A few years ago, during the festivities of the first week of November, known in Panama as Las Fiestas Patrias (Party of the Nation), I witnessed someone drowning. My son, his friends, and I were riding on a 4x4 side by side Polaris lent to us by a couple who moved from Alaska to Panama. As we drove on the beach, my 13-year-old son saw someone struggling in the ocean.
He pointed out to a man waving his arms in distress. Before I could think, I was undoing the surfboard on the ATV roof and running towards the ocean. I was moving so fast that I lost my footing and landed face-first on the sand. I got up, dusted off, and ran towards the ocean. From the moment I saw the man struggling to when I got to him, about 90 seconds passed. The whole time the man was floating face down in the water. When I arrived, he was dead! He was about 1 foot underwater, just floating. It was eerie how his body was so lifeless, like a 200-pound wet rug in the ocean.
Another man came to help, and he assisted in getting him face down on the surfboard. We paddled him towards the shore. Upon getting closer to the beach, I felt the sensation that a wave was coming. I took a quick look behind, and there was a big one about to crash on top of us. I bear-hugged the victim and the surfboard not to lose him in turmoil. Plus, the surfboard is always the first thing to come to the surface, so I knew I had to keep them together. I held tight, and we made it.
Many people came to the beach and made sure the drowned man made it high up the sand berm. Not only was he not breathing, but he also had no pulse. He was given CPR and spewed massive quantities of water.
After about 8 minutes of continuous chest compressions with mouth to mouth, he opened his eyes. About 10 minutes later, he began to cry. It took him 45 minutes to speak. I never knew his name. I did find out that he was there with three other cousins. He had been waving his arms for several minutes, telling them he was in trouble. They thought he was kidding. They were all drunk. One of the cousins ran off upon realizing his kin had died. Talk about fight or flight!
Please, be careful during the upcoming holidays and always. We do not have lifeguards on most beaches, and your safety is entirely up to you or those around you.