Can Water and Kindness Heal?

Holly Herrick

Although I usually write about food, this blog isn't really about that. It's more about the value of  life, health, and kindness.

I always thought I understood the value of health, placing it as the highest and most important priority and one not to be taken for granted. An avid tennis player enjoying an active lifestyle and a healthy diet, I felt like I was living in a manner true to my words.

Then, one day last spring, progressive and chronic hip pain became a part of my life. After months of pain and ineffective results from chiropractors to acupuncurists' (in my case), I finally faced the music and took an X-ray and then an MRI. The bottom line: There is dead bone in my left hip ball and it has to be replaced, which will happen tomorrow. The prognosis is very good for a full recovery and restoration of full health that I now realize I was guilty of taking for granted after all.

It was very hard to give up the things I love most—tennis, cooking, enjoying life with reckless abandon... There have been lots of sacrifices, and like the pain, they came slowly and progressively, one pleasure departing steadily after the next. Even though I know others have endured much worse, I uncharacteristically started to feel a little bit sorry for myself and started gaining weight. Something had to be done!

On the advice of a wonderful neighbor, I found just the right cure for my physical and emotional doldrums. I came across a fabulous group of people at the MUSC Wellness Center pool here in Charleston, SC, where I started doing water therapy as a means of pain management and muscle strengthening about six months ago.

Since then, I have found refuge there, almost daily. The sick hip is weightless and mercifully painless in these embryonic waters. The smiles and kindness of my fellow water aerobic class members are without bounds. Most of these women and men are well into their 60s and beyond (there is a lovely lady in her early 90s, too) and are dealing with multiple kinds of pain and injury themselves.

I don't know most of their names, but know I am with friends there. They've been on a longer road of life and have certainly seen more of everything—joy, pain, death, and the entire spectrum—than I have yet to see. As one of the pool instructors said, "Older people have it going on. They've been there, done that."

He's so right. I call these kind souls my aqua angels. They have literally buoyed me up as I've gone through this very difficult time, on days where the only thing that relieved pain was being in water or laying down. On the days I couldn't even walk and especially on the days I couldn't cook or work, just thinking of them made me feel better. With their kind smiles and knowing eyes, they have saved me. As this small band of the aging wounded march up and down the length of the pool, unity ignites the air and empathy swirls in the waters. Some days, as I'm paddling around on my noodle or pushing water weights, I've turned my head away to weep, overwhelmed with gratitude for the goodness this small circle of angels have brought to me, maybe without even knowing it.

As I continue to paddle my way through the hopeful, humbling, and sometimes hilarious  path of healing, I know my thoughts will return again and again to my aqua angels. And, one of these days soon, I'll be back in the water with them again, swimming and smiling our mutual lanes to full recovery and health restored.