How Not To Swim in Circles?

Me, finally swimming 22 months after my operation

I’m not American and we don’t eat a special meal today, but I do like the custom of stopping to be grateful once a year. Actually, I try to notice things to be grateful for all year, but Thanksgiving brings it into sharper focus.

I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I’m thankful to be alive. If I’d had no treatment for the cancer at all, I think they’d be putting me in the ground round about now. So I’m thankful to a great long list of medical professionals: doctors, nurses, auxiliaries, porters, scanner technicians, etc. I’m also deeply grateful to seven anonymous blood donors.

And I’m thankful to the disabled association on La Palma, ADFILPA, for organising a disabled sailing course. I haven’t done any sailing yet, but I have gone swimming. They got me into the after down a ramp in the fishing port using a special wheelchair with air chambers in the wheels and armrests. It floats, until the assistants push it down so the passenger can get out.

I thought the difficult bit would be learning not to swim in circles. Actually, that’s just a matter of angling my kicks right. The surprising problem is that I had an invisible hand pushing my face into the water and twisting me sideways.


So I swam on my back, and got water in my ears, and got dizzy when I stood up and the water poured out. After a while I worked out that the problem was that my missing leg wasn’t providing a counterweight any more. But I could float on my back which was very relaxing, and if I used a life jacket as a float in front of me (to keep my nose and mouth out of the water) I could slowly swim where I wanted to go.

That was amazing for a first try, and I’m keen to have another go. I’ll just try to swallow less sea water next time.

So I have another bunch of people that I’m grateful to.

The floating wheelchair

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.