Close Call


One father’s scary story

By Martin Dolan
The Arizona Republic
May 17, 1998

Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

Martin Dolan, above, with son Connor near the pool fence. Hero dog Greta alerted the family when Connor fell into the water.

Our backyard pool went off by accident Monday morning, and it nearly killed our little boy.

In reality, though, it wasn’t an accident.

I knew the pool was loaded, and I left it lying out in the sunshine, a silvery siren for an 11-month-old as fearless as Fosdick.

I didn’t close the pool gate – which isn’t much different from handing Connor a .38 and turning my back.

But thanks to God and a German shepherd named Greta, Connor issquealing and dancing his way around the house again, oblivious to thelesson his mom and dad will never forget: Even good parents can screwup, and kids will die for it.

It’s a lesson I’ve heard and helped repeat scores of times while editing stories about accidents and tragedies for The Arizona Republic.I knew that survivors often end up horribly damaged, and that marriagesoften are destroyed by water “accidents.” But the “accident” happenedanyway.

It was cool on Monday morning when Greta and I got up beforethe rest of the household. Tina was in our bed with Jack, who was only8 days old, and Connor was still sawing logs in his crib. I let the dogout the dining room door, propping the pool gate open so she could doher business in the grass and then come back to her water dish on thepatio.

I closed the screen and the heavy French door. I was aware thatthe pool gate was open, but it wasn’t a big deal because the door wasshut. Too bad it wasn’t shut tight.

Connor was exploring the family room when I headed to thebathroom, Republic in hand. I watched him crawl into the kitchen, heardhis hands slapping the hardwood as he went into the dining room. Ifigured he’d hang a left and make for the front room, where his toysare.

Greta suddenly went ballistic.

This wasn’t a “Yo, cat!” bark, or a “That terrier’s in our yard again!” bark. This was loud, crisp, urgent: “GET OUT HERE NOW!”

I did. As I hit the patio, I could see waves rolling in thecorner of the shallow end and knew the worst had happened. Another stepand there he was, floating on his back, lips blue, the water lappingagainst his little jumper, the one with duckies on it. It’s an imagethat will drop the bottom out of my stomach for the rest of my life.

“CONNOR, NO!” I screamed as I jumped in, thinking that my wifewould kill me if I let him drown. I scooped him up to my shoulder andsmacked him between the shoulder blades with my palm. Tina, awakened byGreta’s bark, was at the door, frantic. She dialed 911 as I laid theboy on the carpet, turned him on his side and whacked him again on theback, hoping he’d cough or throw up.

I tried to open his mouth so I could try CPR. His jaws werelocked, so I twice tried blowing into his nose. The gurgling noise Iheard probably was air leaking past his cold, wet little cheeks, buthis eyes opened! When he whimpered and squirmed a little, I knew thatGod had given me another chance.

The Fire Department arrived in what seemed like a heartbeat.Paramedics put Connor on an oxygen mask and hooked up some monitorswhile calming Tina and me and asking us what happened. After a minuteor two, I carried him to the ambulance, where his mom took over for theride to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.

By the time I got into dry clothes, gathered the baby bag andloaded Jack into the car, the TV crews were on the scene. Guess it wasimportant for Phoenix to see the ashen father back out of his garage.Another film crew was waiting for Tina and our son at the ER. Connormissed his chance for a thumbs up for the cameras, but they mercifullydidn’t zoom in on Tina, who was still an understandable wreck.

Connor’s vitals all were excellent, and by the time I made itto Orange Room No. 26 at the ER, he was charming the staff, laughing athis stuffed bear and dancing his head in a figure 8. A chest X-rayrevealed no fluid in the lungs, but Connor was admitted overnight toPhoenix Children’s Hospital as a precaution.

Stinky old Greta, never a favorite of Tina, is queen of thehouse now. She got a brontosaurus bone from a shepherd admirer, a chunkof roasted chicken from me and a turkey treat from Tina.

But Greta will have to share her hero status with the firecrews and the staff at Good Sam, particularly the folks who kept thereporters at bay while our family came to grips with what had almosthappened.

I can’t say which I felt more, shame, guilt or relief. When Iwent home to get a few things for the hospital stay, I went intoConnor’s room and fell to the floor in sobs, thinking of life withoutmy Bubba. Thank you, dear God, that I didn’t find out.

Tina, the family, the paramedics and the nurse told me to notblame myself, to look at the outcome. You saved your little boy byacting quickly, they said. Maybe so, but I also put him in harm’s wayby not making sure the gate and the door were closed. Accidents don’tjust happen, folks.

TV was all over the story at 4, 5 and 6 o’clock, pairing itwith the recovery of the body of a young drowning victim from BartlettLake. Our story was the “happy” balance to that tragedy, and it had ananimal hero, too.

The coverage was accurate, and our privacy was respected in acutthroat market not known for its sensitivity on breaking news. Wewere amused that two channels sent helicopters over to shoot footage ofthe flip-flops I’d kicked off jumping into (or out of) the pool.Another shot video of Greta pacing the yard from the back yard of ourneighbors, who have small children of their own. We hope to God that aTV crew never has to ask our permission to shoot tape of a neardrowning in their yard.

By the evening, Connor’s story was old potatoes. There had beenanother pool incident, and a little girl who had tumbled into a bucketand was pulled to safety.

And that’s the problem. There are so many of these stories,we’ll get used to hearing about the dangers of pools, how they’re outthere waiting like thugs in broad daylight.We’ll think that we’re toocareful, that we’re good parents, that these things only happen toscrew-offs. But it’s not true.

The slightest lapse around water can set off a chain of events with tragic consequences.

Try thinking of your pool as a pistol on the coffee table. Then go check the pool gate.

And even though I’ve learned my lesson, I know we’re not out ofthe woods by any means. Jack will be crawling before we know it, andConnor on two feet will be even faster than Connor on all fours.

He doesn’t remember a thing about Monday, other than he gotanother teddy bear. In fact, a few minutes after we got home Tuesday,he jetted over to the dining room door, heading for the pool.


Martin Dolan has worked at The Arizona Republic since 1984. He can be reached at 444-7907 or at via e-mail.