15 Hours, 30 minutes and 45 seconds; I swam from Newport, Vermont, USA to Magog, Quebec, Canada …… so what is the damage?
The swim is over and I am looking forward to getting cleaned up and pulling on my favourite after swim sweat pants, T shirt and Hoodie”, I ask Deb and Cynthia, ” will you help me clean up?”, they reply, a warm ” yes” and with that we are off to the public facilities located on the beach. I have Deb on one side of me and Cynthia on the other, along the beach path we go, it is a bustle of activity, there is a wine festival in full swing, we look out of place bundled up in all our clothes, we make our way into the bathrooms, there is a line of tres chic women waiting for the bathroom, they throw us a few disapproving glances, with a ” don’t make eye contact” look on their faces, we look a right mess.There is one shower, it is very basic indeed but to me at this very moment it feels like I am in the Ritz Carlton in New York City, Deb pulls the towels and blankets off me and I stumble on into the shower box. ” Can you pass me the dish soap and grease rag Deb?”, Deb passes me the rag and soap, dish soap and a rag is the best way to remove the layer of grease from my neck, back, thighs and under my arms, the grease helps reduce chaffing when I am swimming, chaffing is when your skin rubs raw on certain parts of your body either from a suit or skin on skin. With the rag in hand I proceed to rub the back of my neck, the water feels great on my body and I can’t wait to get the grease off, ” arm lift up above the head and scrub my neck”, I command my arm to get scrubbing but nothing happens, ” what is up with this, my body and mind have supported each other unconditionally for the last 15 hours, 30 minutes and 45 seconds in the water, in the water they were inseparable, like a perfect dance partner, no disconnect, what is up with this?”
Deb senses my delimma, she snaps up the rag and starts scrubbing, the grease comes off bit by bit, I stand there helpless looking like a poor sap locked out of the house in the pouring rain. Finally the grease is all off, ” I want to wash my hair” I declare to Deb, ” my shampoo and conditioner are in my backpack, can you pass them to me?”, kind Deb, a reply of ” are you kidding me” would have been quite appropriate at this point in time, but she doesn’t say that, she passes me my shampoo and conditioner, I go about a technique of washing my hair without lifting my arms above my head, harder than it sounds, but after swimming from USA to Canada I figure I should be capable of atleast washing my own hair. There, done, ” I smell good’, I think, ” now I can relax in some clean cozy clothes and enjoy recovering from my battle with the lake”, but it’s not my time for clean, cozy and enjoyable, things go downhill and they go downhill FAST.
Deb turns off the shower, she is completely drenched from helping me degrease, ” time to get dressed, Cynthia, she’s ready for clothes”. At that moment I begin to deteriorate, I double over in the shower and heave, I vomit, vomit and vomit some more, each vomit more violent than the one before, I don’t know how long I have been buckled over but I can see that the white shower box that earlier reminded me of the Ritz Carlton now looks like a mud pit, it is covered with a black tar like substance, I feel sweat on my forehead and a wave of dizziness, I don’t feel good.
” Deb, I have to clean this up”, I mumble, frightened to open my mouth too wide in the fear of more black tar coming up, ” I’ve got it”, says Deb, ” Deb, I feel bad having you clean up my mess, it’s horrible”, I reply, ” I work in an animal hospital, I do this all the time, get out there, Cynthia will help you get dressed”, Deb replies kindly yet firmly, I obey begrudgingly. Out I go, there is Cynthia passing me my clothes, the line of ladies looks horrified, ” I don’t think me or the shower smells good anymore”, I think.
With Cynthia’s help I pull on my sweatpants, a tank top, fleece pullover and sweat shirt, ” I want to brush my hair Cynthia”, I blurt out, Cynthia’s eyes widen, ” really, OK where’s your brush”, she digs it out of my bag and passes it to me , I pull my hair back and then put on my favourite merino wool hat I got in Ireland, ” there, that’s better, I am sure to start feeling good now”, I think, but I don’t feel better, I start feeling worse.
Cynthia and Deb steer me back out towards the beach, I plop down beside a tree and lean up against it, we start to chat a bit, I feel sick, ” I’m not feeling too good, I might try a walk”, I say to my crew, they help me up and I head over to the beach, I want to congratualte Liz Fry, she was the first swimmer in, about an hour before me, what a great swim, I want to offer my congratualtions, ” Hi Liz, terrific swim, what an honor to swim in the lake with you”, I say, ” how are you feeling”, she replies, ” A bit nauseas Liz, but in good spirits”, I say, ” try a little bread, sometimes it helps”, I thank Liz and head back to the security of my tree and fill in the crew, ” Liz is super nice, she suggested trying a little bread”, with that some bread appears, I tear off a penny sized piece and pop it in my mouth, then another, before I can get in a third in I lurch forward and throw up again, it hurts, the stuff is coming from the pit of my stomach, it is a black paste and looks like it has coffee beans in it, I hurt.
Some of the other bystanders from the beach come by, ” try some gingerale, or some water”, “you might be dehydrated”, ” you are probably a bit seasick”, a cup of gingerale appears, I take a few sips, again I heap forwards vomitting, now a cap full of water from a water bottle, a thimble sized amount, I vomit up more black bile, it hurts bad. I collapse back against the tree, I can hear my breath, it is loud in my head, my ears are ringing, my arms are starting to tingle, I feel scared.
2 hours pass by and I am still chained to the security of my tree, I am afraid to stray from it, for some reason I feel worse when the tree is not beside me, yet I know I need to go home, the sun is lowering in the sky, it is 5:30pm, my crew looks beat and it will soon be dark, what to do? I just don’t think I can sustain the 2 hour car ride back to the United States, back to the comfort of my home, I feel torn, should we stay or should we go?
” The other 2 swimmers have landed, they made it”, Deb and Cynthia tell me, ” I want to go say Hi”, I inform them, again the crew help me up and I head over to the landing chairs, the very chair I sat in just a few hours earlier, it seems like a lifetime ago. Elaine Howley and Greg O’Connor, are all wrapped up just like I was, the last of the 4 out of 11 swimmers who survived this battle with Lake Memphremagog, ” great job you guys”, I say, we chat for a bit, then I say farwell and head over to thank Phil White, the “Pied piper of open water swimming in the North East Kingdom” and the guy who made this pioneer swim a reality, ” oh you have to get your AFTER picture taken”, he says, before I know it there is a camera lens close to my puffed up face, I give my best possible impression of a smile….
Back to the tree, I go and I have a cunning plan…..” OK, we travel back to Vermont, if I start feeling worse and need a break from the car we stop at an Inn , or perhaps a diner, until I feel better”, I say to Cynthia, Deb and Jeff as we shuffle towards the car, seems like a solid plan to me, yet my crew make no comment, they look concerned, they steer me into the front seat of the car and stuff a wad of paper towels in my lap, the door closes, I feel trapped.
Jeff starts the car and we roll out of the parking lot, Jeff starts making his way along the side streets towards the highway, every turn we make I feel worse, like a steam engine that is about to blow a gasket, ” this is getting hard, I am too hot, I am going to blow, I’ve got to get out of this car, HELP”, my mind is screaming at me, finally I blurt out ” Stop the car”, Jeff stops the car and I fall out the door and hang myself over the guard rail on the side of the road, beyond the guard rail is a steep bank that leads down to a river feeding to the lake, ” I wonder if the lake is having the last laugh?”, I think as I heave, ” how can there be anything left”, I ask myself, there is not, it is the pit of my stomach itself coming up, tearing the back of my swollen throat as it explodes onto the bank, I heave and sob, sob and heave some more, then my legs buckle under my body, everything goes numb, ” game over, I am toast”.
Somehow I am back in the car, what happens next? I am in no state to travel, I can tell you that for sure, perhaps an Inn for me to rest for the night, or worst case scenario a hospital , which will it be? I’ll keep you posted.
“You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home”
– Apollo 13 Movie