Signs Someone is Drowning (and it Could be YOU!)

Look around. Do you see any #caregivers drowning in plain sight? via @blestbutstrest

“Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.” On Scene, The Journal of U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue


Although it happened 12 years ago, I still remember as if it were today.

I worried about Sarah. She seemed to take Pedro’s cancer too glibly. She seemed detached. She never had problems for me to solve, or little worries to share with me at bedtime. She’d never been a complainer—she was always self-sufficient and happy.

Her teacher surprised me when she said, “Sarah seems really angry.”

“What?” I asked, arching my eyebrows in disbelief. “Sarah? What does she do?”

“Well, it’s not that she yells at other students, or even gets mad at them,” her teacher replied. “It’s more what happens over small things.”

“Like what?” I’m sure the teacher was taken aback by my interrogative tone. I didn’t usually act so bristlywhat was wrong with me?

“For example, when Sarah falls down on the play ground, she’ll stand up, stomp her feet and cry—when we try to find out if she’s ok, she brushes us off and acts even angrier.”

“Oh,” I explained, “Sarah’s never been great at sharing her feelings. She’s probably angry that she had any reaction at all—after all, she’s eight and probably thinks she’s too old to bawl over a bruised knee.” I excused myself and hurried away. I had reason to worry—I just didn’t want to talk about it with someone else.

Sarah must be projecting—something I’d heard about, but was positive I’d never done. I wondered about the solution, but never got around to researching it. After all, Pedro was improving and this would soon be a memory from our past.


School let out shortly after our conversation, and we tried to fill our summer with good news and healing: a fun trip to Yosemite combined with a chemo appointment in California (where he was declared ‘officially in remission’), a visit with the girls’ best friend in Nevada, a family reunion, a visit with favorite friends in Washington, and then a week at camp.

On the way back from camp, we bought six lugs of apricots. Just days after returning home, Pedro landed back in the hospital, and this time, the news shocked us: Relapse of his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with central nervous system involvement.

I had all those apricots to deal with. The girls spent time at a friend’s house (I’m actually unsure of this detail—I know they were with someone safe, but I was so worried about Pedro that I can’t remember who’s house they were at). Every afternoon, I would slip away for two hours while Pedro rested, and rush home to the apricots.

I had apricot jam making down to a science. I would sterilize jars and heat up the water in the boiler while sorting and pitting apricots. Next, I would whiz the apricots together with some pineapple in the blender, then dump it into a kettle and bring it to a boil and add the sugar, pectin and spices. Within two hours, I’d have ten or fifteen pints of jam sitting on my counter.

The whole time away, I felt guilty—I should be at the hospital with Pedro. I should be with the girls (where were they today?). While at the hospital, I felt guilty about the apricots. We’d spent good money on them—I couldn’t let them go to waste. At night I would sniffle a few quiet tears while thinking about the apricots.

In the morning I would cheerfully inform Pedro of my jam progress and let him know that I’d be gone for a few hours in the afternoon to run a load of laundry and make some more jam. I tried not to notice the pounds melting off his once-fit frame.

While making jam, I would find tears leaking from my eyes and blame residual laundry detergent and a casual wipe to the eyes as the reason for my tears. The fact that the state of Montana didn’t have enough methotrexate to administer chemo in the prescribed amount from his California oncologist concerned me.  How long would it take to ship it in  from neighboring states?  Did I need to go on a road trip and pick it up myself?  That wouldn’t work, though, the apricots might rot.

I ran out of jars after four days and took a quick detour to Safeway to buy some more. On the way to the canning aisle, I bumped into a display with blueberries for cut-rate prices. Pedro LOVES blueberry jam. Maybe he’d eat some and put on a little weight.  His wedding band fell off when he stood up that morning. There was NO WAY I could pass up on this bargain. Fortunately, it only took one afternoon to make the blueberries into jam. I had the time—not all of the apricots were ripe yet.

I considered scavenging other stores, looking for other bargains, but decided that maybe I didn’t have time. After all, I had cancer to fight, decisions to make, treatments to explore, insurance papers to fill out and children to look after—whose house were they at tonight?

I needed to remember to ask Sarah’s hosts if she displayed signs of unreasonable anger—and I needed to look up causes and cures of that mental phenomena the psychiatrists called ‘projecting’. After all, I’d never met anyone who fought feelings by doing something unreasonable before.

Don’t miss Part I, Part II and Part III of our series!