Just Keep Swimming

Soon after we returned from Strokeman’s mother’s funeral we were informed that our days at out patient rehab were drawing to a close. As has become my habit, I took this news with a flood of tears. It scared me to death to think that any new advancements would be totally up to me and the guy with brain damage. He was overjoyed. He was tired of coming to therapy, and more than happy to call it quits. This did not help my overall disposition.

As we looked forward to formal rehab coming to a close, we attended a birthday party for our granddaughters at a community pool. This was an indoor pool within 10 miles of our home. It featured an entrance that looked similar to a wheelchair ramp; gradually sloping into deeper water. There was a rail on the right side, which happens to be Strokeman’s fully functioning side.

From the beginning of inpatient rehab, Strokeman had been asking for aquatic therapy. He craved being submerged in water. We had repeatedly been put off for one reason or another. I suspect it was not a part of the usual regimen for stroke survivors. Just another instance of what Strokeman used to refer to as “not invented here syndrome”.  But now it was up to me and him. He was able to walk fairly well at this point, so on our last visit I asked our physical therapist what things I needed to consider when getting him into the pool. She suggested some safety measures and gave us some ideas for exercises we could do in the water. We went and toured the facility, asked questions, and decided to take the plunge (yes, the pun is always intended).

On our first day of aqua therapy, I helped Strokeman sit up in the bed and transfer to the wheel chair. I wheeled him into the bathroom so that he could use the toilet. After that I wheeled him to the sink where I washed his hand, poured mouthwash in a glass and left him to put toothpaste on his brush and brush his teeth. Then I wheeled him to the bed where I helped him stand so that I could pull his boxers off. Then I helped him put his swim trunks on. I helped him weave the left arm of his shirt onto his non functional hand, up past the elbow, then he put his functional arm in the other hole and we pulled it over his head. I helped him put his wind pants on over his swim trunks and then I squatted on the floor and put his shoes on. I lifted his left leg and put it on the leg rest, put his hat on and gathered up the bag with towels, soap, washcloth, change of clothes for both him and me. I had previously put my own swim suit on and covered it with some other clothing.

I wheeled him to the garage and lined the wheelchair up with the the passenger side of the car. I opened the car door and positioned the step-stool near the door, but not in the way of him getting into the car. I helped him stand, and he took a few steps into the open door with his back to the seat. When he was lined up right I told him to sit back and rest his behind on the car seat. Then I put the step-stool in front of him and stood on it to keep it from slipping. He lifted his right foot onto the stool and pushed himself back into the car seat. I then helped him lift his left leg into the car and pivot his body into the proper position. I put on his seatbelt. I put the bags and the step-stool into the back seat, wheeled the chair to the back of the car, disassembled it and lifted the parts into the back of the car.

We drove to the community center and parked the car in the handicapped parking space which is a good 50 feet from the front door. I got out and went to the back of the car. I pulled the wheelchair out of the car and put it together. I wheeled it around and lined it up with the passenger side of the car. I opened the door and waited for Strokeman to pivot his right leg out of the car. Then I helped him lift his left leg out of the car and transfer to the wheelchair. I lifted his leg onto the leg rest, and got the bags and cane out of the back seat. I hooked one bag on the back of the chair and one on my shoulder and gave the cane to Strokeman to carry. I pushed him to the door – which opened out, so I had to take the cane, so he could propel himself with his right hand and right leg, and I opened the door for him to wheel in. Only he didn’t have the strength to make it over the threshold, so I had to help push him while I held the door open. We repeated this for the second set of doors. I took him into the lobby where he waited for me to run to the bathroom. Then I scanned our membership cards and we went to the family bathroom area where he tried to urinate into the plastic urinal I carry in the backpack wherever we go. He has a shy bladder so he couldn’t go.

I wheeled him into the pool area through another door that has to be held open while we enter. Then I put the bags in a chair and helped Strokeman get out of his street clothes. I went to a life guard and asked for a lifebelt, and put this on Strokeman. Then I wheeled the chair up to the ramp into the pool, got his foot off the leg rest, and made sure both feet were firmly planted on the ground. Then I helped Strokeman stand up and begin the decent into the pool. He was wearing a knee brace on his left leg that was not his “good” brace for everyday wear. It was to help keep his knee from hyper extending and also to send signals to his brain that his leg was there. As his torso and hand touched the water, he began to moan loudly. The chill of the water was registering as pain on his left side. He took a minute to get used to the water and went in a little deeper.

That first day we didn’t do much other than acclimate ourselves to the water and scope out the possibilities. He did lean back on me while I held him under the arms and kicked his legs in a bicycle motion as I moved him through the water. When we decided we had had enough, I pulled him toward the exit, getting as close as I could to where the wheelchair would be. This put us in very shallow water, which made it very difficult to get him into a standing position. I struggled, he struggled, we almost lost it. But finally we made it, with every lifeguard now on the alert to start CPR on whichever of us keeled over first. I made a mental note not to try to stand up in shallow water EVER again, and we made our way up the ramp.

When we got to the entrance, I made sure Strokeman was stable on his feet, and went to retrieve the wheelchair from where I had put it against the wall. I covered the seat with a towel and put it behind Strokeman so that he could sit down, then I covered him with another towel (having removed the safety belt). Then, still dripping myself, I gathered up the bags and wheeled Strokeman into the handicap equipped bathroom and started the water in the shower, adjusting it to Strokeman’s preferred temperature of lukewarm. I wheeled him close enough to transfer him onto the shower bench without soaking the wheelchair, and made the transfer. Then I showered him, washing his hair, and torso. Then I put the hand held shower down and helped him stand and walk carefully over to the safety bar so that he could hold on while I pulled his bathing suit down so that he could bathe his private parts. Then I turned off the water, pulled the wheelchair up behind him with a dry towel in the seat, and I helped him sit down in the chair. I wheeled him over to the bench with the bags on it and toweled him off and dressed him in dry clothes. Once he was dry and dressed and ready to go, I toweled myself off and dressed in dry clothes. I gathered up all of the wet things from both the bench and the shower stall and crammed them back into the bags, gave Strokeman a chance to try to pee again, and then headed toward the car. Got him in the car, the bags in the back seat, the chair in the back end, and drove home via Whataburger (don’t judge me, we earned it).

I got Strokeman out of the car, and into the house, set up his meal, waited for him to eat, wheeled him into the bedroom, lined the wheelchair up next to the bed, helped him stand and transfer to the bed, helped him get his left leg lifted into the bed, straightened his shirt and covered him up, turned the heater on to warm up his chilled body, helped him with the urinal, and then landed exhausted into the recliner to eat my burger. That is all I accomplished that day.

This became our routine 2 to 3 times a week, depending on the weather, doctor’s appointments and whether Strokman’s bowels were cooperating. It got easier as he gained strength and we learned from our mistakes. It warmed up which made it possible for him to wear his swim trunks and a teeshirt without all those other clothes. We got water socks and our own safety belt.

About the time we got into a really great rhythm, summer hit and the pool was full of children at our usual swim time. The lifeguards gave us permission to come in the morning during swim lesson time, and with a little work, we were able to adjust our schedule. Then the supervisor of the lifeguards came back from maternity leave and overruled their decision to let us be there during lesson time. Instead, she suggested we come at noon when the “lunch bunch” was there for water aerobics. This was frustrating for me, because I was constantly having to watch to see when they would be moving from one part of the pool to another so that we could stay out of their wake. I think Strokeman liked all those old women asking how he was every time they saw him. We began to have jokes about the “babes” who were hitting on him.

It became obvious that this was not going to be a place that would be worth renewing our membership. We were not their target group and they were not willing to work with us to accommodate our special needs. Meanwhile I asked the doctor for a referral to the local branch of a large hospital conglomeration in this area, because I had heard they had a pool that they used for therapy. We were given a referral and were able to go for several weeks to work out with a therapist who opened up new worlds of possibility for aquatics. We considered signing up for the health club there, but found that they had no shower facilities in which both Strokeman and I could go. Having a place with a handicapped “family” shower to clean up afterwords was a must for us.

I finally opted for a membership at a local fitness club that has both an exercise pool and a leisure pool inside. My thought was that we would use the exercise pool, but the leisure pool is warmer, so we go at off peak hours and have it mostly to ourselves. It took some adjusting at first, but we have managed. We love the customer service, we love the shower facilities, and we love having parking by the door and automatic door openers. I have started going by myself 2 to 3 times a week to exercise on my own. It has helped my over all outlook on life a great deal.

Its one of those things I wish I had known to look for in the beginning when we were frantically looking for a rehab facility. I wish I had asked, “Do you ever use that pool with stroke survivors?” They had one, but no one would use it with us. I wonder if it would have made a difference if we had gone to a place that would have tried. But that is one of those questions I have learned not to ask anymore.

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9 Responses to Just Keep Swimming

  1. Wow. I’m really glad you went into so much detail about every little step you have to go through with Sherman to just go swimming! I hope you path will help someone else, maybe they will ask about swimming earlier on in their own journey. I love you and I’m glad you put a new post up! I’m feeling a little worn out reading this. What a level of service. I mean I knew you had to do everything, but sometimes that word everything doesn’t really make clear what everything is. It is good to be renewed in my mind on how to pray for you!

  2. Kathy Gray says:

    I thought the same thing. The detailed step-by-step version really helps with the “get it” factor which is always missing even with the people who truly want to understand. And it does give you perspective as well- about what you’re actually pulling off on a daily basis. I was exhausted just reading it!

    • It was not the blog post I started out to write, but it was the one that had to be written. I think the next one (if I get to write it next) needed this context. It also explains why there are days I just don’t fight his desire to lay in the bed. There is only so much fight in this old dog.

  3. Cindy V says:

    The actual labor of care you describe is exhausting & you don’t even discuss the mental work of staying three jumps ahead, mentally planning for what might come next as well as what should come next. Mind, body & heart worn out by the end of the day, everyday. ‘For better or worse, in sickness & in health…’ A bigger promise than we knew on the day we made it.

  4. tinuviel says:

    That Whataburger stop was definitely earned!!! Sometimes those little rewards make all the difference in getting through a challenge. I agree with the other commenters about how enlightening the details are. No wonder, indeed, that you’re always tired!

    I admire your perseverance in continuing to get to the pool, and I’m so glad you can work out on your own sometimes too. I miss that coping strategy and pray often for restored capacity to exercise consistently without making things worse. It helps our health and positively affects brain chemistry.

    • If I am honest, most days, going to the pool is not something I look forward to. I just keep holding on to what ever it is that keeps Strokeman moving and out of bed. I actually hate exercising, but I like the way I feel when I am doing it regularly. In the midst of the workout, my countenance is amazingly similar to that of my pre-coffee state.

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