What It's Like...To Dive as a Double Amputee
By: Allison Olcsvay
Army Chief Warrant Officer Scott Schroeder was wounded a year and a half ago during a patrol mission while serving in the Zabul province of Afghanistan. He sustained injuries from a roadside bomb that exploded under the vehicle he was riding in, the extent of which required that both legs be amputated above the knee and he lost much of the use of his right arm. Learning to approach life differently following such an injury takes courage and a lot of support. Groups like Task Force Dagger, a non-profit founded in 2009 to support injured Special Forces soldiers, provide opportunities for the whole family to heal. One of their projects brings together recovering soldiers and their families for a week of diving and recreation in Key West, Florida.
“I learned to dive in Egypt, in the Red Sea, back in 1988 on a recreational trip with the military, but I wouldn’t consider myself an avid diver. I’ve only been on maybe 12 dives since then, but I’ve always enjoyed the trips I did take. But even though I dived before, I had to reacquaint myself once I got to the pool. The Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West opened their doors and their pool to us while divers got certified or retrained. They were great to extend such a welcome to us. There was a learning curve to all this, refitting my gear, using my swim legs, even getting on and off the boat there was something to be learned. After everyone got comfortable in the water we headed out for the first open ocean dive.
The injuries to my right arm required me to rig the hoses a little differently, so I could reach everything with my left arm. I also had special sockets for my prosthetics made so I could attach a foot that would work with my fins. Using basic prosthetic technology, they created an articulating joint that I could lock into the toes pointed position necessary for swimming. The upside to this is that finning is really easy now. I thought I’d have difficulty but I was able to fin perfectly. You just have to adapt to what you can do. It’s all part of getting back out there. The part you don’t realize is just how bottom heavy humans are. Without my legs, I had a tendency to flip over in the water, like a fishing bobber. I had to learn to compensate by using my core muscles to hold my position. The effort was exhausting. Every time I dived it completely wiped me out. We were doing two-tank dives and even though I thought I would be an air hog, I was glad to find out I wasn’t, which made me feel great.
When I was injured, it wasn’t just me who was affected — my whole family was injured. My wife gave up her job to divide her time between home and hospital to be with me. I’m here at the hospital every day doing my rehab, learning to walk again, hoping to get home soon. My son, a junior in high school is back home in Tennessee for school, so he can graduate with his friends. The separation is difficult for all of us. By the time I’m done I will have been here at Walter Reed for almost two years, going through surgeries, learning to walk and regaining as much function in my right arm as I can.
When a soldier gets injured there are a lot of people who want to help. What they really need though is someone to reach out to the whole family. Task Force Dagger does a great job at that, by including all of us. The chance to dive again and take a break from this world of hospital and rehab was huge for us as a family and a real chance to heal together. We get to go somewhere and be normal for a while. For the first time since my injury, we are doing rehab together. Now I’m looking forward to the next trip and getting back in the water.”
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