I removed my shoes at the door, dropping them into a plastic bucket with all the others. My crutches were abandoned, and I was given a replacement zimmer frame. This was a new low, I had to admit. I shuffled slowly to the changing rooms, sweating but unable to carry my coat, and feeling old beyond my years. In the privacy of the thin curtains that didn’t quite reach the edge of the rail, I undressed as the lady next door introduced herself. It was her back, she said, always accident prone. Four trips in two years. Always been the same, brother too. Daughter has same gene. I politely made ‘mmm’ noises in the right places, but my mind was firmly set on trying to pull my swimming cossie up after 8 weeks of not moving.
I was the last out and made my entrance with the characteristic clack of rubber on floor. I was immediately ushered to the shower besides the pool, and then asked to leave the frame by the steps. It had only been a few minutes, but I’d become rather attached to my sturdy companion. Confidence is difficult to master once you’re injured, and every scenario – from climbing into the bath to watching sports on TV – becomes clouded with risk and that toe-curling ‘nughhh’ sound. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to keep the therapist waiting, so I held on to the rails tightly and made my way into the pool.
Once I was half submerged in the warm water, it all felt easier, although I wished I’d had the foresight to visit the loo first. I missed swimming almost much as cycling, but of course I wasn’t allowed to launch into my favourite breaststroke – I was instead instructed to walk holding the rails. But not normally – I had to exaggerate every movement. This was finally my Ministry of Silly Walks moment. I felt invincible and the pain of landing on the knee evaporated. I was free to flex muscles and increase my range of movement which I couldn’t achieve on solid ground. The therapist continued to explain the virtues of hydrotherapy as I continued to gallivant along my new catwalk, before interjecting:
‘How tall are you?’
I stopped mid-step and turned to her. Looks are deceiving, and despite being in proportion, I am surprisingly short. 5’3″ in fact. We realised that while she was waist height in the shallow part, the water was lapping just below my shoulders. The deeper part of the pool was therefore out of bounds.
One small flipper was attached to my left foot, and sitting on a chair I dragged my lower leg upwards and downwards. An inflatable child’s armband was then placed around my foot instead, and I had to repeatedly dunk it. Following this, I was given a series of exercises with the noodle floats, with buoyancy acting as resistance which my muscles had to overcome. Control was vital otherwise my leg would fly upwards and out of the water, which would be most unladylike and result in a torn hamstring.
However, up next was the dreaded wobble board. I remember this from previous rehabilitation stints, and it’s something that never fails to make me cringe. This was the first time I’d try it underwater though, and it started off well on two feet with the therapist saying I was doing a good job. For some reason, I felt compelled to tell her that I had the nickname ‘scarecrow’ when I coached hockey at school, due to my unwavering balance during stretches. I was staring at a poster on the wall as a focal point, but had I been able to see her face I’m sure she would have looked impressed. It was time to move to one leg now. I adjusted slowly, and bore holes into that poster once more. I could feel the muscles around my knee quivering, but there was no gasping hot pain accompanying it this time. Holding my stomach and bum in tightly, I perched on the board without a single wobble. A bubble escaped upwards from underneath the board, and I was at pains to explain it wasn’t me.
After half an hour in the water, the therapist announced that the session was over. I felt euphoric in the lightness of the water, and as though I’d finally taken a big step in my recovery. That is, until I crawled out. The weight of the world crashed down on my limbs, and I looked down to see whether I had weights strapped to my ankles. I greeted the zimmer frame like an old friend.
Picture credit: https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/488552/if-you-want-to-be-popular-in-the-uk-you-have-to-fail/
Therapy information: http://www.stgeorgehealthcaregroup.org.uk/services/hydrotherapy.shtml