new lessons to learn
(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
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.
My heart just hurt for you as I read this. I can't begin to imagine how difficult it must have been to help Beth do this. To say she is amazing, and that you are an incredible mom, are both gross understatements. Thank you for sharing this so that others may learn from, and be inspired by, your experiences.
8/24/2016 08:22:01 pm
Deb, at that time, when I was trying so hard to make everything right, I wasn't very forgiving when I made understandable mistakes. But my mistakes weren't an issue with Beth. She had the gift of knowing what mattered and what didn't. Also, swimming just became more and more of a positive journey, and I was fortunate to share that with her. ❤️
8/25/2016 09:21:55 am
You and Beth are both so inspiring. I know I've said that before, but I also want you to know that I look up to both of you. You met a struggle - a long struggle - and you kept going, even though you felt awful yourself for what happened. Just being a mother I can certainly understand those feelings. And for Beth to be such a trooper through all of this. Her attitude is what you needed! I encourage you to keep up with your writing, please! Your stories have an excellent "flow" to them.
8/25/2016 06:47:30 pm
Thank you, Jill. And yes, I'm so glad Beth was/is a trooper. I think about our Barnes ancestors and their pioneering spirit; maybe Beth has an extra share of their genetics!? I know that I need and depend on family more than ever since Beth's injury. ❤️
8/25/2016 10:04:57 am
Inspiring read for anyone trying to overcome obstacles. I am learning a lot reading your difficult journey.
8/25/2016 07:03:38 pm
It's so nice of you to say, Micki! I really appreciate your support!
10/14/2016 04:14:18 am
I can imagine how pulling through all this was almost an impossible task for you, and, surely, Beth's attitude also helped out in the process. Hope others can learn from your experience that the best panacea to a difficult challenge is to always stick to the bright sides. Thanks for sharing your story!
10/14/2016 12:05:43 pm
Thank you, Akinade! Yes, you're right: I depended on Beth's attitude to keep myself together. She was my role model, and eventually, in time, I could share her joy in life. I think of myself as a very fortunate person--grateful, too!
10/27/2016 09:59:18 am
Another insightful post Cindy. So heart wrenching for you, I can feel it in your words. I always get so much out of reading the struggles you and Beth had. Both do interconnected but poles apart at the same time.
10/27/2016 12:41:21 pm
Hi Bill, thank you! At that time, I was hyper-aware of how my outlook wasn't anything like Beth's, and she was the one with a spinal cord injury, not me. I judged myself harshly: if Beth could be happy, why couldn't I be happy, too? But my mind and body worked against me with guilt, pain, and depression, so it wasn't a simple thing. Maybe it's okay to just do the best we can sometimes.
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