July 29, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 6:26 pm

  Ellen Bittner

Chapter 4.  Overcoming Obstacles - Part 1: Fear 

As a child, I was considered a “dare devil” and often got myself into situations that would lead to injury.  On one occasion, I decided to slide down the support pole of the slide in the playground.  This resulted in a gash on my chin.  (I still have the scar.)  There were also several instances when I fell off my bike.  Chances are, if I had been riding it in the conventional way I wouldn’t have cut my foot open (which also left a scar), or broken my front teeth.

My daring ways were not limited to dry land.  I also enjoyed exploring and playing at the beach and in the lake, undeterred by the fact that I didn’t know how to swim.  That adventurous spirit continued until one day when I was playing at the lake and almost drowned.  I had jumped off the pier and a passing speed boat created a wake that pulled me under the pier, where I was caught in the undercurrent.  Not knowing how to swim, I panicked.  The more I struggled, the deeper I went into the dark, murky mass of seaweed.  That experience left me with a fear of water that lasted nearly four decades.

As I wrote in Chapter 3, my high school had a swimming pool.  However, although Swimming was part of the Phys Ed curriculum, I didn’t learn to swim there.  Because I had developed a fear of water, and was a “non-swimmer”, I was a part of the class that was “taught” by a student assistant.  This meant that while the teacher taught the “swimmers”, the student assistant supervised the “non-swimmers” in the shallow end of the pool to make sure none of us drowned.  In order to pass the course at the end of the semester, the “non-swimmers” had to jump into the deep end of the pool and grab onto a pole that had been inserted into the water.  The teacher, who was holding onto the pole, pulled us towards the stairs and we climbed out of the pool.  Not only did I not learn how to swim, but this experience exacerbated my fear of water.  And so, for most of my life I shied away from water, unless I was in a swimming pool where my feet touched the bottom and I could stand along its edge.

As I neared retirement and was looking for ways to become more physically fit, I wished that I could swim.  I knew that swimming was good exercise.  It was aerobic and there was no impact on the joints.  However, the few times that I did try a water aerobics class, my fear of being swept away into deeper water kept me from fully participating in the class.

Then, one day I saw an article in the newspaper about a program for people with aqua phobia – a fear of the water.  The article described a new course, SOAP (Strategies for Overcoming Aquatic Phobias) and Water ( created by Jeff Krieger (  Jeff, who was a guidance counselor and Red Cross certified swim instructor, had originally designed the program for children, in anticipation of the summer camp season.  His unique approach made use of his guidance background to deal with the phobia, before beginning to teach swimming techniques.  I called the number provided, and was impressed with Jeff’s compassion and understanding when I told him about my swimming history and near-drowning experience.

When anxiety took over, and I missed the orientation meeting, Jeff called to encourage me and persuade me to join the first class.  When I arrived, there were four other middle-aged adults.  (To Jeff’s surprise so many adults signed up for the program that he had to divide the class into three groups.)  We sat in a classroom and talked about our experiences, our fear of water, and our expectations of the program.  The pool, the focus of our fears, was nowhere in sight.  After about a half an hour concentrating on our fears we went into the pool area, where there was a large metal tub with five yellow “rubber duckies” floating in the water.  Jeff had us sit in the tub and choose a rubber duck.  We used “our” duck as the focus of a “positive” water experience.  Then, keeping that image in mind, we put our face in the water and blew bubbles.

During the ensuing five weeks, Jeff took us from that large metal tub, and taught us how to be in control and feel safe in the water.  Using foam noodles, he showed us how to relax and float; then he taught us to float and tread water without the aid of a noodle.  A major accomplishment for me was being able to put my face in the water and learning how to breathe.  Jeff also dealt with the emotional aspect of our fears by having us write about our experience in a journal after each class.  (I still have that journal.)  His responses to my entries and his encouragement were very powerful, and played a major part in my progress.  One of Jeff’s favorite sayings was: “Setbacks, no matter how large are temporary; Progress no matter how small lasts forever.” 

Jeff eventually had me feeling comfortable enough in the water that I could swim to the bottom of the pool to retrieve water toys that had been scattered around.  At the end of the six-week program there were several of us who wanted to take the next step and actually learn how to swim.  Jeff put together a “post-graduate” course and created another six-week program for us.  During that time, Jeff taught me a variety of basic swimming strokes and how to dive from a diving board.

It’s been five years since Jeff helped me overcome my paralyzing fear of the water and gave me the tools to be able to “take care of myself” and enjoy the experience.  Since then, a fellow graduate of his SOAP and Water program and I have been swimming regularly at a local Y.  I look forward to meeting her each Monday morning to swim laps.  We continue to motivate each other, as we try to swim faster and further each time.  I have not only overcome my fear of water; I have learned to enjoy swimming and now reap its fitness benefits. 

   To be continued…  

July 28, 2008


Filed under: By Paul Jason — Administrator @ 6:55 pm
  Paul Jason

Chapter 13:   ” Sponge Bath . . . What Do You Think This Is, a Spa ?”


The remaining days and nights of my hospital stay prior to discharge were filled with restlessness, discomfort, loneliness, apprehension, fatigue and depression. Various members of the “medical team” dropped by intermittently to examine me, but most of the time I was left to contemplate my condition and cope with my pain. 

I found that unless I asserted myself, little attention was devoted to alleviating my pain.  For example, from the moment the endotracheal tube was removed the morning after the surgery, my throat was sore – - – very sore.  They had given me ice chips to suck on soon thereafter, but nothing further.  The soreness persisted over the next days.  It was not until the fourth day, when I was complaining about the situation to a nurse I had not seen before, that she offered to bring me some lozenges to suck on.  Lozenges?  “You mean you have throat lozenges to alleviate the pain?”.
 ”Nobody offered them to you before?”

Well, no.”

Sure enough, the lozenges were numbing and soothing.  Why hadn’t anybody brought them before?  After all, every surgical patient who has had general anaesthesia has had an endotracheal tube shoved down his/her throat.  The throat and windpipe react to the intrusion and irritable soreness inevitably results.  Why not provide lozenges as a matter of course?

Nevertheless, it is this sort of general indifference which undermines the hospital experience.

Lozenges, of course, are just a small indication of this indifference.  Another one of my pet peeves is the fact that once that aide in the CCU had gently cleansed me the day after surgery, no one else ever washed me; no one ever offered to wash me.  As I have described in a prior chapter, lying in a hospital bed can be a perspiring experience.  My ability to get on and off the bed was somewhat limited, and painful.  The first couple of days I was using a bed pan, and I didn’t have enough solid food in me to require use of the toilet.  But, surely, I needed to be washed down, if not for my cleanliness, at least for my dignity.  I always thought that patients in my condition received “sponge baths” in or at their beds.  But there were no sponge baths to be had.  I guess they’re no longer part of the union contract!!

Fortunately, my domestic partner came to visit me every day and she washed me down using  wash cloths that she commandeered from a nearby corridor supply closet. (This is but one very small example of what I was talking about in the Preface when I said that  I could not imagine the hardship one would undergo to face this ordeal alone.)

Also, by the fourth day, I was able to struggle off the bed by myself, shuffle over to the bathroom a few feet away (when it was available, there being, of course, two other room occupants to share it with, and more when there were visitors), and attempt to wipe myself down with the wet corner of a towel.

I understand that there is a nationwide nursing shortage.  I also know that my experience in one hospital cannot serve as the basis of a generalization.  However, I have now taken the time to speak  to other people who have been hospitalized in the New York metropolitan area, and their comments have been similar to mine. Comments to the contrary have been the exception rather than the rule.  And, after all, The Motel Monte is not some backwoods infirmary; it is a major player on the metropolitan New York medical scene.  And it doesn’t require the services of a registered nurse to sponge bathe a post-surgical patient.  Something is wrong, terribly wrong, and I suspect that not enough is being done to address the matter.

In a similar vein, I discovered that no one was particularly concerned about the pain I was experiencing.  Unless I persisted in my requests for pain medication, I received no attention or sympathy in that regard.  Now, don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m some pampered wimp, incapable of tolerating a little pain and, therefore, was whining for relief every five minutes.  Quite the contrary.  As one example of my pain toleration, a few years ago I had a lower rear wisdom tooth prepped for the installation of a crown . . . without any anaesthetic.  However, that pain lasted for an hour and then subsided.  This pain would last, unabated, for several days.

Since the surgery, I have read about hospital-based programs in pain management in which patients are given limited control over the introduction of pain medication into their bodies.  Whatever the status of those programs, and the medical philosophies that buttressed them, was in April 2000,  in my experience The Motel Monte was not implementing them.  Certainly this is an area of care that requires more consideration, and every prospective surgical patient should make inquiry regarding the status of pain management in the hospital of his/her choice.

When I first organized an outline for this book, I considered naming two of the chapters  “You Have Throat Lozenges?” and  “May I Have My Pain Medication Before I Die?”  This was reflective of the anger I felt during the recuperative period whenever I contemplated the hospital experience.  Ultimately, as you can see, these individual ideas became melded into a more generalized statement of dissatisfaction.

To be continued….

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