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Eager to get back in the water, Beth asked for a schedule of open swim times at the Green Springs rehab center. I never—ever—suggested going to a pool. Life was too overwhelming. However, I rarely questioned or discouraged her ideas. Plagued by guilt, I felt like the last person who should say no.
In the warm water pool with me instead of a therapist, Beth moved to a floating position by herself after hanging on at the wall. After a few laps, she asked about something new. In the middle of the lane, after sinking, she tried to get on her back to float (and breathe), but without a wall to grab onto, she couldn't keep her head above water long enough to get on her back. Yet.
Afterwards, the rehab locker room overflowed with elderly ladies getting ready for a class in various states of undress. On the way home, Beth asked to pick up a pool schedule at our local YMCA. I talked to Laraine to find out if a typical pool with a cooler temperature might trigger autonomic dysreflexia, and she said yes. I needed to be alert for flushing of the skin, a pounding headache, sudden changes in heart rate, and dizziness. And high blood pressure that could trigger a stroke. I put a blood pressure monitor in her swim bag.
“I taught myself how to swim on my back independently,” Beth said. “I slowly progressed to swimming laps at the YMCA.”
At Tiffin’s one indoor pool, I lowered her from her wheelchair to the deck and then again into the cool water. No scary symptoms surfaced. The pounding headache belonged to me. I stayed close in the water and followed her leisurely floating back and forth, arms waving under the surface. It appeared to be smooth sailing, but I knew better. Turning around at the wall alone required strenuous exertion. Ten minutes with frequent long breaks made her arms tremble.
The lifeguard didn’t know how to operate the sling lift, so I squatted at the edge of the deck. With Beth in the water with her back to the wall, I reached under both of her arms and pulled up, thoroughly scraping her back in the process. I felt like an awful mom. I couldn’t lift her from the deck to the wheelchair by myself, so I asked the lifeguard to grab her knees while I lifted under her shoulders. Others stared as both of her legs extended in bouncing spasms. I bent her knees and put her feet back on the footrests as quickly as possible.
I had more lessons to learn.
The second time at the YMCA pool, Beth’s foot twisted in the metal of the wheelchair when I lowered her to the deck. My fault. I had focused on a smooth transfer, not on her feet. She felt no pain, but spasms intensified in her legs, her body’s indicator of a problem. She tried floating, but too many spasms made her uncomfortable. I managed to lift her out of the pool without scraping the slow-healing scabs on her back.
The next day, Dr. Miller examined the swollen foot and an x-ray, too early for the stress fracture to show. She prescribed a muscle relaxant to tone down the spasms. The foot would heal on its own without any weight on it. I was grateful that Beth couldn't feel the pain of the injury, but it felt like an odd kind of gratitude. I couldn't refrain from wishing that she could stand and walk—and yes, feel pain in her legs and feet, too.
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