July 13, 2011

Swim or Sink

I found the modern-day Pool of Bethesda. It is exactly 10.61 miles north of my home and has ample parking spaces for the handicapped: i.e., me.
Yesterday I visited with physical therapist Jenny. Jenny gave me bad news and bad gifts. The news? I have a torn meniscus. The gifts? A cane to help stabilize my walking, a few ice packs for my knee, and a prescription for a week of bed rest before I start aquatic physical therapy.
I saw the MRI. Still, I refuse to believe anyone can tear a meniscus by not kneeling properly in church. I was visiting an Adventist church in Chile, and during the worship service managed to injure my left knee. I am now enlightened by the fact it was a bad idea to get on a plane the next day, without bracing the knee, and taking a long flight back to Texas.
2011 1519 page23Jenny brings in the box of gifts and assures me that after aqua therapy, my knee will feel “as good as new!” I doubt it. I sulk as I watch Jenny literally skip back to the nurse’s station to chart my medical report.
Today I have arrived at the “Physical Therapy Natatorium.” I never knew this place existed! Past the entrance I am greeted by a neon sign that reads: “Physical Therapy Through This Door!!!”
I open the door, and I am greeted by a bright, sunny room. It’s quiet. The Olympic-size pool is beautiful! The water is still, no movement, giving it the appearance of perfectly clear crystal. This cannot be a place for injured people. I quickly spot the shelves with first-aid kits, bandages, and physical therapy flotation devices. Getting close to the shelves, the room begins to smell of chlorine and ACE bandages.
“Good morning!” Even though he’s sitting across the pool, I can hear his voice loud and clear. It’s a warm and friendly voice. His name is Reverend Lace, and he always arrives a bit early to read his Bible and pray before physical therapy. We swap injury stories, and he laughs, bringing a little comfort to my physical pain. I feel as though I am talking to an old friend. He assures me the physical therapists here are the best at what they do. “But it won’t help you at all unless you swim and don’t sink.”
Later, while sitting at the edge of the deepest end of the pool, I am finally aware of what Reverend Lace was saying. In theory the little inflatable rings around my arms and waist will hold me up (at least that’s what aquatic physical therapist Clay has promised). Before I jump in, Clay reminds me that it will take a minute to adjust to the weightlessness. “Don’t panic or struggle, because you’ll sink.” There has to be a better way to explain this process!
From the corner of my eye I see my new friend, Reverend Lace, working with his therapist. Swim or sink.
Apparently it will be sink. At the point of terror, I am unexpectedly lifted out of the water, and I hear the familiar voice of a new friend ask, “Why did you not swim?”
A few minutes later I have gained composure, and Reverend Lace invites me to look at the pool. The water is moving, there’s motion, there’s healing. Just like the Pool of Bethesda, he says. I point out the metaphor is pretty obvious.
“Is it obvious that we are the lucky ones? Today we have the opportunity to recognize again how fragile we are, and to remember how fragile our brethren are. A reminder that we are not at the mercy of any pool; that we have access to living water any time we need it!”
He pauses and points in the direction of his Bible across the pool. “Do you know why I come early to read and pray?” I smile and wait for him to state the obvious. “Because if I didn’t I would sink, not swim. He’s with us every day in the smallest things, making sure we swim.
He stands up and extends a hand: “Let’s try it again.”
Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published July 14, 2011.