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someone swimming with myasthenia gravis

Conquering My Fear of Swimming After Diagnosis

The first time I went swimming after my myasthenia gravis (MG) diagnosis, I was very anxious. For those who haven’t experienced the ugly symptoms that come with MG, such as ptosis, diplopia, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, they would surely question, why the fear?

Running out of air

I never experienced shortness of breath before, except for one time during my career as a nurse. We had to wear hoods during surgery and the circulating nurse failed to turn my air on when she tied my gown. I told her if she didn’t get my air on, the gown and hood were coming off! I was almost in a panic stage because my little bit of trapped air was quickly running out! So, lack of air or suffocation is also a fear.

Since my MG symptoms popped up, I have intermittently had shortness of breath. I also have asthma that accompanied the MG. Because of this, I was concerned I would start swimming laps across the pool and suddenly run out of air. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I was in the middle of the pool at that time! Would I be so weak and winded that I'd drown? There were a lot of fears now for a sport I dearly love!

A love for swimming

I finally mustered up the courage to try it. Low and behold, I could actually swim all the way across the pool without taking a breath! Boy, was I elated! My confidence returned and there was no stopping me from doing my laps anymore!

Many times during my lunch break, I would spend time in the pool instead of eating lunch. I can’t tell you how much I have always loved the water! If I couldn’t swim, I would have been heartbroken.

I used the pool not just to have fun in, but to exercise. Most of the time, though, I would swim late afternoon or evening to avoid the worst part of the sun. When you’re on drugs, such as CellCept like I am, too much exposure to the sun should be avoided.1

Adding a ladder

However, I did have 1 problem. The pool had no steps or ladder at the shallow end. The only way out was the ladder at the deep end. Of course, I couldn’t climb the ladder to get out. I hadn’t thought of that!

The first time I was in the pool, my family was looking for something to help me get out – this was an in-ground pool that was 3 feet deep at the shallow end. They finally found something for me to stand on so I could sit on the side, then get up off the concrete. My husband and sons were quick to build me some steps with a rail so I could get in and out without someone helping me. That worked great!

Using a jetted hot tub

We also had a jetted hot tub near the pool. I know heat can sometimes antagonize those of us with MG, but it didn’t bother me as long as I monitored the maximum temperature and my time.

Of course, I was never left alone in the pool or hot tub! The hot tub helped soothe my muscles caused by my lumbar stenosis and muscle cramps, so I really enjoyed it!

Facing your fears head-on

We no longer have a home with a pool or hot tub, but at least I conquered my fear of swimming. I hope to get back to swimming again soon. It’s such great fun and exercise and doesn’t put a lot of strain on the muscles. You can do as little or as much exercise as you feel like doing.

I encourage everyone to challenge your fears head-on, but make sure you think things through carefully, so you are safe. Never go swimming or sit in a hot tub alone. It’s just smarter and safer to have someone there in case of trouble. And if you already know heat is your enemy, I wouldn't use a hot tub. No one should have to give up on things you enjoy without a fight!

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