Am Fam Physician. 2007 Oct 15;76(8):1137.
After the auto accident, given the number of injuries to my ankle and my foot, it was unclear whether I would walk again, let alone dance again. So it was a critical moment in my life when the orthopedic surgeon came in and mentioned to me that I should get used to the idea of wearing a prosthetic, because they would have to amputate my foot. I was shocked. I lay there facing a real identity crisis. I was a dancer. That's who I was. If I couldn't be the kind of dancer I was familiar with, then I could not envision being anything else.
My foot was not removed. I had eight surgeries, including one very long one when I first was admitted. It took a few years before I came to terms with it. I had a hopeful attitude—that I would heal and dance again. In the hospital, one of the small victories we concentrated on was blood flowing through my leg. We would focus on the pulse meter—it was almost like meditation. I would try to make it beep. It became this emblem for life and our hope.
I assumed that I could muscle my way through it, will my way through it, work hard, exercise, eat right—that everything would work out and be fine. But all along, there was a possibility that it wasn't going to be fine. At a certain point, there weren't any more positive steps like with the pulse meter in the hospital. I became impatient. I became discouraged. For a couple of years, I poured a lot of my own money into healers and supplements, massage therapy and acupuncture. It was also my life; it was a full-time job trying to recover. I would get up and go to work, and my work was going to the gym, or going to this doctor or that doctor! I wanted to be done with the process. I began feeling depressed and took a break from my schedule. I finally had to deal with all that I had denied and face the reality of the situation, which was “Well, maybe this is it, maybe this is as good as it is going to get.”
Grieving the loss was an important stage. It was very painful for me. Eventually though, I realized that I was not really alone at all. I began concentrating on choreography instead of dancing. My performers are not just professional dancers. I include people from the community and those who have a disability of some sort. My work has become so much richer.
Being a dancer, like athletes, you feel somewhat immortal, somewhat superhuman. You can do these things, and you've trained yourself. You get knocked down, and when you do, you appreciate for the first time that you're not alone and that everyone suffers.—c.-p.l.
Many of the scenes in C.-P.L.'s performance piece “painkillers” illustrate her ordeal. In one, she rolls on the floor while the names of her hospital medications scroll down on screens around her. In others, images of water and birds suggest release from physical and emotional pain. C.-P.L.'s story shows how difficult it can be for patients to come to terms with the impact of illness or injury on their lives. physicians may be most effective by envisioning their role as facilitators, rather than healers. We cannot hurry a patient's acceptance of a situation any more than we can expedite the grieving process.
CAROLINE WELLBERY, MD
Close-ups is coordinated by Caroline Wellbery, MD, associate deputy editor, with assistance from Amy Crawford-Faucher, MD, Tony Miksanek, MD, and Jo-Marie Reilly, MD. Questions about this department may be sent to Dr. Wellbery email@example.com.
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