I swim for exercise. Hanni guides me to the pool area, and if I lay towels down on the tile floor and give her a treat, she’s content to sit there while I swim. Onlookers tell me that Hanni’s head pivots back and forth, back and forth, tracking my laps. The only stroke I do is the crawl. One arm or another is extended in front at all times, protecting me from crashing my head into a wall. Tapping the lane marker on every other stroke keeps me swimming straight.
I like to swim. It’s a form of exercise I can do all by myself. I don’t need to tie myself (literally!) to a sighted runner, or pedal behind the lead on a tandem bicycle. Another thing: My friends who work out lifting weights, or running, tend to get hurt. Not me. Swimming is low-impact, safe.
That’s what I thought, at least. But then last month I found out I have a rotator cuff injury. My diagnosis came just days after Flo took a fall and fractured her pelvis. And so, my mom and I are simpatico. Our fates are in the hands of physical terrorists. I mean physical therapists.
Baseball fans know about the rotator cuff – it’s at the shoulder joint, a tender spot for pitchers. Turns out rotator cuff injuries are common in any sport requiring repeated overhead arm movements. Tennis, for example. Weightlifting. And swimming.
I asked my physical therapist if she thought my injury had anything to do with the way I hold Hanni’s harness. “Well, it’d be better if the harness handle were vertical, not horizontal,” she said. “You know, so your thumb would be sticking up.”
“We can’t cock the harness handle 90 degrees,” a trainer from the Seeing Eye told me when I phoned them later that afternoon. “But we can send you an extension that’ll turn your hand 30 degrees — your physical therapist will like that.”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “But will I?” The new handle will take some getting used to, he admitted.
“Are rotator cuff injuries common if you’re using a guide dog?” I asked.
“This week they are. “ He sounded a little bewildered. “You’re the third person this week to call with this same problem.”
My physical therapist would prefer a 90 degree change in the handle, but she’ll settle for 30 degrees. If I use the new handle and keep up with my exercises, she says I may be able to avoid surgery. And if that isn’t motivation enough, I have Flo as a role model. She has been hard at work with her physical therapy for a month now, and last Friday she walked out of the hospital. Flo’s home now…safe & sound.