Laryngectomees & Swimming
Rule number one: lary’s should not really contemplate swimming, not as they normally did pre-op. It is a recipe for disaster and quite possibly the early conclusion of the holiday!
Swimming or getting into water can be very dangerous for laryngectomee. Once the stoma is under water, it quickly flows into the trachea and the lungs which inevitably leads to drowning. It can also cause ‘aspiration pneumonia’. Always remember that swirling waters (eddies) can cause you lose balance & going in further than you can actually see the bottom/floor is equally a s dangerous. It is far safer to simply paddle about in the shallower & calmer water – and the water level needs to be lapping around the waste and not the upper stomach; ie, at least 1ft below a safe distance below stoma level. This ensures no water near the stoma thus easy breathing without fear of either of the above situations.
Some laryngectomees take short swims or get under the water for a few seconds after occluding/blocking their stoma with a finger or thumb but I wouldn’t advise this as any slip could prove to be fatal. Some larys wear a baseplate and seal it with an improvised locked HME.
There may be emergency situations where a laryngectomee is forced to get into the water. In such situation it is advisable to:
a)… Keep the stoma above water level no matter what.
b)… Avoid breathing (for a (short time) when the water gets into the stoma
c)… Wear a life vest that keeps the stoma above water level
d)… Use a floating device that lifts the body as much as possible
It is advisable that laryngectomees avoid situations that may put them at risk of getting into water such as surfing, water gliding, rafting or canoeing and when planning a boat ride or cruise it would be very wise to:
a)… Have a life vest available and floating tube (with automatic, non-manual inflation)
b)… Wear your life vest when needed
c)… Be aware of the evacuation routes and locations of floating device and life boats
d)… Practice evacuation procedures
e)… Inform others and the cruise staff of your special needs (this is crucial I assure you all)
Some life vests and floating devices require manual air inflation. Since laryngectomees are unable to do that, they may choose to carry a small air pump to inflate the devices. These can be easily obtained on the internet.
Some special devices have been created to allow neck breathers to swim. “The Larkel” is a rubber device – a breathing tube inside an inflatable cuff is inserted into the stoma and then inflated with an air syringe, forming a seal. It is available in Europe and requires a physician’s prescription and training.
The risks involved in swimming are extremely high and diving must really be considered a complete No-No!. Neck breathers should consult their physicians and speech and language pathologist/therapist before attempting to swim. I know from personal experience that standing in the shower at home can be a frightening experience if the proper safeguards haven’t been used, so you really do need to think about any swimming activities!
Basically fellow larys, what ever you contemplate doing involving water, thik first and assess the situation….. then you can relax and enjoy your holiday/s.