Several years ago, my friend Elizabeth Burke and I rowed twice a week through the Seattle winter. We ventured out without fail as dawn was breaking - rowing two single shells or a double. We'd row from the Fremont Bridge to the Chittenden Locks and back, or maybe across Lake Union and on to Lake Washington. Sometimes we'd come back to our home at the Lake Washington Rowing Club and wipe the ice off our boats. But we always came back with an irrefutable sense of moral superiority! We'd done it again!

Rowing - particularly Rowing Through the Winter - provides a richness of metaphors...instructive in my life as a Family Physician and the Home Dialysis CarePartner for my profoundly ill husband, Steve Williams. Now that Steve is gone, rowing reminds me of consistency and focus - so critical during grieving. Rowing requires balance, as does my life.

Row with me this winter. Linda Gromko, MD

Monday, May 9, 2011

Just when things were going so "nicely" - a flip and a broken rib!

Yesterday, I took Hugh Lade's "Sculling Skills" class. It was Mother's Day - and the weather was cool even for Seattle. There were three other women in the class. Hugh was in his beautiful wooden single, the other women were in Aeros, and I took the LeMieux - which is very skinny by my standards - but a boat I row often and really like.

We were practicing emergency stops, and I did a bunch of them without Hugh watching (of course). 

Then Hugh rowed towards me and gave the command, "Stop the boat!"

I responded. Apparently, my oars were pitched assymetrically, and I flipped right into the drink. It was in the high forties yesterday. And I wasn't wearing my Dolly Parton blow-up safety vest. After all, I was in a class - not rowing alone!

I tried to get back in the boat a couple of times with no success. I think it was on the third try, when I felt a right lower rib "give." It was painful, but not disabling. In any event, I didn't want to try flopping over the boat like a beached whale again - this time with a painful rib.

I swam the boat eastward, making it to one of the houseboats. After what seemed like a long time, I got to the houseboat dock and climbed up the litttle dock's ladder.

We strategized that it might be possible to step into the LeMieux from the dock from above - tricky, but it worked.

By this time, my class - plus Jack B. and John A. with their freshly graduated Learn-to-Row I students had gathered around to help.

I'm sure Jack and John appreciated my spectacle - I wonder if there will be any Learn-to-Row II students out of that mix!

I rowed back from East Lake Union to Lake Washington Rowing Club, with Hugh commenting "It's starting to rain; we might get wet." Hugh has a "dry" sense of humor.

I slipped easily back up to the LWRC dock where Hugh and John helped me out of the boat. Somebody threw a blanket over my shoulders - and very kind Lise A. from my class helped me to the shower. I was surprised that even though I could row back to the boat house, my body had somehow converted to jello.

Hugh drove me to the Swedish/Ballard ER, with Lise following in my car.

In the ER, I was heaped with warm blankets and given tea. My body temperature was 97.5 - by no means critical. A set of rib films confirmed at least one rib fracture, and  I have questions about a second matching one on the other side. You don't do anything about rib fractures really, except medicate for pain - unless a rib pokes inconveniently through a lung - which, of course, it hadn't.

Waiting in the ER under a pile of warm blankets, I started to cry. After the fact, of course. The very kind nurse asked if I needed anything.

"No, I think its just that my husband died three weeks ago. It's been a rough month."

I had collected myself before Dr. Kelvin Mar walked in.

"When I worked in Antarctica, we found that giving people sugar helped to raise their body temperature. Let me see what we have."

He returned with Girl Scout Chocolate Thin Mint cookies - the universal treatment for probably everything.

By the time I was discharged, I had made the following observations:

  • There's likely to be another flip test in my future.
  • You really could get hurt out there; probably a good idea to wear that blow-up vest every time.
  • A flip test next to the LWRC dock is different than flipping unexpectedly; read that "easier."
  • I think if I had trouble getting back in the boat, there are many others in the club who would have trouble also.
I am very grateful for Hugh's assistance yesterday - less grateful for his "Stop the boat" command(!). I am very appreciative to Lise for stepping up to help.  I am grateful for the folks to "stood by" - it reminded me of how the kids on my daughter's soccer team used to crouch to the ground when someone seemed to be hurt.

I am very sorry that my little spectacle might have discouraged the beginning rowers. Anyway, I'll be back on the water soon -  maybe Tuesday - in a sweep boat!

Take care,
Linda Gromko, MD