Happy New Year! I’ve been remiss in my entries because of the holiday madness (always a good excuse) and a back injury, a real excuse. This is me, being horizontal, over Christmas with my two dogs at my husband’s art studio, so I do have proof!
All photographers seem to have bad backs; myself included, which is why I swim. It keeps everything working and is great for your core strength. But I’m better now, and not complaining because I’m about to introduce you to someone who really experienced a truly life-changing event.
Barry Shore is one of the most animated, upbeat, positive people I’ve met at the pool. Always smiling, always happy to see you. A typical greeting is yelled from a backstroke, “Hello Beautiful Person!” Everyone is beautiful to Barry. He swims religiously. And that truly makes sense once you get to know him. He’s truly a deeply religious person. You could describe his features as biblical. But, Barry has always been deeply religious, even before his life changed, in what must have felt like an instant.
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning and not being able to move. Literally, you’re body is totally paralyzed. That’s exactly what happened to Barry Shore five years ago. He went to sleep one night feeling a little tired, but otherwise himself. The next day he awoke as usual, anticipating a full day of meetings and work. He may have been able to open his eyes that fateful morning, but that’s all he could do. He simply could not move his body, he couldn’t even get out of bed. Something was seriously wrong.
Barry spent that day, and the many months, that followed in the hospital. His paralysis was so intense he needed to be on a respirator. Doctors initially could not figure out what was wrong. Such a sudden onset of complete paralysis was mystifying. But eventually they determined he was suffering from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. And then it spreads through out the body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until the muscles cannot be used at all and the patient is almost totally paralyzed.
Which is what happened to Barry. While most patients can make a full recovery from paralysis, Barry did not. Five years ago, Barry could not walk. He was in a wheel chair. His once strong, powerful body was wasting away. His physical therapist suggested he try getting in a pool to keep his circulation going. He tried it. And his life was once again transformed. Movement came but not as quickly as the paralysis took over his life. It took time, but very slowly he regained some mobility. At first it was only his fingers, but he was so inspired that he kept returning to the pool, finally regaining some use of his arms and, slowly, his legs, which had atrophied to a quarter of their size. Through it all, Barry was ever hopeful and willing to work very hard.
Barry arrives at the pool walking with the aid of walker or a walking stick. He still has trouble moving, his nerves did not make a full recovery, but he is walking and not in a wheelchair. As he tells me all the time, “beats a wheelchair, kiddo!” He has a full time health worker who has to wait three hours for him at the pool because Barry swims three hours a day, six days a week. Of course, he takes the Sabbath off. He swims rain or shine, wind, or snow, as the case was last week. He’s now up to three miles a day. He swims mainly on his back with the aid of two floatation devices on his withered legs, but he is swimming. He listens to religious tapes and never stops moving. Swimming has transformed his life.
I went to the “Shul,” which is what Orthodox Jews refer to as Synagogue, where Barry spends a lot of his time studying the Torah. I was there to take his second portrait. Barry had arranged special permission for me, and my bare head, to enter the building and photograph him. It is customary that women are separated from the men when they worship. As a Jewish woman, I always found this annoying, but I’m not Orthodox and it’s their tradition. Not surprisingly, when I met the Rabbi and I went to shake his hand, he skillfully retracted it and with some floundering told me, “I..I don’t touch women.” This left my hand suspended for what seemed like eternity, while my brain just processed the information. But, l recovered, and went about the business of setting up the lights in this house of worship whose ceilings were so low I quickly turned my embarrassment into problem solving.