Once again, I planned to keep better track of my progress.
And once again, I've found myself with very little progress to track.
My therapist went ahead and discharged me at the end of last year. Although I was still nowhere near where I needed to be to start dancing again, I could walk mostly without pain. I had good range of motion and enough strength to perform daily living activities. And my insurance company decided that was good enough.
Even today, I still can't do a full single-leg heel raise or jump on one leg. My left calf muscle has stopped growing and I can’t run farther than a mile or two without pain in my tendon and heel.
My surgeon retired last summer, but I went back to see a different doctor in the same practice over winter break. It was my one-year check-up in December—my final scheduled appointment. She reviewed my history and I updated her on my current abilities.
I can’t say I was really surprised to hear her prognosis—I guess I’d been expecting it. But it still came as a huge blow when she told me I’d have to learn to live with my new limitations. She told me that the chances of regaining my strength beyond one year post-op were very low and that I would likely never dance again.
I was crushed. Almost four years of surgeries and therapy had amounted to nothing. I cried on the way home from the appointment and a few days later almost published a bitter post about the ineffectiveness of surgeries and how I regretted having all three of them.
But I’m glad I didn’t post that. I started this blog because I wanted to document my progress in a way that might help others get through their own recoveries, and impulsive hostility doesn’t help anyone.
Although I had almost totally given up on the idea of returning to dance, in recent weeks I’ve become re-inspired. I attend Alma College and am a part of the Alma College Kiltie Dancers, but since I can’t dance I usually end up watching jealously from the sidelines. But one week as I was “filling in” (mostly just place-holding in a group choreography) for a dancer who couldn’t attend class, I decided to push myself.
I was watching some of the other dancers do these huge 180 degree leaps and I was dying to try one. I hadn’t done a leap in almost four years, and I realized in that moment how much I missed them. I’d always been pretty good at leaps, and I loved the feeling, the explosiveness of them.
So I decided to try it. The first one I attempted was sort of half-hearted—I didn’t really believe I could do it and wanted to play it safe. But I realized that I could keep going, and I pushed myself further. By the end of the class I had done four leaps, and they kept getting better.
Please ignore my arms and the look of pain on my face, but the picture below was my final leap that night.
My hope was restored, despite the fact that I couldn't control my landings and my left heel was sore for the following few days. Although I realized that most of the power had come from my right leg, I started to wonder if maybe I’d been too hard on myself. I’ve always been the type of person to strive for perfection, and this definitely limits me. Sometimes I don’t even try things if I don’t already know I’ll be able to do it correctly the first time.
It’s stupid, I know.
My achilles tendon and calf will never be the same. I’ll probably never be as good of a dancer as I once was, but maybe my dance career doesn’t have to end completely. Recently I’ve started practicing some of the easier national dances, and although I still can’t stop my left heel from dropping down to the floor, I can still do a lot of other things quite nicely. I can turn out and point my feet, even if my left-sided hops don’t quite make the cut.
I’m not saying I’m back, but I’m trying.
Thanks to everyone who has followed along with me throughout this lengthy process. And thanks especially to my family and my dance teachers who have continued hoping even when I haven't.
This will be my last Achilles Blog post. I'm going to keep it online, but if you have any questions please feel free to email me. You can use one of the email forms either on this page or in my About section. I'd love to hear from you.