Thursday, March 10, 2005

Return to the Water

How NF2 Can Affect Life in the Water

Ever since I can remember getting my first rubber shark to play with in the bath tub and my first book about a marine biologist as a kid, I have always been a water lover, mermaid, and fish. Diving and the sea have been one of my life's passions. I have been a scuba diver now for about 14 years in which time I have attained open water, advanced, rescue, equipment specialist, night diving, low visibility and navigation certifications. Although I did not continue to earn more certifications I have been on very deep dives and technical wreck dives also. In addition, I took an aquatics class and attained my life guard certification while back in my undergraduate studies (um...err 10 years or so ago).

So you could say I felt rather like a natural in the water. I have always been drawn to it and had a desire to jump in. It also has mystified me to just sit a gaze upon the ripples of a lake, river, or ocean. I had heard stories of other people afflicted with NF2 who nearly drown unexpectedly in the midst of swimming. I felt very fortunate since my diagnosis as this did not happen to me and there are a few times after my diagnosis where I felt I helped someone while diving who may have got into some serious trouble. I even saved myself in a bad current dive when a new buddy (coworker) took off on me in an area that was unknown.

However, I may have mentioned earlier that I had two near drowning incidents during the course of my treatment in California. Actually I had one scary experience a of couple years ago but I just brushed it off. My dad, sister, and I were water skiing and we stopped at one end of the Moses Lake Reservoir to take a dip. We were accustomed to diving in off the boat into the dark murky water. When I did so, I guess I angled straight down instead of out. It seemed like I was continuing downward for a long time so I finally stopped myself. I had my eyes closed and starting swimming for the surface. It was taking an awfully long time and I was seriously running out of air! I opened my eyes to see where I was and everything was green around me but I could see a faint light at the surface which appeared a long way away. I immediately and frantically started upward toward the light. I made it but my lungs kind of hurt and I was really out of breath when I reached the surface. I thought "Wow! That was really weird! I guess I will not do that again!"

Fast forward two years ahead now to treatment. I apologize if this is a repeat but I cannot recall if I told this story yet. The first day after treatment, Harley, my parents and I traveled down to Santa Cruz to do some boogie boarding. My mom watched while the 3 of us had a blast being tossed in the large waves. One time when I was on the boogie board I got hit by a really huge wave, knocked off the board and tossed underneath the water. My head hit the bottom and I heard a loud metallic sounding ping in my head which hurt. I was stuck under and could not stand up. I starting swimming for the surface but soon realized I was clawing at the sand and had my face planted into the bottom. Knowing the anatomy of a wave, I determined that if I stopped and relaxed that the end of the wave would bring me out and back to the surface. So again I did not worry to much about it because I thought I would just be more careful and not enter such big waves anymore.

On the last day of my treatment I thought I would finally utilize the hotel pool for a quick dip before going to the medical center. I was alone but the pool was really small and not over my head. I have always enjoyed doing tricks in the water such as summersaults and handstands. Therefore, without thinking, I closed my eyes and performed a summersault in 4 feet of water. But something happened! I did not return to my upright position at the surface and I could not stand up! I got disoriented doing the summersault and became lost under the water! I kept swimming around and trying to stand up to no avail. I was seriously very worried and thought that "Yup I think I may actually drown this time." I thought about how long it would take for anyone to find me and I determined that it would most likely be beyond the time frame of revival or I would suffer permanant brain damage. After thinking through all this I stopped panicing and realized that I must save myself if I wanted to live. I opened my eyes in the stinging chlorine and tried to figure out a point of reference. I could see the black line on the bottom of the pool but it was tilted downward so that meant I was facing the bottom at an angle. From finding the bottom I felt my way over to the wall, grabbed the side of the pool and pulled myself to safety. Whew! That was a close one and very unexpected!

Since then I have not been in the water except once for a quick dip in the shallow river water after walking the dogs with a friend on a hot summer day. However, I have been craving to go swimming and I was determined to return to the water! They reopened the gym pool in January and I tried it out for the first time 2 weeks ago from Tuesday (February 22nd).

I loved it! But alas I discovered that I need to relearn how to swim. I swallowed a lot of pool water and when I tried to swim on my own I was all over the place going into everyone's lane. I have always been a pretty good floater but now it felt like my ass end kept sinking no matter how much I kicked. I tried to swim a couple laps without floatation......once on my back and once doing the crawl stroke. I just could not seem to coordinate it and finish a complete lap unassisted and without drinking a ton of pool water. At one point I used one of the floatation devices you put between your legs but the dang thing fell apart half way leaving the pieces floating around the pool! For about 20 minutes I used the kickboard to do laps. Wow! It really uses different muscles than walking as my legs were really burning!

I want to learn to swim underwater with goggles but I have to wait to go with Harley on his day off. There was a scuba store closeout and they were selling these great water sports goggles that work like a dive mask and create a seal on your face (thus you do not have any water seepage into your eyes such as commonly happens with traditional swim goggles). There was an old guy there with a mask and snorkle swimming and I thought the snorkel would be a great idea to solve the water swallowing problem I had.

Well I am very determined to get back to where I was before or to at least be able to swim decently to take care of myself and dive! It is very humbling to have a moderate amount of athleticism that seems to come natural to you and then have it taken away. Before I could not really understand when people could not do or were afraid to do the activities I routinely partook in (diving, rollerblading, hiking up mountains, waterskiing, swimming, riding a motorcycle, etc.). I think losing balance has been harder on me than the onset of deafness. To me, balance was highly important and I can see how easy it is to take for granted. There are so many simple things that we do in daily life that people just have no idea it is your balance system keeping things in check......something as simple as putting on underpants or bending over to tie you shoe! Sometimes I feel like I turned age 8o overnight as moving around is not as easy and efficient as it once was. I do much bumping around as if on a boat and my body is continually bruised.

Well, my hope is that I can regain most of the balance once the tumor stops swelling and I become more involved in physical therapy. My balance does improve while on the steroids because it alleviates some of the tumor swelling symptoms. However, I cannot stay on the steroids indefinitely and everytime I stop using them the balance worsens. Maybe in 4 to 6 months eh? I sure do miss the diving and investigating everything under the water.


Angel said...

we're cheering you on from this honey!! If anyone can do it it is definitely you!

Angel said...

we're cheering you on from this end honey!! If anyone can do it it is definitely you!