One thing I never imagined when I was dancing were the effects it would have on my body later in life. At the peak of my dancing career, my chiropractor said he hoped I could walk when I was forty. I laughed. But it stuck in my head. And here I am on the other side of 40 and I know if he could see me now he’d be singing, “I told you so!”
Dancing was a most glorious part of my life, although it was short-lived. I was healthy and took care of myself, and mostly dealt with sore muscles and fatigue. But while practicing a lift with my partner I somehow came down and landed on his shoulder. The lift was a hard one, because my sense of where I was in space was totally off. He threw me up so I was horizontal to the floor and then I was supposed to twist 2 or 3 times coming down. This was right before my graduate concert in which I was dancing three different roles, including a modern solo that involved a lot of jumping and crouching and rolling on the floor (I was a “sprite” or “elfish creature”). Another piece was choreography by my partner and had some corps dancers, and the last was the bedroom scene in Romeo and Juliet. This choreography was pretty contemporary and also involved some unusual lifts that made my ribs hurt on a good day!
We patched up my ribs with bandages that matched my skin and wrapped it around a few times. It was tight but I could still breathe. No one could see it under my costumes. Still, it was probably foolhardy to go on with the show, but as dancers do, we went on with the show! It was the last step before I graduated and left Arizona, and it had to be done. The show went fine but my ribs were sore for a long time after that.
Other than the ribs and a broken toe, the other things I suffered from were tendinities in my hips and Achilles tendons. Both of them, of course. My ability to perform was affected when the Achilles tendinitis finally made it impossible for me to dance en pointe. I wasn’t interested in other kinds of dance, but I was able to teach for several years after that. I loved teaching!
Fast forward 14 years: we moved, I’ve had 3 children, and I have been working at a large bank for the last 13 years. Although I miss dance, it has been easier to deal with my pain by not putting myself in a studio. The past four years I’ve begun noticing twinges in my big toes. I saw a chiropractor when one was acting up and told him I felt like it was “stuck” and needed to be pulled. Whatever he did, it didn’t help. Finally, this past summer I realized that after walking about a mile my hips were getting very sore and my feet were doing weird things in flip flops or heels. With flip flops your toes have to grab the shoe before pushing off, and this would start the twinging. When I wore heels, wherever the shoe came across the top of my metatarsals (especially on the left foot) it would swell up and turn red and hurt. A lot.
I decided to get it checked out, because by that point it was affecting my every day need to walk around. I saw an orthopedic foot surgeon (who works with the North Carolina Dance Theater dancers) and he ran x-rays and pointed out the bone spurs that had grown on the bones that meet at the base of the big toe. You could also see that there wasn’t much space in the joint anymore, and he said that I had hallux rigidus. He tried raising my big toes upwards and they didn’t want to be lifted. (I’d given up on teaching ballet ever again because I couldn’t stand on half toe correctly anymore—my big toes just wouldn’t bend far enough to lift my heels more than an inch or so off the ground). He said that since I noticed it years ago and it was getting progressively worse, I would be a candidate for bilateral cheilectomy. Translation: both feet at the same time.
Thursday morning last week I had bilateral cheilectomy surgery. They were going to give me ankle blocks as well as general anaesthesia, but for some reason they decided not to do the blocks (and I was already under so they couldn’t discuss it with me!). The pain was not terribly bad until I really came to a few hours later. I took the pain meds but got nauseated and dizzy. One of the pills was to combat nausea caused by taking the other one. I took them for the first few days and then cut down to half, and today I’m just doing my over the counter meds to manage the pain.
I can put my feet lower than my heart now without them starting to throb, and I can wobble to the bathroom down the hall when necessary. My friend loaned me a walker which helps. I’m sleeping a lot but I think that’s part of the healing process. My short term disability claim was approved until Jan. 19th so I’m thinking recovery is a long term thing. It’s hard to believe that in a few months I’ll be able to walk without the pain I had before!
Even though my dancing career was short-lived, and I wasn’t much more than a corps member in a ballet company, all the stress of dancing en pointe took a big toll on my feet. The surgeon said the left foot was considerably worse than the right, and that this surgery should hold me for a while but I’d probably have to come back sometime and have that foot done again. I can see why the left foot was so much worse, because my right side was always my better working leg and the left was my support.
So here I sit, post bilateral cheilectomy, looking at my heavily bandaged feet and wishing for a big glass of iced tea, and remembering fondly all the dancing that led to where I am today. I don’t regret one single day of it. In a way it’s good that I didn’t know this would happen eventually, because I may not have taken the risks I took to be a dancer. You know, at times I wish I’d known the things I know now when I was young, but maybe we’re supposed to be naïve and feel invincible so we’ll take those risks anyway. And deal with the fallout later.