I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.” One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando. Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world. In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks. Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!
Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated. She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave. I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel. As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg. In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”. For some reason, this touch was different than the rest. She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack. She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back. I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway! By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get. Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water, so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water! Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it. I started screaming along with her. (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.
They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us. When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them. (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!) What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos. (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand. The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed. Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust for snorkeling!
If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.