Gabriel started aqua therapy this month. He gets to spend 45 minutes with a physical therapist once a week at a swimming pool. The exercises are meant to promote motor planning and coordination, things like “hold your body straight, face down, while blowing bubbles and rotating your arms.” Not exactly swimming lessons, but probably this will give him a boost in those, which he’s taking at a different pool.
The other children who come to these lessons are impressive. Most of them show up in electric wheelchairs that have head-support braces. Some of them require two therapists to take them around the pool. They kick, move their arms and pick up objects in the water and move them. They don’t talk much, but they do have huge smiles.
The staff never tell me the names of their conditions or their treatment plans (HIPPA) but watching them I am very aware that this could have just as easily been us. Gabriel, being born at 22 weeks and 6 days of gestation, was at high risk for these disabilities, or “severe to profound neurodevelopmental impairment” as the statistics chart explained to us. (He was also at high risk of dying in the first few days of life.) The doctors explained that 22 weeks was way too early and 23 weeks was also probably too early, and because of the high chances of suffering or disability, it would be better to “let him go.”
Gabriel proved them wrong, and we got out of the hospital with only minor problems — developmental delays, and feeding delays that required a feeding tube to be surgically installed. He still has the tube, which is a small plastic plug that comes out of his skin.
I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable at the pool with the kids who obviously have so much more need, but the therapists assured me that Gabriel is indeed in need of the physical therapy and would benefit from it. I’ve also wondered how Gabriel views the other kids. Last week, as I was drying Gabriel off, I got a sample of how he understands things. Another boy, a year younger than him, was being lifted out of the pool by two therapists and being dried off. They put him in to the wheelchair and stabilized his head. Gabriel said to me, “He has-”
I braced myself, wondering if I needed to stop my son from saying something inappropriate.
“He has-” he repeated, restarting the sentence several times, as kindergartners often will. Would I have to explain what a disability is? What the wheelchair is for?
“He has a stomach tube, too.”
Wow, I thought, that’s the one thing I hadn’t noticed about the other boy.
“That’s right, Gabriel, you both have stomach tubes.” It warmed my heart that he looked for the thing they had in common. Hopefully judgmental thoughts will take a few more years yet to arrive.