Monday, February 20, 2012

No Sympathy for the Elderly

I started swimming again. I haven't been in the water since September. I want to get an early start this year. I was motivated to start swimming in January but then again, so is everybody else. See, January is New Year's Resolution season. It takes the resoluters about 3 weeks to run out of steam. February seemed like a good time to develop a routine that I can continue throughout the season. So far, I have failed miserably. But, I am getting closer.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I really like the YMCA. It is a poorly named establishment, given that it is neither Y, nor M, and for the most part, not really C. I'm pretty sure that the A stands for 'awesome' and that it is. I have been swimming at my Y for the better part of a decade now. They have renovated the entire building including the pool. But, from a people standpoint, not much has changed.

We have the same denizens hanging out in the drink that have been there, well, probably since before I was born. This story is about one man whom I'll call Doc.

The Tale of Doc
Doc is not really a nickname, it's an official title. He is in his 80s and a retired medic. He has also been on a swim team and coached several teams of his own. He's one of the few people in the pool who use it for actual swimming.

Doc is a friendly, well spoken, young man. I can imagine him being the kind of doctor that everyone liked and respected. His attitude and warm smile (which is always on) make you believe that he had a superb bed-side-manner. I like Doc a lot.

I also avoid him like the plague. It's those same qualities that make Doc so likable that also make him a certain kind of a nuisance. He can hold a conversation with anyone at any time. I want to talk to him. But, he's retired and has hours on end. I have to go to work. Once I get wrapped up in Doc talk, it's bye bye workout. I only give myself about 45 minutes of lap time before the boss gets mad at me for missing class. It's either talk to Doc or do my set. As much as the former sounds appealing on more than one level, I opt for the latter. That usually means staring at the deck clock instead of making eye contact with Doc.

On my third swim this season, I had the pleasure of swimming a nice set and getting out of the pool in plenty of time. My locker was parked right next to Doc's, who was chit chatting with some other retired guy very near my changing space. Doc flashes his award winning smile, 80-something year old teeth still gleaming. He introduced his friend. (Everyone is Doc's friend. Seriously, you can't not like this guy). The three of use made idle conversation, just like the kind that will kill my workout. Today, however, it did not impede my ability to change and get ready for work.

Now, for some reason, Doc looked at me and started telling me that he has been struggling in the water lately. Okay, there are several reasons he is telling me this. First, he's a swimmer and I'm a swimmer. We're water brethren and able to understand the other's woes. Second, he knows that I was watching from my lane, about 15 feet to the left. Third, he's looking for advice.

Since I've been going to the Y, people have been talking me up about all sorts of swimming topics. Doc normally tells me stories of the old days. Back before butterfly was invented and side-stroke was competitive. Before you could do flip turns on your back. Before women were allowed in the Y. Before men had to swim with suits. (Aside: I have divided feelings about an all-male, naked pool session. End aside.) Today, Doc was telling me about his shoulder pain.

This is new for me. Doc is a doctor. Why should a trained and skilled practitioner of his profession start telling an idiot about pain in his right rotator cuff? Then, it hit me, he knows that I have been watching. It's true that his stroke was off but I didn't really analyze.

"I'm having trouble with my shoulder. It's sore." says Doc. I waited knowing that there's more words to be made.

"It hurts most when I breathe on my right side. I'm trying to breathe on my left but I find it's really hard." Now, he paused and looked at me expectantly. "I had to cut my swim short today." The smile is, for once, gone from his face.

Doc is searching for something. Looking back, I probably handled the situation correctly. I did not give him any sympathy. He's an athlete, a swimmer, and a strong minded man. I did not give him any advice. I had none to give him. I did give him a nice grimace and a scalding. I looked at him dead in the eyes and said...

"Shut up and do the work."

He laughed and said, "I guess I'll get no sympathy from you. And, you know what, you are right. I'll do better tomorrow." Sure enough, I saw him the next time (which was 3 days later), doing his work and awkwardly breathing on his left.

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