Archive for August, 2006
Can You Swim?
We just got back from a vacation. Every summer (for the past couple of summers) my blond companion drives me and the kids in a rented car to The Big Smoke where we stay in the cheapest hotel I can reserve two adjoining rooms in at the last minute. For a couple of years running the lucky winner has been The Ghost Hotel, so named because last summer we arrived to a power outage during which everyone else in the hotel would seem to have checked out. Not us. We took our stuff up six floors, changed into our bathing suits, and headed down to the dark and deserted pool area.
So yeah. The hotel may be pretty crappy, but it’s cheap AND it has a good deep pool one level down from the lobby with one whole wall of windows letting in lots of natural light. The view is of a abandoned lawn with a few dirty white lawn chairs and a wooden slat fence with obvious entry points for anyone in desperate need of a swim.
You’d have to be desperate, though – since the hotel is in the middle of a commerical park. And it’s not the cleanest pool area once you’re on the other side, either. You might even say it’s dirty. Dark, deserted, and dirty. A Three-D Pool.
But back to the beginning of this trip. It started out like all of our trips – optimistically. An optimism which, as always, is tested once we near The Big Smoke and The Traffic Zone which starts before Oshawa and continues until you hit your destination. We wonder aloud each year how anyone can live in The Big Smoke, but eventually, somewhat like death or taxes, I guess, we reach our hotel whever it is and thoughts immediately turn to a nice refreshing swim in the pool before a real sit down restaurant meal. Well, for me they do. And for one daughter and my son. My blond companion and my other daughter, enh – the pool – not so much.
This trip, we arrived to no power outage, took the elevator up to the room, changed into our bathing suits and the three teens and I headed down to the pool – which turned out to be every bit as deserted this year as it was last – in spite of no power outage. Cold, too. You could actually feel icy cold water coming through the jets. I did a brief swim, as did my oldest daughter. At one point I noticed she went outside to the lawn, looked at a lawn chair, and came back in.
Hm… Interesting… You can go in and out without a key of any kind. I noticed, too, the gaps in the fence were still there. Okay. In addition to mentioning the icy cold water, I’d mention the easy pool entry access from outside the hotel. Something told me the posted pool hours were pretty irrelevant, too – that access was probably 24/7 for non-guests desiring a late night swim should they find themselves drunk and hot and hanging around a commercial park at 3:00 a.m.
In the meantime, my other daughter and son were jumping into the pool. It’s 3 metres deep at one end. Great fun for jumpers. And like all good pool goers, they obeyed the No Diving signs posted everywhere. Why, I don’t know, since the deep end is 3 metres and there isn’t even a diving board to power you down to neck breaking territory.
After a while, my daughter got bored and hungry and wanted to go eat dinner. My son lagged behind, drying off, collecting his stuff. We got to the elevator and I said to my daughter, “Go back and make sure he’s coming.” The edge of the pool was so slippery that I was worried not having him in view. Thinking back on the day later I even remembered out of the blue that at one point she had wanted to play a game of some kind while I sat sleepy lifeguard duty in a chair at the edge and I heard him say – “No. It’s too slippery” – thinking it sounded very mature and grown up for a 13 year old. That was also when I added “slippery” to my list of safety infractions. The list I was haphazardly compiling in my head with no real intent on follow through – it’s just the kind of thing I do for casual conversation bumph later. Then, just as she was about to go back, the elevator door opened and a rather menacing looking guy with bloodshot eyes stared out at us before pressing the close button and heading back up to the lobby and beyond.
Hm… Not a soul around, either. That was a little bit creepy, I thought. My daughter was looking at me alarmed. “That was creepy, Mom.” “Oh well. He must have just got on the down elevator in the lobby by mistake. And he’s been drinking, that’s all. Don’t be so dramatic.” But I added that one to the list, too. Guests are on their own in the deserted, pool area. “At least it’s clean”, I offered. “That’s saline they’re using, you know, not chlorine.” “Yeah. The bugs don’t seem to last long in it, Mom. Judging from all the ones we saw floating on the surface.”
We headed back to the pool area. “C’mon. We’re going up to the room now. Hurry up. You’re dry enough.” “It’s slippery. I can’t walk fast.” “Move it!” Moving like he was hopping hot coals, he caught up to us, we got on the elevator, and went up to our rooms. Mom having spoken. Sharply. Sure, it’s slippery. Dangerous, too. I don’t care – move it!
We went for dinner. A fun dinner that involved me ordering a fish I’d never heard of before in parchment, having never had such a thing, and then having to ask the waiter if I was supposed to eat the puffy stuff around the dinner. “That’s the parchment paper”, he said, stifling a smile. “Haha! Mom was going to eat parchment paper!” “I wasn’t going to eat it without asking if I should first, kids”, I lectured. “Let this be a lesson to you all. When in doubt – ask.” “Haha! Mom was go -” “That’s enough or I’m going to ask the waiter if I should eat my napkin!”
We walked back to the hotel. Laughing and talking. We entered the lobby. It seemed busy. There was a young Asian man aggressively wandering. Very aggressively wandering. Asking something. Going right up to people. Everybody. He looked anxious. Sounded anxious. I said to my blond companion, “He’s trying to get attention. Something’s wrong. Ask him what he wants.”
My blond companion, who’s concerned now, “What’s wrong? What are you asking?”
“Can you swim?”
The words came out of his mouth clear as day. The language barrier miraculously overcome to blurt out, “Can you swim?”
“Can you swim?”
We run to the door leading to the stairs down to the pool. Pounding down the stairs, there is a comical moment at the bottom which later I think is like something out of an Austin Powers movie as the Asian (wrestler? – he is powerfully built wearing a long athletic tank and shorts) slowly and delicately slides his room key in the slot, pulls it back out, to open the door to the pool (ironic, too, since anyone could enter from OUTSIDE the hotel, I think – later).
We three run over to the pool. It is still. There is no flailing swimmer, no floating body. But the Asian wrestler is gesturing wildly at the pool. I run to the edge. He’s pointing at the pool. My blond companion is shouting, “I can’t see anything!”
Then I see it.
There. Is. A. Body. At. The. Bottom. Of. The. Pool.
“Oh my God! There’s somebody down there! We’ve got to do something!” My blond companion takes off his jeans. “We’ve got to save him! He could still be alive!”
He jumps in, tries to swim down. I’m thinking, “It’s deep. I can’t swim down that deep. He has asthma. He can’t get enough air to get down that deep.”
The kids are behind us. I wave them back. But my daughter, the good swimmer, the one who was jumping in the pool earlier with her brother comes up behind me. “I can do something! I can help!” I’m thinking to myself that he’s dead, that she can’t help, that it’s too late. Let my blond companion handle it. “Get in! Quick! Get down there! You can do it! You have to try!” She dives in but it’s not deep enough. She’s panicking. “Get down to him! You can do it! You have to try to get down to him! He might be alive!”
Inside I’m terrified. She’s 14. He’s probably dead. She’s frightened but she’s doing what I tell her. She’s still trying. Then a third guy. He’s yelling at my blond companion. “Get down there! Save him!” “I’m trying! I need more air!” I yell at him, “It’s too deep! They can’t get down! They can’t get enough air!” I see him panicking. I’m panicking. I think I yell, “Do it! Save him! Dive! Go!” I realize now I’m going to have to haul my daughter out of the water – make her re-do the dive. Deeper. Right to the body this time. Deeper. It’s got to be deeper. That’s what will save him. Now I’ve convinced myself he’s alive. We have to do what we can. A deep water dive right to the bottom. It’s 3 metres. The sign says “Three Metres Deep”.
Then I see him start throwing stuff out of his pockets, the third guy. My blond companion and daughter are both trying to swim down to the body. Gasping for air. Diving under again. Swimming down. Not far enough. Back up. Air. Back down. He dives in, the third guy. A perfect deep water dive off the edge of the pool. Straight to the body, his hands swoop under the body and in a second he/it is at the surface. I see blood come out of the body’s nose. The third guy is yelling at me. “Get him out!” I reach over, squeamish, but obedient, haul the body up over the edge by thick slippery cold shoulders. It’s awful. The body feels clammy, it’s an odd colour – grey. Someone yells behind me, “Get back! There’s blood! Under his head!”
A cop. He yelled about the blood. I back away because I was told to – relieved. See towels. Something practical. Get towels for my daughter and my blond companion. Wrap her up. She’s shaking.
“Oh my God! There’s a pulse! I’ve got a pulse!” There are cops everywhere. But it’s a hotel guy yelling, “I’ve got a pulse! There’s a pulse!” Someone, a cop, yells, “CPR! Start CPR!” The hotel guy is still crouched down by the body, “I’ve never done CPR before! I don’t know what I’m doing!” “Just keep pumping his chest!” “Harder!” It’s mass confusion. Then, “I’ve got a heartbeat! There’s a heartbeat! He’s alive!” A cop yelling, “A heartbeat!” Other cops are herding us out of the pool area. “Everybody clear out!” We do as we’re told. Clear out. Go up to our rooms. Dazed but orderly.
My blond companion and my daughter punish themselves over details as decent people who are destined to take action in a crisis always seem to do after the drama is over and everyone else is taking in air and feeling grateful for people who take action. Analyzing their every move. Wishing it all better, smoother, more heroic, less… real. Human. “We should have been able to save him. We should have dived. We should have. We. Should. Have.”
I point out that their actions inspired the third guy to act, to do what had to be done. The third guy based his actions from knowledge of their actions. Executed a perfect deep water dive. Right to the body. Everyone was assuming he was dead (we realized later a fully clothed soaking wet desk clerk had wandered past us at some point – the kids, just seconds behind us, had heard him say as he brushed past them that someone was dead in the pool – my other daughter, not a big swimmer, had been holding the door open for the cops who waved her off, inexplicably to her, “It was something I could do while they did other stuff” – my son, not a big swimmer, either, stayed out of the way – handy – but out of the way) until someone assumed, as one should, that he wasn’t and acted with his best instincts. My daughter, shaken, pointed out the gaps in swimming instruction (she has all her levels up to Bronze Medallion) and vowed to take her lifeguarding so next time there’s no question. No panic. Later, my blond companion and I wander outside for some air, see the third guy talking with a counsellor, a cop is sitting beside him, the third guy is saying, “I should have gone in sooner”. She’s saying, “It could have been a lot worse. He’s alive.” I ask the cop why there was blood. He says, “He hit his head on the bottom of the pool.” “It’s too deep”, I say. “That’s just not possible. He must have hit his head first.” He shrugs. Looks tired. Doesn’t want to go into it. My blond companion thanks the third guy, “Good job, buddy. You saved his life.” The third guy gestures, “And you. You were in the pool. You jumped right in to save him.” I mention my daughter. “She couldn’t get down to him. Her dive was too shallow. You dived right to the body.” The third guy says, “I can’t remember. It was so crazy.” He points to my blond companion again. “I just saw him in the pool. He couldn’t get down to save him. I had to do it.”
I had to do it.
A perfect dive. Right to the body. Under it. Up to the surface. Two seconds. Maybe three. I tell my blond companion, “He kept his glasses on. So he could see. Emptied his pockets. Kept his glasses on.”
We told my daughter the guy at the bottom of the pool was alive, gone to hospital. I didn’t ask any more questions. Didn’t want to know. As an aside, for my part, I never really questioned my decision not to dive in. I knew my capabilities were outmatched by my daughter. An automatic passing of the torch, I guess. Panicked, chaotic, but automatic. And to be honest, for me, the concern was never so much for the poor fellow who’d started his vacation unconcious at the bottom of the pool (after some horsing around at the edge with his buddy, I would guess – when neither of whom could swim, as it turned out) as for the parents on the other side of the ocean who would be getting some terrible or not quite so terrible news.
In any case, cheap or not, that’s it for The Ghost Hotel with the Three-D Pool for us. The Toronto Public Health Authority had their sign up 24 hours later: “This Public Swimmming Pool Is Closed”.
It’s bizarre, really, but I had almost hoped it wouldn’t be. That the bureaucracy would stay at bay at least until our vacation was over. Even though you needed two hands to count the health and safety infractions well before the “body at the bottom” took our vacation on a detour, it was fun having the pool to ourselves, joking about how we were the only people in the hotel who ever used it, totalling up the infractions on the elevator back up to our rooms.
But it is closed and I suspect there will be more closed hotel swimming pools across many cities in these days of no lifeguards, no inspections – more travel. It boggles my mind that signs are all that is required these days to insure a finger’s crossed immunity. Ridiculous, too, when you think that the signs are in English while the guests are from all over the world. Not that signs would stop a couple of young guys in any language from horsing around at the edge of a pool. But a lifeguard could. And would. And there would be one less very unhappy bit of news travelling across an ocean to the parents of a young guy who… well… let’s give it a happy ending and say who spent a few days in hospital recuperating fully from an unconscious stint at the bottom of a pool instead of bringing home the gold from a wrestling match somewhere in The Big Smoke, Canada. That big beautiful country with a huge rich province where, for some reason, hotel pool lifeguards are a thing of the past.