By Patricia Carroll
The last time I did something for the first time, I walked slowly down the ramp into the 90-degree therapy pool for my first strengthening and toning class. As I moved deeper into the water, I was amazed at how soothing it felt. I thought: Why on earth did it take me so long to get here?
It’s been two years since my chronically sore nurse’s back turned out to be something more: severe degenerative spinal disease. Three months later, it was H1N1 and then a cough that would not go away. I began a familiar routine: productive cough, feel crummy, drop off a culture, take antibiotics, feel better and then in four or five weeks, rinse and repeat.
After about six months, I was so short of breath, I couldn’t lie flat to do my back exercises. Thus began a year of increasingly exotic antibiotics and increasing doses of prednisone. I woke up one morning and wondered: “Where did that 30 pounds come from? Yikes!” Hmmm…did I want to breathe easily or get my girlish figure and low cholesterol back?
Not a month later, I was sitting in a recliner, as my homecare nurse started my IV, looking up at that little intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) bottle. I learned that MedicAlert introduced a “fashionista” collection (who knew?), but selective immunodeficiency wasn’t on its list of recognized conditions. It is now!
After a few months, my physical therapist wanted me in the pool. I talked a good fight, but for the first time in my life, I was scared to do something new. I was a crusty, old, fearless emergency room nurse, after all. Yet, there I was, afraid to get in the water. The night before registration, I thought I was on the bottom stair but I wasn’t, and I stepped into space and landed on my ankle. My husband said he’d never seen anything swell so fast (or heard me yell so loudly!). No pool for me. Six weeks later, I fell again. My physical therapist challenged me: “What is it that you don’t want to step into? Something is going on here.”
She was right. That afternoon, I took out the tape measure and put numbers to the depressing physical changes from the prednisone. I paged through the catalog, picked out swim shorts and a long swim top, and hoped I would be covered enough.
So there I was in the water. I couldn’t believe how great it felt. I looked around at the others in the pool. I was surely the youngest, but not the heaviest. Two ladies introduced themselves and welcomed me. Once class started, I marveled at the camaraderie and support. When I turned toward the ramp during a stretch, I saw four canes, two walkers and — by the bench along the wall - a wheelchair!
As we performed the cool-down balance exercises, tears rolled down my cheeks. My balance was awful, but in the water, I didn’t have to risk another fall. I was safe. I cried when I realized how much strength I’d lost and how I had been living my life in fear. I was afraid to fall, afraid of getting sick again. But those tears also were tears of relief. Getting in the pool for the first time taught me that my extra weight doesn’t matter and my limitations don’t define me. Nobody there cares about my shape. It’s clear that, like cameras and food, self-pity is not permitted in the pool area. And that’s just what I needed to learn to muster the courage and strength I’ll need the next time I do something for the first time.