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People Describe What It Feels Like to Drown

Updated November 6, 2017 493.8k views10 items

What does it feel like to drown? Well, we can't know for sure what it feels like, because obviously, no one can come back from the dead. We can, however, get a good idea of what death by drowning probably feels like by talking to people who have nearly drowned. This list consists of stories from people who almost drowned, describing what their moments underwater felt like.

The average person can hold their breath for 30 to 60 seconds, and once you run out of breath under water, your chances are slim. Reports about what it feels like to breathe in water are varied. But once you get water in your lungs, your chances of being able to save yourself and make it to the surface sink. This list consists of stories from the lucky people who were rescued before oxygen deprivation shut their systems down.

Take a deep breath before you read - and make sure you appreciate it. Some of these stories are pretty grisly.

  • Everything Goes Black

    "Drowning is one experience that I cannot explain, and I don't think explanations suffice if you want to know how it feels. All I remember is this.

    I was on top of an inflatable tube (like a raft shape) and was wading my way into the middle while no one was looking. Suddenly, I don't know how it happened, but the next moment I knew, I was drowning. The only things I remember distinctly are that I was not able to breathe, because water was entering my nose and mouth quickly, and subsequently my lungs. Even as a child, I was aware, that I had to stay above water, to be able to breathe again. And I was flailing my hands to stay above water, hoping I could bring my face above the surface, but I wasn't very successful at it. Then I started going down and didn't have any more thoughts. 

    There was no 'I should push my feet on the bottom and try to come up,' or 'The color of the water is so blue.' I just blacked out. I don't remember anything from this point to the point where the lifeguards were trying to get the water out of my lungs, and I choked it out. My parents were pretty scared, I didn't process the thing as too serious at that time, I don't know why."

  • No Pain, Just Comfort

    A mishap during "underwater walking" in Thailand:

    "I don't know whether it's because I'm naturally fidgety, or because my rotten luck and the turbulent seawater concurrently conspired against me, but my helmet somehow got tilted backwards and some of the water came in, into my mouth and nostrils. I panicked and began thrashing my body, and the helmet came off completely.

    The first three seconds were as follows: My body began to float upwards. My mouth was open, and my throat completely contracted. My body was warped in an awkward posture; my torso was arched forward, my limbs were flowing backward, and my eyes were gazing straight up, although I couldn't register anything I was seeing. I heard my sister (who was beside me in the chain) scream my name through her helmet.

    After the three seconds passed, I began to desperately flail my arms and legs, and my head had two simultaneous, continuous thoughts:

    • exhale very, very small amounts of air
    • go straight upwards

    My mouth was open, and I was letting out discreet, minuscule amounts of air through my esophagus, trying to buy as much time as I could before I ran out of air. I could feel my flailing slowly take my body upwards. I had to survive. I had to somehow reach the surface and survive. I didn't want to die.

    More seconds elapsed. I was running out of air. I tried to look up to see sunlight, but I saw none. It dawned on me that I wouldn't make it. I let out another breath of air, this one more copious than the others. My body went limp, my mind went blank and I gave up on all effort. I just let go, and my flaccid body just floated in the water for a few seconds. My lungs had more or less given out, and there was no pain, just comfort.

    A few more seconds later, for some seemingly inexplicable reason (or so it seemed in the moment), I suddenly had a huge burst of energy, and the will to get out of the predicament re-emerged, and so did the desperate flailing. But this time was different, I could feel myself going up faster and with more force. Maybe I could make it. Perhaps I would make it.

    I made it to the surface, and then it hit me that this sudden surge of energy was because one of the swimmers had finally gotten to me. My oxygen-deprived mind was thinking that I was going up of my own accord. After taking in the much-needed lungful of air, a LOT of coughing ensued."

  • Sheer Panic

    "For me, I went through three distinctive stages, but the stage that lasted the longest was the sheer bloody panic stage.

    I was at a water park with some friends and we were in a wave pool. I was sitting in an inner tube when someone (don't know who, but it wasn't one of my friends) flipped my inner tube over. I went underwater, but I wasn't panicking because all I needed to do was kick up to reach the surface again.

    But right as I surfaced, a wave hit me and knocked me back under.  And for the next half a minute I was in the most terrifying experience of my life. Every time I resurfaced, I was knocked back under by progressively larger waves. I couldn't breathe, I had water rushing in through my nose and mouth, and my mind was going absolutely nuts: it was racing and I was unable to form coherent thoughts but at the same time it was continuously telling me that I needed to get to the surface. For how little time I was under the water, it felt like I had been going at it for an hour.

    And then, I had a moment of extreme clarity. After being knocked down again the cacophony of my brain stopped and I suddenly realized that if I didn't try to resurface right after I was pulled below again, that I would be able to resurface after the wave passed. But I waited too long and the biggest wave hit me, knocked me back under, and dragged my feet along the bottom of the pool, scraping my feet pretty badly.

    After that time I was finally able to resurface, mainly because the waves were decreasing in size and the waves had pushed me to where I could walk and I just walked out of the pool, albeit due to the fact that my feet were bleeding, and I was still disoriented and coughing up water, etc. I still have scars (well, more like red marks) on my feet where they scraped along the bottom of the pool, and that was a good 3 and a half, 4 years ago."

  • You Go Into Complete Shock

    "First time I drowned was at age 12 when I had no knowledge of swimming. I was playing in the river with my dad and other relatives when all of a sudden the currents pulled me into the water. There were at least 10-12 relatives of my own, each busy in their own world. I drank water twice and couldn’t shout and my mind was absolutely blank.

    Out of nowhere, my cousin, who was on his bike on the banks, jumped into the water and pulled me to safety. My mind was recording all those things but I couldn’t react. Maybe I was in total shock and couldn’t respond or shout. What followed next was lots of advice from elders and my granny telling ghost stories on how the river had taken [the] lives of so many in the village."