Adult Swim

Paul Kidwell is a Boston-based PR consultant, writer and caregiver. He is interested in hearing from other men caregivers and learning of their stores, and can be reached at paulkidwell@comcast.net.

It's my favorite part of the day. And, although it lasts for just a few seconds, it fills me with a happiness that I would normally associate with life's larger moments. Small; yes, but powerfully moving nonetheless. At about 5:35 - 5:40, Monday through Friday, my wife walks into an unassuming Boston swimming pool plunked down in the basement of a local elementary school where we both swim, six days a week (we also swim on Saturday mornings). For us it is a much needed balm after some very long and hard days, and when she arrives, my day is complete. To be honest, I am not sure why such the simplest of gestures makes me feel the way it does, but I guess in the world of boy meets girl, it's probably best not to dissect such a tender moment; just enjoy it.  Which I have been doing for nearly seven years.

We came to swimming about the same time; although through different circumstances. I had just undergone hip replacement surgery and was facing a less physically-active lifestyle than I had been used to and was looking for an athletic activity that could replace my distance running and pick-up basketball with my son, and accommodate this middle-aged body in repose. My wife's diagnosis of early onset Parkinson’s had also placed new physical constraints in her life and following the advice of her neurologist she headed to the pool in order to keep her muscles strong and flexible. Exercise, she was told also had the added benefits of improving energy level and sleep. Plus, it was something we could do as a couple, which appealed to me.

The physical benefits of swimming are obvious and long-heralded by Olympians and tadpoles alike, and once you understand the dynamics of Parkinson's you can also understand its appeal to a person who lives with the illness. Stamina, cardiovascular health, and added strength come to swimmers without the bone-jarring effects of running or other sports that can wreak havoc on the body over time. And for my wife, it was a time each day that she could free herself of her affliction and, once again, give into the free fall of normalcy. Watching my wife move through each day gives me such respect and appreciation for what she must endure, and the way in which she does it. It's a sadly sweet feeling and it's what I feel when I watch her swim each day.

I swim out of love for my wife and, yet, as wonderful as our daily swims make us feel I cannot help but reflect on what brought us to the pool in the first place — her illness. For some strange reason I am moved by the siren song of Parkinson’s that brings us to the pool where I watch my wife effortlessly knife through water where her illness cannot live. But, I also know her life outside the pool is challenging; and it’s likely that the challenges will become more acute. Parkinson’s is an unforgiving disease and punishing in its arc. We are 53 and, based on our genetics, will most likely have another 20-30 years together. With what I know about this disease, I understand that she will not get better and probably her condition will worsen.

What lies ahead for us remains unclear. I suspect there will be good days interspersed with the not-so-good ones. Times where she appears “normal” and I question whether the doctors were correct in their diagnosis. But these are highly accomplished people in complete and consistent agreement with this diagnosis, so when the disease becomes an afterthought, we will take it as a gift. Perhaps the medicine that now appears to keep Parkinson’s at bay will allow a prolonged management of the illness. Soon enough; however, her progress will most likely cease and her sickness will, once again, take center stage. And each day we will come back to the water and swim, and I will watch her walk into the pool, slip into the water and move away from the illness that grips her outside of the water. And my heart will be filled.

Posted: 3/7/2014 10:54:17 AM by Cathy Whitlock


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