Thursday, September 2, 2010

5 Days til Surgery :(

Everything's happening so fast.

Just a week and a half ago I found out I'd be having surgery on my left foot, and now it's just 5 days from the scary event.

I've been struggling with achilles bursitis for over 3 years, since I was still training full time at Ballet Academy East. I've done probably hundreds of performances on the bad foot, and thousands of ballet classes. Somehow - with the help of hefty doses of ibuprofen - I've managed to push through the pain like any true bunhead. But this summer it's just gotten progressively worse, forcing me to make the decision to suck it up, have the surgery, and get better.

There have been times over these years where it felt like nothing was wrong - 4 shows a day in pointe shoes and a bear head felt fantastic. But then without fail a week or so later I was back to feeling like the fibers were shredding every time I walked, nevermind plie'd or releved. It's a painful process, mentally almost more than physically, to be constantly fighting with your body and not knowing if it will hold up for all you ask of it.

In early July I was feeling okay. I had been in PT twice per week since April and seemed to be controlling the pain. I was in my usual class doing a typical petite allegro combination. It was crowded and I got myself into a corner with lots of bags dotting the floor, trying to dodge them between steps. I pushed off my left foot to do a back cabriole.

I landed and froze.

It felt and sounded like I had just cracked my ankle like I do everyday, all day, like no big deal. But as I tried to walk to the side to sit down I could only hobble. I layed down and put my foot up on a stool while class finished the combination and flew through grande allegro. All I could think was "why did I have to do that combination a second time? I should've just stopped." I really did feel fine up until that very moment, which is why I kept dancing on it. Bad move, I guess.

I hobbled out after class and asked a nurse friend of mine to take a look at it. It was visibly swollen and I literally could not put my foot flat, let alone put weight on it. Somehow I got dressed and hobbled outside to the corner. The studio we were in has floor to ceiling windows on street level, and a friend of mine told me later she saw me struggling outside.

I grabbed a cab and went straight to a friend's apartment, where he graciously fixed me an ice bath and ran to get me an ace bandage. I knew I was in trouble. The rest of the night I just could not walk.

I was a week away from performances at the Latin Choreographers Festival with Exit 12 Dance Company and we had rehearsal the next day. I took a cab to the studio and hobbled at a snail's pace from the corner to the entrance of the building. 3 flights of stairs. Uh oh. I had to turn sideways to get up the stairs one at a time - putting full weight or rolling through the foot was NOT an option.

I made it up eventually and tried to "dance" on one foot. It was bad timing because that day we had visitors in rehearsal: Philip and Kokyat from Oberon's Grove taking pictures and observing. I could hardly even mark my part in the piece because everything sort of required 2 functioning feet. The picture they took kind of cracks me up because a) you can see my gigantic ace bandage through my tights, and b) my foot is flat and ugly where it's supposed to be pointed and pretty in the piece.

Anyways, after that rehearsal I stayed off it for a week, scrambling to get a doctor's appointment at The Harkness Center, where I had gone back in March to start PT. It is NOT easy to get in anywhere on short notice - good thing it wasn't a serious emergency! A teacher friend of mine happened to know somebody who knew somebody that worked in the office of one of the biggest dance doctors in the city, and with some cajoling I got an appointment for a few days later.

The doctor took an x-ray that showed nothing and then sent me for an MRI. Meanwhile, performances were looming days away. Don't ask me how, but I did them. All of them. On pointe. I limped offstage the second the lights were down, but I got through the shows. Ah, the magic of performance.

The MRI had shown that my bursa was indeed super inflamed, as I already knew. But there was also a small tear in my achilles tendon. And what was causing all of this apparently was "Haglund's Deformity." My heel bone actually comes to a sharp point in the back rather than a smooth rounded edge, and that is digging into my tendon. The answer: PT and rest.

So I did - for a while. I took probably 2 weeks completely off from class, but then I felt like I could at least get through barre. It was not a happy barre, but it was better than nothing a few times per week. That's pretty much how the rest of the summer has been, which is terribly stifling compared to how much dancing I had been doing! My NYTimes article came out in the midst of all this (actually on the day of our last performance that weekend) and I so hoped that would lead to more dancing.

I continued to push through rehearsals a few days a week and barre on occasion, but the foot was just not getting better. PT was doing absolutely nothing. It still hurt just to walk, nevermind dance. I got through one last performance weekend this past weekend with some choreography modifications and cutting back to smaller roles. But I just had to perform again...knowing I wouldn't get to do so for a while...

Last Monday I went back to the doctor for my follow up and told him it wasn't getting better. The last resort, as he had told me in July, was surgery. Having not solidified the job dancing this winter that I had hoped for, I agreed that now was the time. So here we are.

I'm terrified.

I'm scared of the actual procedure - of being at the hospital, of the anesthesia, of the pain. I'm scared of the immediate recovery period - of being on crutches for a month, of being dependent on others to help me out, of the pain. And I'm scared of the long term recovery - of being away from dance so long, of struggling to regain my technique, of the pain, physical and mental, of stopping.

I have to believe that this is what's best for my dancing in the long run. They will be removing the inflamed bursa and shaving down the heel bone so it no longer digs in. It should not return after that - I should be pain free. I certainly hope so after all this. But it's just been such a long fight. It will be such a relief in January or so when I'm fully back to dancing and fully pain-free in pointe shoes!

I had a few other gigs lined up for the fall that I'm sad to turn down - working on a video project with a choreographer friend, doing a brand new Nutcracker in Connecticut, this solo residency work thing...but I think it's best if I'm back and better for audition season.

Until then...

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