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A Dance Injury: How a Split Second can Change Everything

Dance Injury
By Brittany Zimber

A split second. That is all it takes to change anything in your life. We were on night rehearsals onboard the ship. This means that you rehearse for the shows onboard from midnight to 8 am. This happens on most ships with aerial shows. The cast before you will continue doing the shows onboard while you are preparing to open your shows for the first time.

So, instead of using the theatre during the day, you use it in the middle of the night. It is total beast mode doing a full fitness workout at 12 o’clock in the morning. Not to mention being 35 feet in the air hanging from one leg on a lyra on a rocking ship in the middle of the night.

Then it happened. It was around 2 o’clock in the morning. We were rehearsing the “Pirates section” of the aerial show. To put it lightly, this section is the worst.

We used the pit in this show to jump in. Probably around 20 feet down. There are mats down there for you to land on. I had to jump in the pit, but to one side so I don’t jump on the flyer that is already down there. Roll over, either put on or take off the harness and then get ready for the next section.

I jumped in.

Nice jump Brittany!

And then landing on the top of my foot, I felt the pop. Take a second and kneel down and see how far your foot can point. The top of my foot caught my landing. I couldn’t really explain the pop. But this would be just the beginning of the next two years of a lot of confusion, pain, anger, sadness, struggle, and I guess in a sense – rebirth.

I was sent a wheel chair to the theatre and started the first of many of my X-Ray journeys.

The doctors onboard aren’t foot doctors. They aren’t specialists. They aren’t.. nevermind.. Anyway, this one was actually one of the better ones to be fair. My first diagnosis was that I fractured my 4th or 5th metatarsal bone. He wrapped me up in a soft cast and well, that was only the beginning.

This was a rouuuuuugh time for me. I spent the next four weeks on crutches and watched as my cast opened both shows without me in them. At that point I had been with the company for seven years and never missed an opening of a show. I was devastated.

I also lost twelve lbs because I wasn’t eating. I found out my boyfriend at the time was apparently trying to get with a girl in the cast before me (who was still onboard the ship). He then kicked me out of his room but strangely enough wouldn’t allow me to take all of my things with me. Oh, and let’s not forget that he told the doctor to not allow me to sign off the ship.

You wanna know what isn’t fun? Getting around a cruise ship on crutches. Or should I say “trying” to get around a cruise ship on crutches.

I was sent off the ship in Barcelona a couple weeks after I got injured to get an MRI. I get there and… the MRI machine is broken. Yep.. Broken.. So they gave me another X-Ray.

If you are thinking.. “But you should have gotten an MRI!” You are correct.. But I didn’t. Because the machine was broken. Laugh Out Loud.

Basically, I learned nothing new on that visit. Back to the ship I go, on crutches. Not able to do anything.

There came a point that I started to do exercises myself to gain strength back in my foot. But the entire time I knew something just wasn’t right. I couldn’t really explain the feeling but I didn’t think it was just a little fracture at the top of my foot. I started slowly going back into the shows after I believe it was around five weeks of not being able to do my job onboard.

Technically I shouldn’t have been there as I wasn’t working. Nor was I getting the proper care for my injury.

Just sayin’..

Every show I wrapped my foot and ankle to make sure it was staying in place. But guys, it was still killing me. The front of my ankle, the spot they said was fractured, my Achilles, and this spot next to my ankle bone kept snapping. So when they said there was just a little fracture I knew it was way more than that. But, I’m not a doctor… Soooo…

Shoulder Shrug.

Actually no, no shoulder shrug. Let me explain something. Dancers probably know and understand their body better than anyone else. Okay, we may push injuries when we are not meant to. BUT, we know when something is not right. We know our bodies. We have to. If I told you to stand in first position. It isn’t just stand there with your feet turned out. It is, turn out from your hips, pull up, tuck under, lift your head, shoulders down and back, tuck in, don’t roll in, knees back, lift in your arches. You feel me? We have to know our bodies.

So when I tell the doctor that it isn’t just the front of my foot that hurts, the back is popping… I expect him/her to listen. But, they didn’t..

Finally about two months after my injury happened I was actually able to get an MRI. Yea, two months. You know when you get injured in normal life and you go in to the doctor or hospital and straight away they do everything you need. Yeeaaa….

Now they said that I tore the ligaments in my ankle. Thing is, because I had been dancing on these tears in my ankle, it became worse. I was then sent to a physical therapist right after my MRI. This day was honestly just out of a comedy. I was in this hospital in Barcelona, with a physical therapist who didn’t speak a lick of English. Oh and no I don’t speak a lick of Spanish. There was a woman in there translating for us.

Also, I was about to be late back to the ship. When you get off the ship for medical there is a “Port Agent” there to help you to get safely to and from your appointment. Oh, and meant to be in a timely manner as well. The Port Agent was late picking me up to bring me to the hospital. Also, late bringing me back to the ship.

SO… While this woman is translating for me I am trying to explain to them that I need to leave to get back to the ship or I won’t get back in time and the ship will sail away without me. Yes, that is a possibility.

I made it! But without much information, because time was of the essence. I had no time. At this point I knew that I shouldn’t be dancing, my ligaments had been torn, and I needed physical therapy. I had to wait another week to get back to the physical therapist again.

This time he told me that yes, in fact, I should not be dancing. I needed to have physical therapy at least three times a week until I got better. He also explained that I should really be going home to get better. I couldn’t get physical therapy three times a week being onboard the ship. So the only option was to go home.

This contract was bad juju after bad juju.

I started in rehearsals getting quarantined for having Shingles. I was like 26.. What the heck!! I lost two weeks of rehearsals because of freaking Shingles. Then a week after I get onboard the ship I get injured, during install. I spent about a month and three weeks doing some of the best shows I have ever done. Then, I was signed off medically for my injury.

I can’t even go into the process of signing off and going home because it was so ridiculous. Oh God, and after I got home…. The process to get better didn’t even start for about three weeks. I need my ankle to do my job, my career, my joy. “They” clearly didn’t understand that.

That was just the beginning of the next two years of shit. The amount of MRIs and X-Rays… Physical Therapy, Surgery, Acupuncture, Dry Needling, Big Needles pulling a Cyst out, Doctors that had no idea what they were doing, getting told my career was over…. Oh there is more, so much more.

I made it out, somehow. I like to think that all of the bad things that happen allow me to tell my story of how I made it through…

There is more to come about those next two years.. Stay tuned.

Also by Brittany Zimber:

The Body Struggle is Real: A Dancer’s Story

Show Creation on Cruise Ships: Another Opening, Another Show

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