toe, reaching, reaching, reaching for the rope.

And then I was over my head.

I didn't know how to swim.

Next thing I remember, I was on the beach. My brother had been keeping an eye on me. I don't know how long I was out, but I don't remember any pain or fear. I was probably caught by surprise going under and didn't have a chance to think about it.

My mom signed me up for swim lessons at the Y shortly thereafter.

aldiboronti
05-23-2004, 03:58 PM
CLARENCE: Lord, Lord! methought, what pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears!
What ugly sights of death within mine eyes!
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon;
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea:
Some lay in dead men's skulls; and, in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,
As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
Which woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep,
And mock'd the dead bones that lay scatter'd by.


Richard III, I, iv

ioioio
05-23-2004, 04:28 PM
... Next thing I remember, I was on the beach. My brother had been keeping an eye on me. I don't know how long I was out...
Did your brother tell you what had happened? Were you unconscious when he pulled you out? If so, why wasn't there a bigger commotion about it, like someone trying to give you mouth-to-mouth?

I have absolutely no memory between the time I was struggling at the bottom of the river and the time I woke up on shore. It was several years before I asked my dad what had happened, and he didn't remember the incident. That may seem strange, but Dad is too busy channelling God to be concerned with whether or not his children are drowning. I'm intensely curious about the blackout in my memory. Surely an unconscious child pulled from the water would have caused a stir, but if it did, it was over by the time I came to.