Words by Julie - Living Life With Paralysis

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming 6

Swimming is a part of my weekly physio routine. Once a week, Elaine and I make the trek to the North Huron Wescast Community Complex in Wingham where, we meet Tammy. She is the aqua therapist who has been working with me since November. Every time I see Tammy she has a new idea: “I just want you to give this a try and see what happens”. Which, of course, I will do because I want to see what happens too! This week was no exception.

Because the Wingham pool seems to vary in both air and water temperature (even though the life guards always say is is 84 degrees), what exercises I accomplish each week also varies. The colder the water the more lengths I have to swim – just to keep warm. Last week was one of the coldest in a while – as a result I think I swam more than a dozen lengths – the most yet. Completing a length is easy(ish), starting one is the tricky part. In my pre-collision days as a swimmer I would power off the wall with a flip-turn after every length – something I learned to do way back when I was 12 and on the Orangeville Otters swim team.

Now, pushing off the wall is completely different. Pushing with one’s arms lacks the large muscle groups of the quads and hams, so I just skip that push altogether. I have been “flip-rolling” from front to back instead, one length front crawl, then flip-roll to my back to swim back crawl. It is certainly not graceful (especially starting on my back), but it gets my legs in a position where they “cooperate” and don’t end up crossed at the ankles.

Even in the water, my leg muscles will spasm – that is why ankle crossing is bad. This sends not just my legs, but also my core into spasm which makes swimming difficult. My best position allows my legs to be flexed at the hips and knees, but not too flexed because that creates drag – which of course slows me down. It’s already hard enough to do all my swimming “arms only”.

Aside from swimming, we do core and arm exercises. Now when I say “we” that is mostly true. I do my best to try and bully Elaine and Tammy, who don’t want to get their hair wet, into doing the exercises. Come swim with me, I will bully you too. We balance on pool noodles (hard to do with no core) doing various things with our arms, legs and arms with paddles; we lift ourselves out of the pool on the edge just using arms, we tricep-dip on the stairs, and we “suntan-superman” and pendulum swing. The pendulum is one of my favourite things to do because it make me feel like my core is really working.

When I first started in the pool in November I wanted to try visualizing my legs moving in the water. This was difficult, both mentally and physically. Mentally because I was trying so desperately to make it happen, and physically because I was trying to use every working muscle to make it happen – even my face. So we gave that a break for a while, in favour of spending the time standing in the shallow end. The Wingham pool has a half wall down the middle with a bar along the top. I position my feet at the base of the wall, knees in line and pull myself to standing, pressing my hips into the wall and pulling back my shoulder blades for good posture. I love doing this, it makes me feel tall. I am sure people who see me doing this, and don’t know me, wonder what on Earth I am doing.

Today, I went back to visualizing my legs moving in the water. This is something that can not be accomplished on land. Gravity is a bitch, and the weight of my legs and the friction of a surface makes this type of visualization-into-action next to impossible. That is why I love water – buoyancy is wonderful. We did things a little bit differently today and, it may appear that, I was able to move my legs.

We started with a “kicking the soccer ball” motion with about the same success as before – sure that any motion was more from my core than my legs. Then we tried adduction and abduction – opening and closing my legs, again no success. This lead to trying one at a time, with Tammy guiding my leg so that as I am thinking of the action, she makes my leg do the action. I was watching her face as we did this and I could see in her expression that something was different. She said she was going to let go and see what happened, and what happened was my leg kept doing the in-out motion. We tried the other leg, with the same result.

It could have been any number of things making my leg move, so I am not getting too excited about it, but nevertheless, they moved. Which just goes to show you have to keep trying, even when nothing seems to work.



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