Wednesday, May 06, 2009

P Is For Providence

We Were In The Right Place At The Right Time

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


It was just an ordinary afternoon, yet it turned out to be a significant day. At the time, I lived in Calcutta and a good friend, Nirmal Ghosh, and I had no university lectures to attend. On a whim, he suggested that we go for a swim at the Tollygunge Club, a purely random decision that was to have a crucial consequence.

It was 1976 or possibly the summer of 1977, just before I started a cadetship in journalism. Although we did not know it at the time, Nirmal would also follow me into the same profession. We have remained close friends for the ensuing three decades, despite living in different countries. He is now a senior foreign correspondent, award-winning documentary maker, author, photographer and conservationist.

That afternoon, though, we were carefree youngsters, just enjoying the unhurried pace of the day. Only a few metres from where this photograph was taken, we emerged from the changing room with our bags and towels over our shoulders.

Because it was a weekday, the normally crowded, bustling pool was practically deserted, with fewer than half a dozen people. As we looked for a table, something suddenly caught my eye. There was someone at the bottom of the pool, motionless. It was too small a figure to be an adult.

I dropped everything. Did I remove my watch? I honestly cannot remember. Did I gulp oxygen before hitting the water? Again, I honestly cannot remember.


I’ve heard lifesavers explain how rescuing someone and bringing them back up to the surface is a tricky challenge because a limp human form is dead weight, even in the water. Truly, I cannot tell you whether I scooped the kid up with my left hand, my right hand or both hands.

I cannot tell you whether I came back up to the surface using just one hand and my legs, or whether I cradled the motionless child in both hands and simply used the power in my legs to return to the surface.

All I can remember is that I put the child (now I could see he was a boy) on the side of the pool. His eyes were closed. He wasn’t breathing.

Because two of my older brothers were in the navy, I knew the basics of artificial respiration and resuscitation. I didn’t know how long the boy had been at the bottom of the pool. I didn’t know whether my attempts at CPR would work.

I didn’t know whether I had brought a corpse to the surface. But I hoped against hope that we would be able to induce some breathing.


In a few seconds, I had the assistance of another teenage swimmer, a bloke I knew from the college social circuit. Shortly, the boy I had rescued began to breathe and in a couple of minutes he was fully conscious.

What happened next? Nirmal and I dived back in the pool and enjoyed the rest of the sunny afternoon.

But while I was writing this post, I rang Nirmal to see what he remembered of the afternoon. He and I are both parents now, and it was immediately evident from the conversation that our present-day reaction to the rescue from all those years ago was much deeper and far more intense, probably based on the fact that we are both fathers now.

Who was the little boy? I have no idea. We never knew if he was there with his parents or if he was with family friends.

Perhaps the Tollygunge Club would have some record of the incident, although I think this would be unlikely since the child suffered no injury or lasting damage. Maybe the power of the internet could provide a solution, uncovering the identity of the little boy who would now be in his forties.


For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

60 comments:

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What a fantastic memory/tale...a beautiful story, David! And what a privilege to be able to save that boy's life! Thank God you had the necessary knowledge and skill as well as heart!!!!! You are full of wonderful surprises and are once again, an inspiration...Thank you, on so many levels! ~Janine

Mara said...

It's like everything else I guess, when you're young, you just accept and do and act. It's only when you start growing older that you start to think about what exactly happened. And start wondering how come.
I bet the boy was glad you were there though, even if you don't know who he was.

aims said...

I'm with the above comments David. That boy was lucky you and your friend walked in when you did.

Inspiring as always. (and I can breathe again now that I've finished reading your post)

Thumbelina said...

Oh I hope he reads your blog David. Really I do.
I bet he is now in his forties as you say, a father, wondering who it was that saved his life that day and hoping against hope that he might one day chance on a meeting.

What a fantastic memory you have. Your post is charged with emotion and I could feel your adrenalin pumping as you wrote the post... as you dived in the pool once again.

I bet the place brings that memory back every time. Well done teenager you, and also a good lesson that you can NEVER know basic resus techniques too young.

Off to remind my young ones now... (in case I end up in the bottom of a pool).

Sylvia K said...

An amazing and beautiful story and memory for you! How wonderful that you were there and that you had the skills and knowledge to do what you needed to do to save the boy's life! Thank you, for the story and to you for what you were able to do.

Sandi McBride said...

And I'm thinking you are so unselfassuming (I think I just made up a word) that you never considered yourself a hero...but that you were a hero, even then, is not surprising to me. You show your leadership and affinity for mankind (I include women in this) every day you draw breath. I hope this child realizes what a gift he was given and has not squandered it. My hat's off to you David, and to your parents...you absolutely did not grow to be the man you are without their help!
Sandi

Barbaloot said...

Wow-that's amazing that you were able to react so quickly. I hope whonever the boy is and whoever his parents are, they are grateful for what you did that day.

Deb said...

That's a wonderful experience - tragic and beautiful all at the same time, to be able to save someone's life. I can only imagine the different type of experience it may have been for you, since you are a father, but I truly believe if you have a heart for people in general, you would have felt that same sense of urgency regardless. It's just who you are. :)

James said...

You are a hero! This brings back memories of myself being rescued from a pool when I was two. Believe it or not I still remember what it felt like under the water.
I should blog the story someday.

I bet the child that you rescued wonders about you sometimes.

Jientje said...

I too have memories being brought up by a rescuer. It's funny that this memory pops up twice today, because I read about drowning in another post too.
I remember slipping, and going up and down so many times I did not know the top from the bottom of the pool ny more! I remember the face of my rescuer, I'll never forget.

Artist Unplugged said...

Thank goodness you and your friend showed up when you did! What an awesome story, I can understand how it makes more of an impact on you now than it did all those years ago. You've always got a story......

marcia@joyismygoal said...

yes what a memory! I was a life guard and only had one opportunity to save someone like that and I do not have much memory of it. but I do remember when I was younger 6-8 my aunt saved me from drowning and I had been submerged in a lake- i forever count her my hero! so I am sure that person you saved is forever grateful as well.

The Texican said...

Great story David, and a very interesting quest. I'll wager you'll find out something. Pappy

Mojo said...

The only creature I've ever had to give mouth-to-mouth to was a newborn puppy that didn't start breathing on her own. I've often wondered how I'd respond to such a situation and I hope it would be as reflexive as this, even now.

These days you wouldn't have been able to slip away unnoticed. There would have been incident reports, inquiries, investigations, depositions while lawyers figured out if there was leverage for a lawsuit and inevitably the local press would get into the mix... Nope. No such thing as a good deed going unpunished anymore.

I'm sure wherever the kid is now he's grateful. Even if he doesn't know who he's grateful to. He might have been too young to remember the incident, but you can bet he's been told about it... and probably tells and retells the story any time it fits the situation.

The Girl From Cherry Blossom Street said...

This is very touching.

RuneE said...

This is the kind of post that may evoke many kinds of reactions among your readers. Sympathy with the boy and yourself? of course. Understanding the the post-parent reaction? Without doubt.

To me it was (among other things) a reminder of the time my father had a heart attack by the seaside in January and I had to drive him to the nearest doctor on VERY bad roads in about half the usual time for the distance. I don't know how I did it - I just did it. Only afterwards did I have an inkling of what I had done.

This was in 1982 and my father survived for 21 years.

Sherry said...

How wonderful! A gigantic random act of kindness and courage.

Janet said...

Wow, just . . . wow. The simplest of decisions sometimes have the greatest impact.

Annie said...

Wow..a powerful remembrance for you David. Glad that story had a happy ending! As you say, a different story now that you are both fathers! I hope you have some follow up one day!

Just like your book......I have just finished reading it, having borrowed it off Daryl here in NYC. Enjoyed it all the way through. Took a while with babysitting and sisterly touring duties mixed in along the way! As usual when reading, I wonder how much is autobiographical ...very curious I am. And surprised when they all went to Jell's Park for a bbq. The one my little family frequents down there in Melbourne. it is a small world!

Have you ever thought of writing another?

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Oh my gosh! This is an amazing story, David. I am sure that boy remembers you clearly. You are a hero.

Hilary said...

I have no doubt this guy remembers and appreciates you. Wonderful story.

Maggie May said...

Lucky was certainly the word for that boy when you just happened to be there to fish him out. What a marvellous thing that you did.

I do hope that some one who knows him reads this! You never know! Small world and all that!

Hilary said...

Wow!!! What an experience. I often play out these scenarios in my head "just in case" I need to think fast, but you just never know how it would really be. Great story.

Indrani said...

Gripping till the last lie. I hope internet connects the rescuer and the rescued.

Craver Vii said...

Wow. I suppose there are people who have intersected in each of our lives, that we sometimes wonder what ever happened to them. It would be something to hear this lad's story. Good thing you did not hesitate, but took proper action.

vicki archer said...

Fabulous story David and how incredible is memory and the power it has to take us back as if it were only yesterday. In one way I would love to know more of the boy and his life but on the other hand it may just ruin the magic of your tale. xv.

Leslie: said...

Wow! Providence is right! Even though you don't know the boy or his family, I know for sure that they are all very grateful for your help that day. Without it, that young boy would surely have not made it. And as you say, it certainly made a huge impact on you and your friend.

Kelly H-Y said...

Oh my goodness ... I had chills the entire time I was reading your post. Thank goodness you walked into that swimming area when you did ... otherwise, that boy's story and his family's story would be much different. Wow ... a true miracle!

Eddie Bluelights said...

Very touching David and well done you and Nirmal for saving that boy's life - take it from me, as an ambulance man living amongst colleagues who have saved lives, there is nothing more rewarding in this life than bringing back someone from certain death. Well done for the CPR and, take it from me, you will meet that person again one day, for in Heaven he will thank you. I salute you both. Eddie

The Lucky Mrs. T said...

Thanks for visiting.

Wow. What a great post David!

It is amazing the timing you had and the instincts you followed.
He was a very lucky boy.

Maybe he grew up to be a lifeguard or a doctor - saving lives himself now...

Thanks so much for your kind words and I am going to read more of your posts.

Ananda girl said...

Amazing story David! It is so remarkable how the brain just takes over and does what needs to be done... if the information is in there. What a lucky boy that was. I do not believe in accidental arrivals in cases of this sort. You were meant to be there at that point in time for that reason. Lovely to be so used by fate or the hand of God.

Elaine Dale said...

Thanks so much for sharing this significant memory. Providence, skill, intuition - so many things made for a happy ending.

The Vengeance said...

Oh man, David this is incredible! What a memory. Your heroism, the mystery of the boy, it's so intriguing. Now I'll always secretly hope for a chance meeting between you and him. A moment where he recognizes you (as unlikely as it is) and says, "wait, I remember you. Remember that day so many years ago? Remember what you did for me?"
:') This was beautiful David, the writing as well as the memory.

naturglede said...

Greate story from you! Thank you!

Granny Smith said...

Wow! This a wonderful story vividly recalled. I like the pool pictures that accompany it. Don't you wish you could discover not only who the boy was but also what sort of man he grew up to be?

Your EG Tour Guide said...

Amazing story! I'm impressed that you thought and reacted so quickly!

Elizabeth said...

What an amazing story.
Yes, I think we act on pure instinct under pressure lie this.
We have to ask others for the details because we are so focused on the moment.
All best wishes

Babooshka said...

I can only echo Mara's words today. I wonder in this often isolating world, that in some ways has become smaller virtually will this boy happen upon this post and recall it was him.

Moannie said...

Someone like you did the same thing for me when I was ten years old, David. Beautifully told story and another small piece to add to the piture that is you.

Susan said...

Wow, what a story, and what stories come to mind thinking about what happened--or what could have happened. It would be amazing if you could find out more about him after all these years.

Quiet Paths said...

What an amazing recount of a very fortunate little boy. I wonder what he is doing today?

Urban Panther said...

Goosebumps on that story. Funny, actually probably necessary, how one just reacts. My siblings and I were playing one Summer day and a German Shepard came out of nowhere and started attacking us. I lept in between the dog and my siblings and drew him off. This tiny voice in the back of my head was thinking "Could be rabid" but that didn't matter. It seemed like an eternity and only a second all in one, before my grandfather appeared and gave the dog a good whack with a shovel and sent it packing. What did we all do after? Went right back to playing, of course.

Seamus said...

How very fortunate for the little boy that you had the quick response that you did! I would be interesting to hear what has become of him.

♥ bfs~"Mimi" ♥ said...

Oh, my! Fantastic! What a blessing for the boy and his family!

And you've brought an old memory to surface. I must share it soon.

Janie said...

That was a great story with a wonderful ending. Providence, indeed.

Luke said...

David,

What a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us, Hero.

Kirti said...

I know this feeling. Making me tear up, David. Thank God you were there!

Pamela said...

imagine that... never knowing. and him never knowing.

... and did his parents every know?

Did he suffer small amount of oxygen deprivation?

Oh so many questions.

But you guys were heroes.

Tumblewords: said...

Wow! Perfectly wonderful! A fortuitous visit plus the ability to perform a profound deed. Wonderful!

Cynthia said...

To everything there is a time and a purpose.
Amazing story.
Thank you for sharing.
Will look forward to any updates that turn up....
:^)
C

Sandy said...

Wow, what a post and I'm glad I got to read it...thank God you were there...

Casdok said...

Thank goodness you and your friend showed up when you did! What an awesome story.

Grace and Bradley said...

Incredible incident. Your story tells an incident happen so many years ago, but also tell the story of the life of two individuals and the the boy. I always delighted to read your writing and amazed how you draw reader's attention as you unfold the story.

Kylie w Warszawie said...

Fabulous story! I hope the power of the internet helps you to find him.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

This story just gave me chills! It's amazing how Providence can intervene to save a life. I choked on a bottle as a baby, and my father saved my life. My husband got his head caught in the bars of his crib and had his oxygen cut off, and his mother felt funny about something, walked in, and saved him.

I took lifesaving courses as a teen because I taught swimming to little children as a volunteer one summer. And you are right, dead weight is hard to lug and you have to remember to carry a struggling person out of the water by grabbing them from behind, lest they grab you and drown you in their panic.

Your adrenaline was probably going a million miles a minute! That's how you got him to the surface, David. God's hand was clearly on you and that child.

Sheila :-)

Shayla said...

What an exciting post! I'm so happy it turned out well.

Dragonstar said...

What a wonderful story David! I do hope you somehow get to hear something about that little boy again. He had all these years thanks to you.
Many thanks for participating.

BumbleVee said...

the hair on the back of my neck stood up on end reading this one...

and back into the pool you guys dived... all in a day's work eh?

well, it was a great thing that you happened to be there that day.....it would be amazing to be able to find that "little boy" now...

ROSIDAH said...

Being a parent, I know that I would be forever grateful to you in this kind of situation. I'm glad that you had such a quick and good response. You have also a wonderful friendship with Nirmal Gosh. Friends like these make life even more precious. Have a great day :)

phaseoutgirl said...

Hi David,

I just came by for a quick visit, and found this story about you and Nirmal! You were certainly very brave and the kid is lucky that you were both there. I am amazed at your presence of mind, because if it was me, I would have ran to find someone else, and it could have been too late!

I was just in BKK for a short work trip, it was good to see Nirmal again, perhaps I may also come and visit you in Oz one of these days! And do come back for a visit to Canada! :)