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How to Practice Water Safety This Summer

Guest Bio: Dana Arseneau, RN
Dana Arseneau, RN, is the Trauma Program Coordinator at Riverside.
    How to Practice Water Safety This Summer
    Dana Arseneau, RN and Trauma Program Coordinator at Riverside, joins us to talk about the importance of water safety this summer.

    Intro:  Riverside Healthcare, puts the health and wellness information you need well within reach.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Welcome back to the Well Within Reach podcast brought to you by Riverside Healthcare. I'm your host, Gabby Cinnamon. And today, Dana Arseneau, trauma program coordinator at Riverside is joining me to talk about water safety. Thank you so much for joining me today, Dana.

    Before we get into water safety, can you kind of tell me about your role at Riverside and what you do here?

    Dana Arseneau: Sure. Thanks for having me. Like Gabby said, my name is Dana. I'm the trauma program coordinator at Riverside. I've been there for about eight years, all of which have been in the ER. So when it comes to safety and injury prevention, they're pretty close to my heart. I want to make sure that everyone stays safe out there.

    Gabby Cinnamon: So you're a big advocate for water safety, especially river safety. Why is water safety so important?

    Dana Arseneau: Life is just too fragile. And unfortunately, we see drownings every year and they are very preventable if you just follow some simple tips.

    Gabby Cinnamon: So, you know, people might say, "I know how to swim" or "My kids know how to swim. I don't have to worry," kind of what would you say to them?

    Dana Arseneau: So being a strong swimmer in the water definitely helps, but there are still hazards that even the best swimmers face. You can never be too careful. So for example, our river is constantly moving and therefore the riverbed's constantly changing. Even if you're a strong swimmer, you can get your foot caught under a tree branch that's down or a large rock or you can get caught in the hole that has really strong undercurrents that are stronger than you are sometimes.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Right. I feel like overall the river is just so unpredictable. And I guess we can kind of start out there with river safety specifically. You kind of touched on some points that we should be aware of, but what should we know about being safe on the river, specifically if someone is swimming or wading in the water?

    Dana Arseneau: Well, definitely I say don't swim or wade alone. It's dangerous and there's no lifeguards out there. Stay out of the water if you're unfamiliar with the area. Like I said, it's always changing and there's holes and unpredictable areas all over the place. Have your cell phone with you for sure. And make sure that you bring somebody with. Make sure they know where you're going. Wear a life jacket or a personal flotation device and make sure it fits you correctly.

    So, I'm not sure how familiar everyone is with the state law, but it is against the law for anyone under the age of 13 to be on a watercraft that's under 26 feet long without having one. So they definitely need to have them. Know your limits. Don't swim if you're tired or if you've got alcohol in your system. And pay attention to the current. If the river's moving super fast, stay out.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Right. I think, you know, people just tend to think of obviously drowning is the worst case, but there's also other injuries that can, you know, occur too if there's debris in the water after a storm. Is there anything for that sort of thing that we should look out for?

    Dana Arseneau: Absolutely. Just trying to keep your eye on it. When it rains, the river always rises. And even if there were clear spots, they get very mucky and muddy, so you can't see those things underneath. Lots of bruised up shins and broken bones along the way. And if you get a cut in the river, it's dirty for sure. So make sure that you go to an immediate care or even the ER, if you have to, if it's big enough to make sure you get the appropriate antibiotics.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Oh yeah. Gosh, I don't even want to think about, you know, what could get into that if you get caught in the water. Yeah, it does not sound good. So I know, you know, very sadly in 2020 last summer, we did have some accidents in the water, some drownings specifically. Do you notice any patterns of where these accidents are occurring? Do they tend to happen in the same areas? You know, maybe if I'm someone who is not from the Kankakee area, what areas should I look out for?

    Dana Arseneau: Sure. There are quite a few holes around the Kankakee River that we know of. Hyde's hole is near the water treatment plant, that one goes pretty deep. There's a Devil's hole that's close to Route 113. There's another hole kind of close to the mouth of Rock Creek where everyone kind of seems to wade through there, which is a great shallow area for people to Wade. But if you go too far out, you can find that hole. There's one pretty close to the Indian caves as well, which is another popular tourist attraction. So just staying away from those areas. There are a few times out there where it is so shallow that it's maybe up to your calves and then the next step you take is into a hole. So if you can't see the bottom and you're not familiar with the area, don't mess around with it.

    Other areas that we see that are really dangerous are the dams. There's Kankakee dam, the Wilmington dam, the dam in Momence. They're very dangerous in their own rights. Never, ever wade close to a dam. Keep your boats a safe distance from them. And the biggest thing is that if there's any signs out there, pay attention to the signs and do what they say, because they're there for your safety.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Right. And I feel like at least, you know, being from Kankakee, I know there are the signs near the Kankakee dam. You know, if you're not from the area, you might not realize those signs are coming up. So kind of just being aware like, "Hey, this might be on the horizon, you know, in the distance."

    Dana Arseneau: Absolutely.

    Gabby Cinnamon: So is there anything else we should know about the Kankakee River specifically, especially if we're not from the area?

    Dana Arseneau: I think just if you're not familiar with it, stay out of it for the most part. Watch the currents for sure. And then just make sure that you have somebody with you.

    Gabby Cinnamon: So let's say, you know, you're swimming with someone and maybe they're tired or you're both tired and you start to notice that they're struggling in the water, how should you help them without drowning yourself? I know that's one of the big things. At least when we're younger, we're taught, you know, don't jump in the water and help someone because you could end up drowning. You know, I guess what kind of tips do you have for this situation and what should we do?

    Dana Arseneau: Unfortunately, that never goes away. If they're really struggling and then you jump in, we tend to see that, then we ended up having two victims. So the first thing you can do is definitely call 911. Make sure you have your cell phone on you and make sure it's in that waterproof case and you can call 911.

    If you're not a strong swimmer, or if you have alcohol in your system, you don't trust yourself to be out there, don't go in. If the current's not too bad and you feel comfortable after you do a little quick risk assessment, grab something that you can use as a flotation device, because if you grab that victim, they're going to pull you down as well. If you get caught in the current, don't fight against it. Flow with the current and just try and get over to the side of the river, to the bank where you can get up. If you're ever floating with the current, put your feet forward first, because those rocks and those tree branches and stuff, you want to be able to catch them first. We'd rather you catch them with your feet, than catch them with your head.

    Gabby Cinnamon: So kind of changing gears a little bit, I know some people are more of a swimming pool type people instead of the river. So I guess I'm sure that some of the same tips apply, especially, you know, helping someone if they're struggling and that sort of thing. But what other tips do you have for swimming pools specifically that parents might not think about if they're trying to protect their kids?

    Dana Arseneau: Never, ever, ever leave kids unattended around the pool. We all know how dangerous they can be. We definitely saw an uptick last year in people getting pools with the pandemic. So we'll see a whole lot more people using them, which is fantastic. Just making sure that you follow all of those safety guidelines.

    So teach your kids how to swim from a young age, they'll turn over and float to be able to keep their head above water. Riverside Health and Fitness Center actually offers parent child-swim lessons starting at three months old.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Oh, wow.

    Dana Arseneau: This is a great opportunity to get them in and to keep them safe. Make sure that they have their proper-fitting water flotation devices, whatever you choose to use. They're all different. Make sure that they fit them. And even if they do fit good and you're comfortable with them, still be in the water with them, especially if they're really young.

    I tell my kids to use the buddy system, so you're never, ever, ever allowed to get in the pool unless you have somebody with you. Make sure you have a gate, make sure it locks, make sure you're actually using it. Close the gate so that they can't get in and make sure it's nothing that they can climb up and over. There's actually even little alarms that you can put on these gates and these barriers to help protect kids.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Oh yeah. I'm sure with young kids, that's, you know, a big concern too, because if the gate gets left open and you don't realize it, that's kind of when sadly, that these accidents happen. Maybe you're inside and your child's playing in the backyard or something, and the gate has gotten unlocked, that's sadly when I feel like we tend to see these kinds of things happen.

    Dana Arseneau: Absolutely. Another big time that we really see accidents when it comes to kids in pools is when there's gatherings and parties. So, unfortunately, I feel like we see at least one of these a year where there's a big party going on. One parent or person thinks that the other parent or person is watching the child and vice versa. So essentially, no one's watching the child until the child wanders away.

    So typically, there's a lot of alcohol involved and whatever else, even just adults having a good time out, you need to make sure that someone is actually assigned to watching that kid and they're in there with them. So it's always good to have an adult in the pool at the same time.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Yeah. I feel like too, kind of similar to the gate situation. But if these accidents happened, like if someone's looking away, even if it's for, you know, a couple of minutes or so, so it's kind of going back to what you said, the buddy system or having a constant eye on kids while they're in the pool, even if they do know how to swim, but, you know, especially if they're younger.

    Dana Arseneau: And it happens so quick.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Right. So I guess, do you have any last tip for us for pool or river safety that we should know about?

    Dana Arseneau: Yeah, of course. So always just try and be safe in the water by following these simple, easy tips. They all kind of are like normal common sense things, but we tend to not do them and that's when we see incidents happen.

    With the river, make sure you're comfortable before you get in. If you don't know the area, don't get in. Have your phone with you. Again, the buddy system.

    A big thing is to make sure that you know CPR. There's classes all over the place to be able to help with this. And don't forget to use your sunscreen. That's a whole 'nother piece to it.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Oh yeah. No, it is especially it's getting very hot out. No, I think that's really useful. And I think like you said, the importance of you never really know the river, even if you think you do. We were talking earlier about there are these drop-offs that, you know, people might not realize are there, so kind of you never truly know the river. So just trying to be prepared while you're in the water.

    Dana Arseneau: Yeah, we've got one more thing with pools too, just so that I don't forget it, we average about three to four diving accidents a year. And I feel like it's kind of understated. We all know how tragic that can be if someone breaks their neck. We've all seen it. We've seen it in the news and with celebrities and it's very unfortunate. But again, it's one of those watch the sign things, you know. If the water's shallow or if you don't know how deep the water is, just don't dive. Don't go head first.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Right. And even in pools too, I feel like everyone's pool, no diving, but people tend to not follow those rules.

    Dana Arseneau: We overlook it.

    Gabby Cinnamon: It's like, "Oh, it won't happen to me, but you know, those things can happen to anyone.

    Dana Arseneau: It absolutely can, yeah.

    Gabby Cinnamon: Thank you so much for sharing all these tips. They're very important, especially now that summer's here, tips that could even save you or your child's life. So thank you again for sharing all this information with us today, Dana. And thank you listeners for tuning in to the Well Within Reach Podcast, brought to you by Riverside Healthcare.

    To learn more about the emergency department at Riverside, visit riversidehealthcare.org.