Mark Diconzo: Pushing Over the Finish Line
The digital age is a modern marvel granting us access to any and all information with a mere click of a mouse. However, after experiencing pain or injury, a quick search down the rabbit hole can spiral a person, especially someone like me, a self-diagnosed hypochondriac. Having been performing in Aladdin just shy of two years I started developing knee pain gradually due to the repetitive stress of the show on my body.
As symptoms worsened so did the conclusions of my search history along the way, everything ultimately started ending in amputation. I decided it was time to get imagery and see a doctor, I was hopeful in the end I would be permitted to keep my leg and continue living my best life and dream on the Great White Way!
I perform in the ensemble as Razoul and the Jafar/Sultan understudy in Aladdin – my Broadway debut show and my literal dream come true, portraying a Disney villain! The show is a beast, dancing on a solid metal stage eight shows a week led me down the digital rabbit hole inevitably landing me in the operating room. Regular physical therapy along the way seemed to help but eventually was no match for the injury’s progression.
There were some days after performing that I would not be able to bend my knee past 45 degrees without excruciating pain/blocking.
This onset started creeping in during performances and my stellar doctor and surgical team put it to me plainly, “Mark, at this point with each show you dance in moving forward, consider it adding another week of recovery post surgery.” So after a pillow biting experience with cortisone, physical therapy, all the natural supplements, compression, icing sessions, acupuncture, float spas, sports massages, and endless rabbit holes on the internet, surgery was unavoidable as the doctors concluded I had a torn meniscus and multiple cysts in my knee. Luckily, they told me I could keep the leg. Take that, internet!
On the day of the surgery I was a mess.
My brain was clouded with worrisome questions: will I get back to my dream job after this, how much of my meniscus will be removed, will the blocking pain be gone, will I die under anesthesia, will they choose the right leg…the list goes on and on for a self-diagnosed hypochondriac like myself. But, after some soothing medication the cold operating table on my bare ass turned into a stage when the doctor asked me to give him my best evil Jafar laugh, and with that I was out. I only wish that calm, peaceful sleep were a part of my life during the weeks leading up to surgery.
The recovery was as much a physical one as it was mental.
Our initial timeline of six weeks was a pipe dream and my medical leave of absence was extended eight more to ensure I would be able to return safely. Though I was off crutches rather immediately, my range of motion, strength, and blocking pain after walking short distances seemed as though they would never improve. Physical therapy has been grueling and if I were to choose one word to describe my recovery experience it would be “rollercoaster.” During the surgery they ended up removing a portion of my lateral meniscus and the cysts. Due to the fact that the portion of the meniscus removed was on the lateral horn in the white-white zone with minimal blood flow my recovery was anything but a smooth upslope.
Remaining optimistic, diligence with physical therapy/at home exercises, harassing my doctors along the way, and patience were key for my recovery.
Even writing this now I am slotted to return to the show in a few weeks, and though very close, do not have my full range of motion restored yet. It was not until week nine that I actually started thinking it would be possible to return to the show safely. I am now bike riding daily, giving myself a 200 push-up-a-day challenge, and having great success with weight-bearing exercises at physical therapy and the gym. I have not experienced the blocking or pain I did prior to the surgery and am pushing hard over this finish line.
The scariest thought of this whole journey, “After surgery, will I be physically able to return to the job I have fought and worked so hard to achieve for what seems like forever?” This still pops into my head, but is quelled with a bike ride, one more set of push-ups, and running the choreography without pain. I cannot wait to return to Agrabah, with all of my limbs, stronger, grateful, and maybe even a little bit less of a hypochondriac.
Also by The Ensemblist:
Published in collaboration with The Ensemblist