I saw my neurosurgeon last Friday for my 6 week post operative review. It's kinda hard to believe that six weeks have past since my surgery. Time moves in such elastic ways.
We reviewed my progress. It's been patchy. I'm not moving freely. Even with the physiotherapy exercises I've been doing, it's hard to loosen up. Walking is a chore for the most part and I can't tolerate walking long distances, say more than a kilometer. It's hard to get in and out of my car, my bed or chair. I experience pain at the surgical site and down into my legs, along with long bouts of pins and needles. Incontinence is still an issue but, so far I've avoided any significant accidents. This requires a regular toileting regime, forward planning - especially on outings - and a keen focus on what my body is telling me. I do get strange sensations, which I've attributed to warnings that I need to take heed of.
With the activity I've been maintaining however, I do believe things are improving. At the very least, I'm coping with them. My neurosurgeon prescribed some new medication that will hopefully, address the pain issues and the nerve irritation that is causing the pins and needles.
The one question I had for her during my review last Friday though was pretty much the only thing I wanted to get an answer for.
Can I get back in the pool?
When I had my original surgery back in 1989, my then surgeon was happy to allow me to get in the swimming pool after a similar time frame. As a result of this, not only did I discover a love for swimming, I became really good at it. So I knew going into this surgery that the pool was going to be my Holy Grail.
My neurosurgeon this time around prohibited me from going swimming until she had reviewed me. Her primary concern was my wound. She wanted to ensure it had healed properly before exposing it to water and risking infection. I accepted this, but I was disappointed that I couldn't start as soon as possible.
You can imagine how pleased I was when I put the question to her on Friday and received her answer.
I felt like I was receiving a Christmas present - all over again.
The Unley Swimming Pool at Forestville here in Adelaide is a pool I've been swimming at on and off for twenty years. It's an Olympic sized pool and it's a friendly place. After dropping the kids off at school, I headed straight there. After 9AM, the early morning lap enthusiasts and competition swimmers tend to taper off so competition for lanes is minimal. I went for the recreation lane today.
I had an idea of what I was going to do once in the water but for this first session, I winged it a little. I adapted some of my 'on land' exercises to the water and set about constructing a regimen that ended up looking like this;
Stationary calf stretches 10 reps x 10 seconds right leg.
Stationary calf stretches 10 reps x 10 seconds left leg.
Stationary side stretches 10 reps x 10 seconds right arm (down right leg).
Stationary side stretches 10 reps x 10 seconds left arm (down left leg).
Stationary leg kicking (against side of pool) 2x 1 minute.
Walking (strides) 25m x 10.
Jogging steps 25m x 10.
Side strides 25m x 10.
Breast stroke (gentle!) 100 meters.
Cool down walk 25m x2.
I won't go into deep explanations of each of these, but feel free to ask me about them in the comments and I'll try to explain them if you're interested.
The session took me about 45 minutes.
Suffice to say, from the moment I entered the water, I felt amazing! Water and buoyancy affords the body so much freedom of movement and I was able to stretch so much more easily than I can on land. The exercises I chose were designed to achieve both a muscle stretch and a nerve stretch through my lower back and legs and I chose to limit them once I could feel them in my calves in particular. I felt that was good indicator. Curiously, I felt the stationary leg kicks and the breast stroke in my right buttock, close to the mid-line. On land, most of the pain I've been feeling has been centered around my left buttock and sciatic nerve. I'm not sure what the significance of that is but I'll bring that up with my physiotherapist when I see him tomorrow.
Leaving the water after that first session, I felt a little shaky - but it was a good shaky. I felt like I had achieved something important and I felt a rush of endorphins - ones that have been in short supply lately. I'm well keen to do it again. But I know I need to pace myself.
This is a big milestone for me. Since the surgery, I've been looking towards this moment. I've been thinking about it. Planning (loosely) what I would do once I got in there. I knew it would be good...and it was.
I love the shape of water.