Monday, December 5, 2016

I can JUMP!

It Ain't Over
You would think that, two and a half years after my second hip replacement, there would be nothing to say. That the healing process would be over, and the pain a distant memory. If I didn't dance, perhaps that would be the case. Maybe I'd be all blase and used to my new hips. Maybe. In fact, I am still so.. Excited!  Like, jumping up and down and yelling and waving your arms excited. Like, doing the happy dance all day every day for the rest of my life excited. Like, winning 500 million dollars in the lottery excited. Still. Two and a half years after my second operation.

I am grateful for so many things. That I am able stride easily along the pipeline that backs our property, to hop over logs and duck under low branches. That I can climb uphill with ease, and navigate steep trails without being afraid to slip. When you live with chronic pain, your whole being tenses with the fear falling. because you know it will send dangers into your already on-fire raw spots. I am grateful that I can squat down to stroke the cat, to clean the windows (well, not really), even sit on the toilet. All these regular daily movements, and many more were creaky and difficult. Now I move so easily, it's easy to forget about my old, arthritic self.

There's a Spring in my Step
But here's the thing that really feels amazing. I. CAN. JUMP! This might not be a big deal for most folks. Most of us don't spend much time jumping. Except for basketball and volleyball players. High Jumpers and Long Jumpers. And dancers, like me. In dance class, and on stage; jumping has always been one of the parts of being a dancer that gave me the most joy. I loved feeling my strong, capable legs propelling me into the air, of suspending a little longer than felt possible. As a teenager in ballet class, I'd lounge against the barre, literally springing into action when the teacher gave us the steps for a 'Grand Allegro' or 'Big Jump' combination. I'd fly across the floor many times over, performing 'jetes' and 'sissones', feeling I was close to flying.  In my 20's, my ballet teacher would encourage me to jump with the 'boys'. An integral feature of the male dancer is performing gravity defying leaps, so the pianist plays a little slower, for more air time.

In my 30's I bounced through dance performances and aerobics classes, dancing the can can on cement church basement floors and leaping along city alleyways. In my early 40's the pain began, and I didn't even notice my lack of jumping ability, until I auditioned for O Vertigo in Montreal in 2007. I knew it would be challenging, as I was out of shape and at least a decade older than most of the other dancers. What I wasn't ready for was my lack of ability to jump. My legs just plain wouldn't get me very far off the ground. I surmised my out of shapeness was worse than I'd thought.

White Chicks Don't Jump
As the pain in my hips progressed, I was less and less able to leap into the air. I remember around the time of my diagnosis, jumping on a trampoline with my stepkids, being stopped in my tracks b y a searing pain that shot from hip to foot. In dance class, pre and post surgery, I felt like each cheek of my butt was the weight of a 10 pin bowling ball. Though I tried to engage my core, to use my legs, to push with my feet, I could barely leave the floor. I danced as expressively as I could with my upper body, but eventually it became a losing battle. I remember mourning my ability to dance, crying after another class of trying to keep my confidence up despite my dwindling abilities. Here I was, a professional dancer, in a class of adult beginners, dancing like an old woman. I thought of the older students I'd had when I was young, wondering what judgements I made. Here I was, dancing in their shoes. It was extremely humbling.

Technically, my 18 months of healing for my right hip was up in October 2014, and my left September 2015. Even so, a year later, I am still recovering strength, flexibility and fitness. I injured my left hip through pushing it too hard by teaching dance class in the spring of 2015. My left leg and hip are still weak, and the hamstring is tighter than the other.  On the whole though, with each day I gain a bit more of my old dancer self back.

Keep on Dancin'!
In September, I started taking one ballet class and two contemporary each week. It is so glorious to be able to move again. I realized recently that I have a new, more positive focus for my dance training. For the past few years I was focused on healing from surgery. Before that, I was trying to retain some mobility, to move enough to keep the pain at bay, but not so much that I made it worse. Now I have no pain, both hips are mobile and capable. I have some limitations, like not crossing on leg over the other, but mostly, I can dance as i did before. As i build my strength and flexibility, I will regain more steps I thought I had said goodbye to.

As for jumping, some part of me had given it up. I had thought, even with new hips, that I wouldn't be able to leap. It's true that with the weight gain (around 30 lbs) and weak muscles caused by inactivity had grounded me. But as I get stronger, I can jump higher. I have more bounce. I can articulate my feet as I jump. In fact, I realized at one point that I had a strong internal belief that I couldn't stretch my toes to the ends when I jumped. That if I did, I'd crash over them and break them. I think it was the result of being grounded for so long. Of lacking the muscular control to propel myself into the air. It's so good to have it back!

My Achilles Heel
I also, inextricably, have longer achilles tendons. Not really sure what this is a result of, but I dance teachers used to hound me to bend my knees more (PLIE!) and I just couldn't. My achilles tendons stopped me. It didn't help that I was often a head taller than most of the other girls.

Anyway, this new tendon length gives me a deeper plie, and as dancers have heard ad nauseum from their teachers, the deeper the plier, the higher the jump. I'll never jump as high as the 20 something ballet boy behind me in class the other day, but it feels so good to spring into the air. I'm happy to leave those big high leaps to the kids.

Lacking Hip Padding
In fact, not as missed, but I am once again able to fold at hip, knee and ankle, to smoothly get down to the floor and back up again. With some grumbling. My legs are getting stronger and more flexible. I'm having to relearn patterning of steps, but it gets smoother all the time. The one hitch with floor work is that I think I will always be lacking padding at the sides of my hips, where the incision is, and also where the greater trochanter, that big bone at the top of the thigh that's up at the hip socket, is. Not so pleasant to grind the hip into the floor each time I roll on my side. I'm hoping with time I'll get more adept at adjusting to meet some more padded bits.

Anyway, I feel so blessed and joyful to be moving and leaping into the holiday season.  If you have a story of getting moving after hip replacement, please leave it in the comments.

Today's Quote: "Those who don't jump will never fly." ~ Leena Ahmad Almashat