For Whom the Bell Rung

For Whom the Bell Rung

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.

Cynthia Toussaint

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.

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Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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Thank you for your article. I have been in your position.

Bruce Stewart

I went to PT as part of my treatment, and only because it was aqua therapy. I have neuropathy in my feet, and if I attempt to use them in any sustainable fashion, I soon regret it. I was injured badly doing virtually everything they asked, even when it included hoisting myself up a step with one leg, walking in the pool for laps, etc. and then I was treated to a lecture from the nice PT lady who said that I needed to retrain my brain not to feel pain. Turn the signals into something besides pain. I was in agony for a few weeks wondering, like you do, whether the damage is permanent.
Some advice on concussions - I had two major ones while growing up, got hot in the eye with a golf club on a full swing, and also got drilled with a baseball in the back of the head, and it’s going to take over a year to go through all of the cycles of pain. The injury will occupy completely different areas of the brain at various times. And something you may have to learn at this late stage, and that is to calm your mind down to a slow ebb - you can use eye patches to sit in the dark, for instance. But, you’re only injuring yourself with the more activity you do. And you really need to take this to heart, or else you will continue to suffer incredibly. Hugs


Cynthia, I can completely relate to this column. I’m a 45 yr old, wife/mom, & was diagnosed with ‘RSD’ 36 years ago…at the age of nine years old. My ‘CRPS’ reared its ugly head in 2012 & came back with a vengeance. It’s whole body & too complicated for some doctors to treat. I have allodynia, systemic complicatiion & more secondary conditions. I’m very cautious with my environment. I’m not shy about calling a doctor prior to an appointment, to be certain they are knowledgeable in CRPS. As I’m sure you know, an untrained, uneducated doctor can be detrimental to a CRPS patient. Just the same as the disheartening, unfortunate, trauma your body endured. For no reason at all. I had an appointment for a WC hearing. I called, asked if he knew CRPS? I was assured he did. After the gruling verbal session, he says to me that the hard part was over. That was my red flag to stop him, get dressed, & leave. However, it’s a catch 22. I continue the hell session & know I’m going to regret it or stop the session & get in trouble with representation for refusing treatment/allowing him to do exam. So I pressed on another hour of poking me with sharp pointers, pulling & pushing on me, basically testing strength & muscle endurance. I was in tears the entire time & almost vomiting on the way out. I began immediately swelling all over, blood vessels restricting, toes & fingers freezing-purple, etc. I had several subluxations, things tilting & popping out. Not the same circumstances, however, I’m living with the pain. Just like you are suffering… in more pain now than before I went. There is so much idiocy surrounding this disease. What it is? How complex it is. When every stimulus causes relentless, unimaginable, excruciating pain. We aren’t truly safe unless it’s in our own environment. Take care.

Mr Marty

Cynthia, your story is a an important one to examine. You have every right to file a formal complaint now. You attempted the nice route. You NOW can bring awareness to our pain communities current discrimination examples. Or discriminated at every turn. From searching a doctor, finding a doctor, prescriptions prescribed… but then denied by a pharmacy tech. WTH!???
It’s time to get back on the civil rights protest platforms!


Cynthia, I am so sorry to hear what happened to you and I wish you a full recovery.This could and should have been avoided if the Life Guard’s did their job.A Pool is no place for Kids,teens etc to be rough housing! I hear things like this that has been happening all to often from a few Friends that are members of the Y where I live and they need to be held responsible! Wishing you a full recovery! Sending prayers you way!


Outraged. Where was the lifeguard ? I’M glad you weren’t seriously hurt.


What in the world are people thinking? We have a lot to manage pain and all. I feel the same way. We try and do. I have a fear of falling down. I have fallen at least 3 to 4 times and almost was run over by a car. I know they saw me!! Crazy. Thank-you . Susan

David W Cole

Maybe you should see a attorney. You warned the Y of a problem, they ignored it and now you pay the price. Not cool

Kris Aaron

I don’t know if it would have helped to contact an attorney regarding the callous, careless attitude of YMCA management toward long-time members. But they were definitely remiss in not regularly scheduling “adult swim” dates separate from the free-for-all kids’ pool time.
It may not be too late for you to talk to a lawyer, as you have medical records and phone calls — plus complaints to the Y — to back up your claims.
If people don’t speak up, other people won’t pay attention to making needed changes and modifications.
I agree: Women are too “nice” and try too hard to be peacemakers. There is no reward for staying quiet while others trample on your right to have a time to swim that doesn’t include roughhousing kids.


I am so sorry you had to go through this, Cynthia, on top of everything else…

Bren Deliantoni

I hate to say this, as I support the Y, but I think you should sue. They put you in a dangerous situation by neglecting to follow their own rules. This, despite your attempts to point out the problem. Unfortunatly, your Y seems to only understand money, as you stated, so a suit will force them to address the fact that their carelessness has caused injury and suffering not just to you, but to others. Their negligence is inexcusable. If you don’t want the money, donate it to a cause you support. The point is, don’t allow them to play loose with your safety and that of others for a few dollars. If all they understand is money, take some of theirs as a hard lesson they need to learn!

cindy grossman

The way that this writer was treated is OUTRAGEOUS. Bad enough if she was a just another member, but the Director knew her personally and knew of her problems — and she was a fundraiser!!!!!!!!!!! If politicians ignored their fundraisers that way, they’d never get re-elected.

The pool issues should have been addressed in any one of many approaches, from scheduling hours for lap swimmers only, to simply banning horseplay and having lifeguards ensure that non-lapswimmers be aware of their surroundings and stay in a certain area while lapswimmers stay in another area, etc.

And, I could never swim in a cold pool.

Maureen M.

Dear Cynthia, you have already been through so much. I’m so sorry that this has happened to you also. It angers me that there seems to have been no control over those who got in the way of you and others do your laps and therapy.
How could that happen in the first place?
Why wouldn’t the lifeguard oversee the mayhem knowing at least what your condition is? Geez! I’m glad he was your injury witness and helped diagnose you but why wouldn’t the director comfort you in some way afterward?! It’s just not right.
Secondly, shame on that Y for not having empathy on you. I too cannot swim in cold water, no way, no how! So I am also sorry that you have had to have that stolen away from you due to this situation. I know you love the pool!
We women (and men) in pain get to know PATIENCE very well.
Hang in there and know that I am sending you healing and strength to carry on another day/ year!
Hugs, Maureen M.


Anthony: you are right - and what makes your observation even more pronounced is that most people “believe” they understand pain. Aspiring to appear empathetic, people recall having a simple headache when they had flu, or a broken limb that heals in three weeks, or post- surgical pain that mostly subsides in a few days. In my culture, I encounter a competitiveness when the topic of pain in any form arises - a pride of one’s own suffering and endurance being “grester than thou.” While I’m ranting just now, I will venture into the misconstrued pain management area, in which people such as Anthony refers to (lay people who are self-proclaimed experts on pain). Those who think they know pain are the vasr part of society that frowns upon pain management, particularly the medical route. Just mentioning chronic pain brings up red flags as others raise eyebrows and make immediate judgments that the person who takes medicine for their pain must be in truth addicted to drugs (since as Anthony points out, they can’t relate to chronic severe intractable pain in the first place). Thanks for the insightful article, Cynthia - we’ll see what other conversation this stirs up. At the bottom of the terrible pool injury is a culture that doesn’t value others.

Denise Bault

I also swim in order to help my chronic pain. I’ve got lots of “bobbers” in the pool - the folks who don’t swim but just stand or “bob.” I try to go early enough -if I can - to actually swim my laps without running into people and vice versa. Some days I can tell the folks I’m doing laps and they will be considerate, give me room, and other days they just don’t care. Sorry something that made you feel better has been also taken away from you by folks that either don’t know, don’t care or both!

Oh Cynthia, I’m so sorry. Seems as if it’s not one thing, it’s another this day and age. There’s one thing about you, you may be in pain but you most certainly have a sense of humor and make me smile. You did this morning and I so appreciate it! Prayers your way for hope and healing!💕

Anthony Harding

People that have no pain have no understanding at all about people who are truly in pain. No one will ever understand or care until they themselves go thru chronic debilitating pain. It’s a sad fact that most people don’t care or care to understand.

Barbara Snow

Oh gosh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I’ll send a prayer your way that this will heal. Have the best day possible. Love.