Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/105

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THE QUESTION OF PAIN IN DROWNING.

two counteract each other, and the drowning person, from the moment he strikes the water, is hardly conscious of what is going on.

A swimmer, or a person whose presence of mind enables him to keep his head above water for some time before drowning, passes through a different experience. But, although data are wanting on this point, it is probable that his final agony is short and painless. His physical exertions, kept up for a long time in the hope of relief, together with his exposure to cold and wet, and the lack of nourishment, combine to reduce his strength very rapidly, and it is not altogether a conjecture to suppose that a single draught of water into the lungs, when he finally gives up, is enough to bring on unconsciousness. His suffering, too, is chiefly mental, but he experiences the additional discomforts of exhaustion, cold, and hunger, if his struggle for life is a prolonged one.

It is believed that the rapidity and painlessness of death by drowning are due chiefly to the speedy obstruction of the circulation of the blood through the lungs. In ordinary asphyxia, by the simple deprivation of air, the blood throughout the body becomes charged with carbonic acid, and the arteries as well as the veins become filled with venous blood. Now, venous blood does not pass readily through the capillary vessels, and, when the accumulation of impurities has become so great as to prevent its passing at all, the circulation comes to a standstill. But the dreadful distress of suffocation comes on long before this point is reached. Now, when cold water is sucked into the lungs and comes in contact with their delicate and sensitive mucous membrane, it must cause an instant and powerful contraction of the capillaries, and obstruct the current of blood from the right side of the heart, thus indirectly damming back the venous blood in the brain. This state of things brings on unconsciousness rapidly, preceded by the pleasurable tingling sensations, rapid succession of ideas, and flashes of light and color, so often described by persons who have been rescued from drowning.

Drowning persons, then, die in different ways:

1. By syncope, and asphyxia while unconscious. Some of these die instantly.

2. By apoplexy (usually congestive), common in plethoric and aged persons, followed by asphyxia while unconscious.

3. By asphyxia pure and simple.

Deaths which come under the first two heads are rapid and painless, constituting probably a half, and, according to Taylor, three-quarters of all deaths by drowning.

Deaths which come under the third heading we presume are not accompanied by physical suffering for these reasons:

1. Persons who have been resuscitated, after having become unconscious, declare that they have felt no pain whatever.

2. Death is speedy.

3. Persons who lose their presence of mind are so occupied with