Not waving but drowning?

For a man who doesn’t like water Richard Armitage sure manages to land a lot of roles that confront him with this element. His recent incarnation as the dastardly German assassin Heinz Kruger showed him nearly drowning when Captain America unceremoniously punched a hole in his snazzy submersible.

Given that one of Richard’s earliest memories is of falling into a neighbour’s pond in his pushchair, it isn’t entirely surprising he feels a little uncomfortable around deep water. It must have taken considerable effort to overcome this fear in order to complete filming for Captain America. In an interview for TheTelegraph he explains he did four weeks of scuba training and made himself swim fifty lengths every day in preparation for playing Kruger (the clue is in the word ‘made’!). It probably helped a little but it’s apparent it didn’t stop the panic at being left at the bottom of a deep water tank without goggles or breathing apparatus as in the same interview he describes his distress at being asked to do a second take for that scene.

He had a better deal as Lee Preston in Cold Feet, of course, where he mostly managed to hang around the pool looking incredibly hunky and sexy in his Speedos.

But he still had to jump in at the deep end in episode 4 and, try as he might, couldn’t quite hide that this didn’t agree with him. His body language (head firmly held out of the water) clearly shows he doesn’t like taking a swim. Apparently Richard had taken aqua aerobics classes in preparation for that role. Hands up anyone who wishes they’d been in his class!

And then there was that most harrowing waterboarding scene in Spooks 7. Being the thorough professional he is, Richard actually submitted himself to this form of torture in preparation for his role as MI5 agent Lucas North. The Telegraph interview records Richard saying ‘They put a wet cloth over your nostrils and mouth, hold it tight and pour water into it. It’s like suffocating underwater.’ Now, that took an enormous amount of guts and it’s astonishing he lasted the five seconds he said he did.

I’m quite happy in the water myself but, back in the days when I started kayaking and was practicing my Eskimo rolls and rescues in the pool, I managed to get myself into trouble once. I can vouch that running out of air is deeply disturbing and every cell in your body just wants to draw breath, regardless of the fact that you’re submerged, trapped up-side down in an unwieldy piece of blow-moulded plastic.

So what happens when a person drowns? Drowning is classified as suffocation due to immersion of the nostrils and mouth in a liquid. It’s not just asphyxiation due to suffocation though – things are a bit more complex than that. Inhaling water will cause disturbances of blood electrolytes and fluid balance. If fresh water is inhaled, it passes from your lungs to the bloodstream causing an expansion of blood volume, haemodilution (thinning of the blood as red blood cells are spread more thinly in the increased volume of plasma) and haemolysis (dissolution of red blood cells with the consequent liberation of their haemoglobin). If salt water is inhaled, the salt withdraws water from the blood which enters lung tissue, displacing the air. At the same time electrolytes (sodium, chloride, magnesium) will pass into the blood causing haemo-concentration (thickening of the blood with increased proportion of red blood cells). All of which sounds, and probably is, extremely painful.

Drowning happens in phases. Natural survival instinct kicks in straight after submersion and you will struggle to surface and stay surfaced. As the struggle subsides with exhaustion, drowning begins. In the early stages of drowning, you may initially gasp and aspirate small amounts of water, hyperventilate and/or try to hold your breath. Breathing in even small amounts of liquid, however, will trigger laryngospasm during which the trachea is sealed to keep the water out. In other words, your body is now forcing you to hold your breath until carbon dioxide accumulation forces respiration, resulting in an inhalation of more water. Gulping of water, coughing and vomiting will quickly be followed by unconsciousness and from there it is all downhill.

Drowning happens very quickly. Unconsciousness usually occurs within two to three minutes of submersion and as unconsciousness will cause involuntary respiratory movements, causing more inhalation of water, death generally occurs within two to three minutes after that. And if you think a little bit of water can’t do any harm – think again. It takes a relatively small amount of liquid to interfere with the body’s ability to breathe. A tiny amount entering the lungs can cause irritation, and the resulting fluid produced in the lungs can accumulate and cause drowning up to 72 hours after immersion!

So taking the above into account, I doff my cap to Mr Armitage for having the courage to film scenes like that for Spooks and Captain America. Talking about suffering for your art! I’m just hoping, on his behalf, there won’t be too many wet & watery scenes in The Hobbit.

[The Captain America picture is my own; Screencap of Heinz Kruger is courtesy of Richard Armitage Central; Screencaps of Lee Preston and Lucas North are courtesy of RichardArmitageNet; The Telegraph interview is courtesy of RichardArmitageNet; The Independent quote is courtesy of Richard Armitage Central; Facts about drowning were gathered from Ambulance Technician Study and Dundee University.]