Dancing her way back to life… six years later and still very strong!
I was rear-ended by a drunk driver in 1996, which caused a hairline fracture in my spine that was not caught in x-ray. Three years later I could hardly walk, and the break, now self-fused, was discovered. My spine collapsed in 2010 after 10 years of fusion surgeries (7 total) caused arthritis to “eat my discs,” according to the surgeon. There are no discs left, and I had very little to call a life. I have now had nine back surgeries, and ¾ of my back is fused with screws and rods. Oh, yeah. I live with constant pain.
In April of 2011 My husband and I decided to take Ballroom Dance Lessons to help rejuvenate our relationship. I was skeptical about my ability to participate in the lessons, but I had always loved to dance, and missed it terribly after my accident. We went to our first Ballroom Dance lesson at Room to Dance Studio (now Infuse) in Riverside, CA. The teacher was incredible, and she made us work very hard. She taught us to Waltz for 58 minutes; gave us a 4-minute break and taught us Tango for another 58 minutes. Then we had to stretch out and cool down. I was absolutely stunned to make it through the lesson. I told her that it was the most I had moved in ten years. There was absolutely no adverse reaction to the dance. For years, ten to be exact, every time I exerted myself, “overdoing it,” I suffered by having to spend the next two or three days in bed. I woke up Saturday morning after the class feeling energized! I was sore, but not in the kind of pain I get when I have hurt myself!
I started to notice that I was beginning to be able to do some household tasks, something I had not done in years. I also went to the gym much later in the day and could still go to dance class or practice at home in the evening. I began to have confidence that I could schedule activities in the afternoon, and that I could run errands with my husband without exhausting myself! Favorite activities like painting (I'm an artist) and shopping or having lunch with a friend began to work their way back into my schedule. I can even drive in the afternoon now without fear of fatigue!
With each new lesson, I have gained more stamina, and now I have been taught how to continue to get strong, and how to help control my pain. We had just attended a beginner’s Swing class, and my teacher asked me how I did. I told her that my back hurt and placed my hand over my lower back fusion when she asked me where. She told me she could help me and would be right back. I was skeptical. She came back and told me that my fusion is heavy, and I need to compensate for it when I dance. She explained how I could envision a rod in the center of my body, and wrap my abdominal muscles around it, creating what she called a “second spine.” The final step was to compress the bottom abdominal muscles upward. Unbelievably, as I tried the visualization, the pain diminished. I was again stunned. I asked her why I had spent thousands of dollars on highly trained doctors and had never been told I had a second spine, and she said, simply, “They are not dancers.”
In 2011 I wrote “Honestly, for the first time in 10 years I have hope that my life can and will get better. I’ve only been dancing for 2 months, and it’s already substantially improved. What will happen after a year? Two years? I trust it will only get better. I’ve even begun to hope I can return to work part-time and reduce the use of medication for pain relief.”
I’m currently substitute teaching, while looking for a full-time teaching job. The medication is still with me, as well as the radiofrequency ablations, shots, and most recently, PRP treatment. But I have a life again! After all that dance has done for me, all I can say to others who have been injured with spinal injuries is, “Put on your Dancing Shoes,” and I’ll see you at the studio!