On August 1st, I was in an accident – and my life changed again. I hoped upon hope that my new physical ailments would be temporary, but more than half a year into ever increasing problems my hopes have been dashed. And I now realize that we women in pain must err on the side of cautiousness. It’s a drag, but we get dinged way more than healthy folk.
I’ve written a lot of positive things about the great benefits I’ve gained from swimming at my local YMCA. In fact when I felt myself going into a partial CRPS remission nine years ago, I knew I needed to be swimming in warm water. John tricked me by taking me, wheelchair and all, to the Y’s pool – and once I got in I never really got out. In fact, after being unable to do any aerobic exercise for 19 years, I was swimming a mile within a month. Hydrotherapy is miraculous to say the least, and I believe it can greatly benefit every woman in pain whether they’re swimmers or not.
Last summer though, my “field of dreams” became a landmine field. During lap swimming hours, the pool was suddenly packed with mostly non-swimmers. Rather than our typical six to ten people who follow the rules, we had upwards of 20 who were zigzagging in and out of lanes, many who were kids. These newbies didn’t signal the lifeguard they were joining in. They didn’t swim in counter-clockwise circles or wear goggles to see under water. In short, my safe and orderly nirvana had turned into the wild west.
I and many quickly made complaints to the front desk as we lap swimmers were at our wit’s end. Many just left without getting into the pool, shaking their heads perplexed. Others who braved the waters soon met with regret as they were being struck by flailing arms or getting run into the lane ropes. One of my friends was covered with bruises and another had three sprained fingers. I was hit hard in my right, contracted arm and couldn’t use it for a week due to pain. Dangerous stuff!
Trouble was my and fellow swimmers complaints fell on deaf ears. After escalating my concerns, I was stunned that the Director wouldn’t respond to my emails. I’m a fundraiser for this Y, and Jeremy knows that I deal with many severe pain issues. My mother advised to go to another Y, but I didn’t want to be chased away by bad management and oversight. Being a typical woman in pain “fixer”, I was determined to make it work. It didn’t.
On that fateful August day, it was mayhem as usual – and while I was doing the backstroke, another swimmer crashed headlong into me. I immediately knew I was hurt badly, and swung my arms over the lane rope so as not to drown. I felt severe pain in my eyes, saw stars and a pounding headache erupted. I was dizzy beyond belief and the loud ringing in my ears seemed surreal. After about ten minutes, I got myself out of the pool, an urge to vomit pulling me to the dressing room. The lifeguard quickly assessed me as having a concussion. Yes, my bell had been rung.
By the time I got home, I was blistering angry. Mostly I couldn’t really think. When I got my integrative doctor on the phone, he told me not to come in so as to lessen my sensory experience. I’d indeed suffered a concussion and also PTSD due to being traumatized. I was surprised when Dr. Taw advised that I greatly minimize my activity and rest my brain. Being nose-to-the-grindstone me I knew I’d still work – and was frightened when my cognitive scrambling wouldn’t allow it.
It got worse a few days later when the pain kicked in. It started with my neck and shoulders, then moved down both arms. More recently I’ve developed musculoskeletal back and hip problems. In fact last week I had to work mostly from my couch, and the heating pad is once again my best friend. Perhaps worst of all, I have severe tinnitus (ringing in my ears) that keeps amping my cacophony. These are all new and what should have been avoidable problems.
While early in my concussion journey, I was relieved to be told by my pain doctor that symptoms could be slow in healing—four to six months at the outside! – and that due to my neuro-sensitivity from CRPS it could take even longer. But deep in my gut, I have that familiar dread that this is my newest new normal. I hate to “catastrophize”, but more than half a year into my post-concussive phase, I’m not inching better. Dammit, I’m still getting worse.
Mom was right. I should have inconvenienced myself (long drive, cold water, no gal pals) by going to a different, safer pool during the summer madness. I learned my lesson, and it was a rough one. We women in pain are “wired” differently and, as such, are at much higher risk of having an injury turn into a lifetime of new problems.
On top of that, we live in a disconnected society, one where we sadly don’t make it a priority to look out for one another. Even a “Building Healthy Communities” place like the YMCA is falling way short of their mission. They’ve put dollars before members, and people end up getting hurt.
More than ever, we women in pain must be vigilant about taking care of and looking out for ourselves. That’s a wise and bold act of self-care.
And that rings my bell just fine.
Cynthia Toussaint is founder of For Grace – a Los Angeles based non-profit that brings awareness to the issue of women in pain.