Relaxing with a spicy marg in hand? Not on my vacations
Jayde Atchison (She/Her) // Opinions Editor
While walking my friend’s dog along the English Bay Seawall, I noticed a battle happening between a black SUV and a man on a bike. What appeared to be simple road rage turned into a full blown Jason Bourne movie, as I watched the biker leap off his bike, mid-ride, and jump into the passenger side window of the moving SUV. They were not driving the full speed limit, but I was no less impressed.
As this was the wildest sight I had ever come across in the quiet West End neighbourhood, I felt compelled to go check out what the hell was going on, and perhaps discover which Dwayne Johnson movie was being filmed in our city at this time of night. To my surprise, I was met with a man driving while slipping into unconsciousness. The man on the bike had jumped into the car to put it into park so the driver would not hurt himself or anyone else.
I quickly went into lifeguard mode and did steps A-Z to ensure this man, who it turned out was going into diabetic shock, was going to be okay. I have been training for first aid for more years than I haven’t and it felt natural to go into rescue mode — well, as natural as an adrenaline-fuelled event can be.
The first thing most people ask me when they hear that I am a lifeguard is: have you ever had to save a life? The answer is never as glamorous as they are hoping for, because most of the time their idea of lifeguarding stems from TV shows and movies, where there is a body floating in the water every episode — or little Johnny is bitten by a shark and needs an immediate arm transplant.
My answer tends to be a bit more grey, in which I try to explain that yes, I save lives quite often but it is almost never dramatic at the pool itself. Lifeguarding, if done right, is about prevention. Every second of my shift is spent people-watching and thinking ten steps ahead about what could go wrong with any scenario. We offer lifejackets, noodles, basically anything that will help a weak swimmer stay afloat and keep us from jumping into the pool with all our clothes on.
Spending 12 years staring at a pool and keeping my lifeguarding certifications current has made me confident in a crisis. I have had more major first-aid incidents while walking downtown than I have while on the pool deck. I am calm, steady and locked into autopilot until the ambulance drives away — leaving me to process my new sweat stains.
The level of attention that I give while on shift has slowly trickled into my everyday life. I never realized the impact the pool had on me until I was just settling onto a lounge-chair freshly slathered in SPF 800, pina colada in hand-when I thoroughly shocked and embarrassed myself by yelling, “WAAAAALK” to a random child that was running around the pool at my resort in Mexico. At that moment, I realized that I was no longer able to separate myself from my job, even on vacation. It was time for me to pack my bags and find a spot along the resort where I could properly relax, instead of constantly feeling the need to scan the people around me. The stress of people diving in the shallow end, unsupervised toddlers and the constant running was the opposite intention of the trip. I’m sure when an accountant goes on vacation, she doesn’t want several in-depth conversations about tax season, all while suddenly sitting in a tropical version of her exact office. Where most people find serenity and a place to cool off, I find ways to raise my blood pressure.
Maybe with enough all-inclusive drinks, I would be able to finally sit poolside without worrying about the safety of everyone around me, but I have yet to test that theory. For now, my back is turned away from all bodies of water, a book covering my peripheral vision and a reminder that I am not being paid to be here, it’s okay to not be “on duty.” Pools, whether indoor or outdoor, trigger a work response that I do not enjoy, but I have found peace in beaches around the world — simply because I am not qualified to work on the beach and have yet to be tainted by the environment.