On the 22nd January, 2014, I sat in a winch as I was lowered helplessly into a hydrotherapy pool. Three months after the accident, I had just moved from a wheelchair to a walking frame for short distances, but walking was slow, faltering and laced with exquisite pain, my left arm still useless, weak and unable to bear weight. I was pulled weightless through the warm water where, cocooned in floats, I moved my limbs in small motions, breathless with exertion after only a few minutes of movement. The other patients and I studiously avoided eye contact as we grimaced through our own private pain, vulnerable in our swimwear, self-conscious of our imperfect, broken bodies.
Twice a week for six weeks, I attended hydrotherapy at the hospital. On the third week, the therapist called my husband from the waiting room to poolside where they watched, as for the first time as I walked up three pool steps, clinging to the handrail with my good arm, as proud as marathon runner crossing the finish line. But by week six, my allotted NHS hours were up. The truth was, without hydrotherapy my progress was going to stall as I was still unable to fully weight bear through my leg, yet the underfunded service could not offer me any more support. I was going to have to find another way.
In the remote, rural spot where we live, the closest pool is a slightly dilapidated affair, a fun pool boasting two slides, a jacuzzi pool and baby pool, a far cry from the calm, warm waters and physio assisted sessions at the hospital. The deciding factor, apart from being the only pool within a 40 minute drive of my house, was that it had steps leading into the baby pool, that with assistance I could navigate.
It was a humiliating first visit despite the kindness of the pool staff. Shuffling into the public pool on a walking frame assisted by my mother, the other pool users stared as I attempted to climb the stairs in to the pool, my scars livid in the cool water. Having had to leave the walking frame beside the pool, I had to be half carried into the deeper waters of the adult pool, where I performed my exercises to a curious audience. That first time I only lasted ten minutes before the chill of the water seeped into my bones and shivering I reversed the whole painful route back to the changing rooms, where I was helped to dress like a toddler after their swimming lessons.
Three times a week, I made the trip into that pool and on 14th May, 2014, seven months and one day after the accident, I managed to swim a length of the pool. I have never put as much effort into any swim as I did that day and when I reached the far side, overwhelmed, I burst into tears. For me, it was more than a single length of a pool, it represented how far removed I was from the person who had got in to that car that October morning and how far I still had to go to reclaim her.
If you want to read more about how swimming brought me back to my feet, click here