Freedom Is…. My Ode to Pool Therapy

Freedom is…being in a pool.  Well, in my world anyway.  When I was younger, I loved swimming.  My brother and I practically lived in the ocean on weekends.  We had a pool that we always played in.  I was on a swim team (but really only because my sister was on it and I wanted to do whatever she did).   My family water skied as often as we could.  If it was water related, I was down for it!

In my teenage years, I didn’t swim quite as much.  I guess I just got busy with dry land activities.  I played softball in high school.  I hung out with friends at places other than the beach.  Then college and work became priorities.  And by college, I clearly mean partying, which involves liquids other than water.

But as I got older, my physical limitations got more pronounced.  While I used to play 3rd base on my high school softball, team, I found myself coaching an adult league because I couldn’t run anymore.  Dancing turned to watching dance competitions on TV.  (My friends Dr. Barbie and Mr. Dr. Barbie and I are pretty much obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance.)  My life of activity was quickly turning sedentary.  I fell so often that my scrapes were getting scrapes.  (And for the record, I still call them “owies”.)

But then I moved to the desert where I rediscovered my love of the water.  The hubs had a pool at his condo.  He would go out for walks with the dogs and I would spend 45 minutes in the pool.  There is nothing more freeing to me than to be gliding with ease through the water.  I can’t hurt myself!  Ok, well I’m sure I could hurt myself.  Sometimes I misjudge the wall when I’m doing the backstroke.  But, what I mean is I can’t fall down.  When I walk, there’s a good chance gravity will win.  In the pool, I win.  I am in my element.  Plus it’s apparently good on the joints and all that other medical mumbo jumbo.

Yesterday, I went back to the pool for the first time in nearly 7 months.  At first I wasn’t medically cleared because of my zipper.  No, I don’t really have a zipper on my body, though for repeat surgeries, that would probably come in handy.  I refer to my back scar as my zipper, cause it literally runs the entire length of my back.  Then my legs weren’t working enough where I would have been able to keep them down.  My physical therapist told me they would just float to the surface.  That sounded frustrating.  But last week they said I was finally at the point where they thought I could handle pool therapy.  The only down side is that there isn’t a physical therapy place with a pool out here.  The only one closed shop years ago.  But I did find a local pool with a lift, and I decided I could figure out the rest on the fly.

I waited for a day when my parents would be coming down so they could take me.  In case anything went dreadfully wrong, I’d like them to be there to help me out.  We drove over to the pool and I was ecstatic.  I couldn’t wait to get in.  I even bought a new swim outfit consisting of board shorts and a rash guard so I didn’t have to be nervous about being in a bathing suit in public.  We got there and were informed that the pool didn’t open for an hour.  My excitement started slowly fading into nerves as I sat there waiting.  What if I couldn’t control my legs?  What if I got tired?  What if I got stuck in the pool?  What if, what if, what if?

Then came the moment of truth.  The man who operates the lift told me it was ready.  As I transferred over to the chair, I asked him if he’d done this before.  He said he operated the lift every day.  I told him I meant, had he been on the lift and dunked into the pool?  He said he had and it wasn’t scary.  He began to raise me up and swing me slowly over the pool.  A couple old ladies watched me.  Old people love me because they have someone to feel bad for.

Then came the dunking.  My dad was recording it on his phone to put on Youtube.  I guess it could be used either as self-motivation or a way to earn a million visits if something went terribly wrong.  You can’t say the man isn’t always prepared.  I was finally lowered into the pool.  I unclasped the belt and pushed away from the chair.  My arms propelled me in the water back over to the side of the pool.

And it hit me: I was free!  At that point in time, I wasn’t the girl in the wheelchair.  I wasn’t the person with the legs who were betraying her.  I was just someone going for a swim in the water.  It was amazing!  It was liberating!  It was earth shattering!

It was exhausting!  Seriously and undeniably exhausting.  After 7 months of sitting around on my behind, I’ve realized exactly how out of shape I am.  And I realized how all of my physical therapy isn’t nearly enough.  For once since this whole mess started, I’m actually excited to be doing physical activity!  I can see where this will be beneficial, both mentally and physically.  I can work on leg movement, but then I can swim laps like a pro.  I can do work and I can be free.

I can be free!

Eat less…yeah right

It all started a couple weeks ago.  My mom uttered those 7 words that every girl loves hates to hear:  “I think you should see a nutritionist.”  I told her it’s rude to make fun of the handicapped.  She repeated her statement.  I told her that this conversation was better to be had over pizza.  She repeated her statement.  I told her that I don’t need a nutritionist to tell me to move more and eat less.  I need new legs to move more.

Ok, earlier I said I need new legs to move more.  Did you fall for it?  I’m the queen of excuses.  Did that one make you feel bad?  It doesn’t make my mom feel sad.  She tells me to move however I can.  For example, getting from the floor to the sofa gets my heart rate up.  She sat there today to see if it’s something we agree I could do while I was home alone without the fear of being the next “Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up spokeswoman.”  I wasn’t in the correct attire for this attempt, however.  I was wearing nylon warm-ups which kept sliding all over the floor.  I couldn’t get traction to save my life.  I finally managed to wedge a pillow under my knees which gave me enough traction to hoist my upper body onto the sofa.  My therapy dogs (which are really just my dogs during therapy time) thought I was playing a game and both decided to sit on my back.  They’re always looking to lend a helpful paw.  Or for a new place to rest.  After shooing them off of me, I managed to finally get myself onto the sofa.  The whole thing took about 5 minutes and probably got my heart rate up enough to burn 100 calories.  Probably not one of the exercises I should do unsupervised, unless we want the hubs to find me half sprawled on the sofa in my new occupation of “dog bed”.

Since move more isn’t the best solution right now, eat less is definitely the solution.  There’s just one problem: I love junk food so much that it’s practically against my religion to not eat them.

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Kiki (not her real name, but the name she plans on her grandkids calling her one day.  Her kids are under 10.).  We were talking about dieting and losing weight and all those other things girlfriends talk about when they get together.  She told me how her mom and sister told her that being skinny feels better than anything tastes.  I wish I had that mindset.  I would probably pay money if someone could reprogram my brain that way.   But, I love the taste of cake.  And ice cream.  And pizza.  And those are all way better than being skinny.  Yes, yes.  Being skinny is wonderful.  But, so are Oreos!  Literally, they’re so delicious that after I wrote that last sentence, I got sidetracked on the Oreo website and found that they have recipes for delicious desserts!  That’s how addicted to junk food I am!

To be fair, after Kiki and I had this conversation, I made her a spinach and goat cheese salad with balsamic vinegar and a hint of Italian seasoned olive oil.  So, I am not opposed to eating healthy.  I try to do it pretty often.  I just believe in moderation.  One thing healthy, two things junk food.  One thing healthy, two things junk food.  Etc, etc.  I usually find ways to justify it.  I’m in a wheelchair; I deserve those cookies.  I’m home alone; I need Skittles.  I had a hard workout so an extra scoop of ice cream won’t hurt.  It’s Wednesday pizza day.  It’s someone’s birthday somewhere in the world so let’s buy a sheet cake.  I can literally find any way to justify any junk food decision.

But there is one way to get me to cut back on the bad food.   And no, it’s not health related.  Yes, I do acknowledge that losing weight would help walking when I’m using all upper body on the walker.  And that’s a benefit.  Is it enough to get me to stop though?  Nope.  And yes, I acknowledge that putting on my clothes without using my legs would be easier if they fit looser.  Again, not enough to change my habits.  The one thing that is enough?  Having my mom bring up the fact that I need to go on a diet.  She’s not the type to let things go.  She will bookend every conversation with reminders.  She’ll bring it up at all times of the day when she calls to check in.  It is worth it to sincerely cut back on the intake just to have those nails on chalkboard conversations friendly reminders stop.  And believe me you, she knows this and is precisely the reason she persists.  After 33 years, she knows every trick and has me beat at every turn.  So mom, you’ll be glad to know that tonight I am passing on the cake for dessert and instead having a bowl of strawberries.


Today’s positive thought.

Another unfortunate side effect of my current situation: swelling in my extremities.  (That’s not the positive thought, obviously)  Apparently when you don’t move, your body gets swollen.  Something to do with circulation and fluid.  All I know is that if I sit in my chair for a few hours, then my feet get super swollen.  They’re so bad that my shoes leave imprints on my feet.  They start hurting.  And for someone with numb feet, that’s saying something.  My physical therapists told me to lay down with my feet elevated every now and then.  That’s all find and dandy if I’m home alone or with the hubs or my folks.  But, I can’t really do that if we have company over.  (“You don’t mind if I lounge on the couch while you’re talking, right?  Oh, and please ignore me if I fall asleep as one is accustomed to doing when lounging on the couch.”)  And I especially can’t do that if I get stuck for a few hours in court.  (“Excuse me your honor, but do you have a sofa in your chambers?  My little piggies are swollen and I need to raise them for a bit.  You don’t mind if I take my shoes off, right?”)  It’s just not the easiest thing to deal with.  It’s not the worst either.  It’s one of those in-betweeners that is just annoyingly sucky.

What I didn’t realize right away was that it’s not just my feet that get swollen.  (No, it’s not my mid-section.  Though, I would love to blame weight gain on swelling.  “I’m not getting fat.  It’s just lack of circulation.  Now pass me the fries!”)  My hands have gotten swollen too!  I only know this because when I came home from the hospital, my rings fit.  After a couple days, I realized that my ring finger was turning purple.  My engagement ring almost didn’t come off.  And I hadn’t been able to wear it since.   Luckily my wedding band had been one size bigger so it fit.  So it sat waiting for me for months.  I tried moving my arms more, massaging my hands, drinking more water, anything to get the swelling down.  I would sit in my chair flailing my arms and air boxing.  Didn’t help.  I finally caved and went to my jeweler to have it re-sized.  I was putting that off as I’m hoping to be mobile in the relatively near future.  But I missed my ring too much to wait any longer.  Even though they charged a ridiculous amount of money, (here comes the positive thought) it was worth it to finally slip my beautiful ring back on my non-beautifully non-manicured finger.

Now, people may think that this isn’t a big deal.  To many people, it might not be a big deal.  To me, it’s huge.  So much of my life has been turned upside down by this surgery.  I haven’t been out on my own in public since the beginning of August.  I can’t take a shower unless someone is home.  A lot of my normal clothes don’t fit because it’s so hard to button your pants while sitting.  (Ok, that and the fries I suppose.)  Strangers have been driving my car while I can’t.  Going to meet friends somewhere?  That’s out.  Riding my bike?  That’s clearly not happening.  We had to take the doors off of the bathrooms for me to get in.  Life is not at all what it used to be.  And it’s definitely not what the hubs signed up for.  So, my being able to finally wear my ring is a sense of normalcy that I can restore.  And for the mind, that’s a huge deal.  It’s swell, if you will.

Plus, it’s really sparkly and sparkly things make me happy.  The end.