Water Keeps Saving My Life

I took a water exercise class today, the first since the one I taught in Boynton Beach some nine months ago. I came out of the pool 4,000 steps richer, with two rings closed on my Apple watch, a new friend, AND a connection to a potential new vascular surgeon when I’m discharged from Shands.

That’s the power of water.

When I my arterial aneurysm ruptured in Amsterdam on May 5, I’d been teaching water fitness for a decade. I made it out of the OLVG Hospital ICU due in large measure to my strength going in. Although ICU-Induced Weakness sapped that strength along with and more than a quarter of my weight by the time I graduated from the ICU to the Gastroenterology Unit, my muscle memory and years of exercise routine were on my side. It was a slow slog nonetheless — ain’t nothin’ easy about physical therapy — but my amazing nurses and physiotherapists had me standing and even walking by the time we flew home.

There was no pool at OLVG, and I longed to be supported by water. I visualized floating as I endeavored to relax in my hospital bed, finding the trigger that is challenging to land on when you’ve been lying there forever. Water worked.

When we returned home in August, I was using a walker and a cane. My therapy at FYZICAL focussed on my lower half, and I made progress. By the end of August, I began working on my core and arms and legs — and floating for real — in our community pool. As my upper body strength returned, I started swimming, eventually lifting my arms out of the water in a pretty good freestyle. My goal was to sail up Victoria’s three flights of stairs when I had my update at Shands on November 8.

Which I did. No walker. No cane. Just me.

In the water, I could walk, then jog, then run. I could shovel heaps of waves. I could box. I knew that every movement I did caused me to burn 150% of the calories the same movement would take on land, due to water’s resistance, but that I’d be supported by bouyancy. Water is win, win.

About a month ago, my husband and I joined a gym. It was a home-coming of sorts — we met at the New York Health and Racquet Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side 40+ years ago and we have been gym members for most of our married life. We got out of that habit when I taught classes in Boynton Beach most days.

Another silver lining — my illness and recuperation has reconnected both of us to getting healthy. We’re now LA Fitness members.

I decided that Christmas Eve was a perfect time to return to a water exercise class. I knew there was one at 9 on Tuesdays, though there was no music and teacher didn’t thrill me; I’d swum a few times during class (there is a free lane) and felt no pull to return to teaching or to be bossy about how the teacher was doing her job. Good.

So, surprise surprise when today’s class was taught by a sub with music and the same training and teaching approach that I received through the Aquatic Exercise Association. Great class. Oh, and her husband is a vascular surgeon, so she knows how unusual — miraculous, really — it is for me to have recovered as I have.

So, on this eve of a miracle birth, I am once again reminded to be grateful. To have, as my writer colleague Karen Coody Cooper wrote in today’s Palm Beach Post, not an excess of food or drink or debt but an abundance of friendships and love and kindness and contemplation.

To experience Christmas as a holy day. And water as a holy sacrament.

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone.

The Patience of an ex-Patient

My brain rushes through all the things I think I must do today, or tomorrow, or should have done yesterday: paying bills; cleaning house; making, changing, and keeping appointments. I’ve already done a mile walk and 20 minutes of squats, planks, and leg lifts. My daily crossword and cryptogram are complete. It’s too early to play my three hands of Solitaire.

None of it matters. Not really.

Six months ago yesterday, my normal world ceased to exist when I fell ill suddenly and nearly fatally in Amsterday. I didn’t die. I survived. I recovered. I came home. It took three months in a hospital bed and another three months of physical therapy, slow shuffles, and pool walks to get to today.

With our daughter’s dog Pancho.

I didn’t know I had that much patience. I didn’t know I had that much determination. I didn’t know would have an enormous global community rooting me on.

I didn’t know that our daughter and my sister would fly to my side and hold Ray up. And that the two of them would figure out how to get me home.

When I was in OLVG hospital, a sage doctor advised me to give myself time as I recovered to appreciate the journey.

“Don’t push to get back to where you were. Set small goals, and celebrate small victories. Take time to rest. Relax. After a few months, you’ll realize how much you’ve gained. And you’ll be where you need to be.”

So, these are my small victories.

Peeling a tangerine; twisting the cap off a yogurt drink; shuffling cards.

Bending one leg; rolling to one side; bending both legs; rolling to both sides.

Sitting up in the wheelchair at the park.

Learning to count to 10 in Dutch. Understanding that OLVG was gezellig.

Standing on legs that felt like hollow cardboard tubes. Taking that first step in my physiotherapist’s embrace. Taking a step without her.

Getting my own wheels and soloing down the hallway. My iPhone notifying me that I wouldn’t get calls while I was driving.

Getting prize foods for being a patient patient.

Going to a jazz concert in the OLVG chapel. Getting wheeled down for church by a volunteer. Finding the music of Tom Löwenthal on Apple Music that still lulls me to sleep.

Discovering I could manage without a catheter even on the long flight home, and that sausage, grits AND muffins for breakfast at Shands Hospital was part of the new normal.

Sleeping in our guest room, where the bed is low. Climbing into our own bed with my husband, falling asleep holding his hand.

Lantana Beach, Palm Beach County

Stationary biking. Treadmill walking. Squatting. Stretching.

Walker-walking. Cane-walking. Walking. Striding. Marching.

Graduating from FYZICAL physical therapy on Halloween.

I did end up paying a few bills, getting my nails done, and writing this piece today. I’m on my way to Shands for a status check on my previously aneurysmed arteries and embolismed lungs hoping to get off some medication and to be sent on my way.

My husband is driving, our daughter will meet us there, and my sister and brother-in-law will be here next week. That’s all that matters, really.

And you, dear readers.