Today I’m celebrating four years for a bad that happened to me, which I made something good of. (This is a long blog post, but worth reading).
In the summer of 2014 we created a show called ‘Mad House’ in collaboration with four other artists. A big production by the Florentin Circus company. The show was about six strange people living together in one building. The backyard of the building was actually a big trampoline. The premiere took place at the Acco Festival in Israel during the holiday of Sukkot. After six performances at the festival, we returned for six more at the Florentin Circus tent in northern Tel Aviv. The show went really well and we got great reviews. Every show was sold out.
October 18, 2014 was the last show of the holiday week. The final act was the most difficult and acrobatic of all – All six of us were flying at a height of five meters on an olympic trampoline at a dazzling pace, which excited and amazed the audience. My adrenalin levels were super high. There was no time for hesitation, no room for error. every movement was choreographed.
When I was in circus school in Spain I studied acrobatics and trampoline for two years. I remember that during the very first lesson, the trampoline teacher explained to us the two basic “DON’Ts” of jumping on a trampoline. Two rules you must never break: Don’t land on one foot and Don’t use your hands to block your fall.
In a fraction of a sconed, I lost concentration and found myself flying through the air with no control over my body. I landed bad. Very bad. I did the two “DON’Ts”
The first thing I thought was “the show must go on”. Four hundred people were watching me. I didn’t understand what had just happened. I tried to stand up and do the trick again.. But SHIT! I couldn’t stand up, couldn’t even feel my leg. I looked down to see what had happened, and I saw that… (Warning – graphic description ahead) the joint of my left knee was folded 45 degrees in the wrong direction.
Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!! I thought that I had lost my leg and would never be able to dance again. Somehow I managed to get my knee back into place while screaming hysterically at the same time.. Gal helped me offstage and the rest of the artists finished the show which was over three minutes later. At that moment I was mostly worried about the kids in the audience – I hoped that I did not traumatized any of them…
Doctor, how bad is it?
The sport with the highest knee injuries is soccer. I went for a consultation with Dr Bezalel Paskin, the head of the department of knee orthopedics at a big hospital and the surgeon of the number one soccer team in Israel. Dr. Paskin is one of the best in his field, first or second (depending on who you ask). He explained that I had torn the two cruciate ligaments in my left knee (ACL, PCL). Basically I needed surgery to replace both torn ligaments. He said that my injury was a relatively rare injury and he wanted to do the operation himself.
The operation would be done through arthroscopy with a few small cuts being made in the joint area. Through those cuts they would work with small cameras and tools inside the joint in order to transplant two new ligaments. Thanks to the small size of the cuts the healing process and recovery would be quite fast. According to Dr. Paskin it would take me a minimum of nine months of recovery before I would be able to return to any kind of physical activity. After that an additional three months before I would be able to return to 80% of my normal activities. All in all- a year of recovery, as quick as a flash :\
In these cases it’s always good to get a second opinion so I got an appointment with another doctor. A senior surgeon at the department of knee orthopedics at another big hospital in central Israel. One of the best there is, first or second in his field (depending on who you ask). He claimed that I had torn two cruciate ligaments and also caused severe damage to the external ligament which was also nearly torn. He explained that I needed a combined operation to fix that as well. The difference is that this kind of operation would require the surgeons to open the entire external part of the knee. The recovery would be extended, and I would be left with a big ugly scar. He claimed that if we do not treat the third ligament it would break the support of the other two. They would not be able to heal due to immense pressure exerted on them and that without this, the whole operation would be for nothing.
So after hearing all of these, I went back to Dr. Paskin.. He claimed that the outer ligament had been damaged, but that the damage had been minor. Because it was not fully torn and there were still blood vessels nurturing the tissue, it would be able to recover on its own in time.
How could it be that the two best doctors in the field don’t agree on my diagnosis and on the proposed action? Who should I believe? My entire future depends on this decision. Who should I trust? If I made the wrong decision, I could cause myself even more pain and maybe damage my knee forever.
Some decisions in life you make with your heart. I decided to go with Dr. Paskin. Not just because he cared about me returning to perform. Something about the way he spoke about my case and the way his eyes lit up made me feel that he wants this operation for himself. Because of the professional challenge. He wanted this victory for his record as well. I could relate to this feeling and that’s why I chose him (I was so privileged to even be able to choose, most people are dependent on the hospital’s decision). We scheduled an operation in two months. Two months?!?!
Robi the physiotherapist
At this point my entire leg was purple-blue and I couldn’t bend it without suffering a lot of pain. After the operation you lose a lot of your muscle mass and your range of movement. To reduce the loss as much as possible, it’s recommended to arrive to the operation as “fit” as you can. The higher my starting point was, the better my starting point for recovery would be. The operation was scheduled for two months after my diagnosis in order to give me some time to heal from the primary trauma and improve my range of movement.
I got recommendations for a physiotherapist named Roby who treats some soccer teams in Israel, as well as the Israeli national rugby team. I started a long physiotherapy recovery process with Roby, struggling with pain for every tiny improvement. For every few degrees I was able to add to my range of movement, trying to remember every little success so that I would be able to recreate it a few weeks later. But with every achievement, I knew that this is just the practice run. In just a few moments this effort would be erased and I would have to start all over again, like in a computer game in which you forgot to press ‘save’.
It’s surprising how many things you can do with torn ligaments. After two months I managed to walk without using crutches, and even managed to sit in a Japanese sitting position (bended knees, with the heels touching the butt). That ment full range of motion in my knees. I was barely feeling any pain and was asking myself why do I even need this operation. At home I felt safe, but I could feel the exaggerated freedom of the joint. It was winter time, and wet outside. I knew that every little step on a rainy street might cause me to slip and have my knee folded badly again. I lost faith in my own body, and this operation is the only thing that could bring it back.
12/29/2014, Rambam hospital. Operation day. I don’t know what made me shiver more – the fear or the cold temperature of the operation room. I remember the itching cold of the metal operation table. I climbed onto it and lay with my arms open to the sides, over this part of the process I have no control. Anesthesia started to drip to my vein, and I’m off.
I woke up in the recovery room and immediately started crying, releasing all the tension that I held. My mother was right next to me asking ‘Why are you crying? That’s it, it’s over..’
Actually, it had just begun.
‘How are you feeling?’ Above everything else, my butt really hurt!
Apparently during the procedure they had put a weight on me, which had created a pressure ulcer on the other side during the three hours we had spent there. I felt as if the universe was trying to be funny. I wasn’t laughing.
My leg was held inside a huge splint that began at the middle of my thigh and reached almost until my ankle. It was like a cast that you can put on and take off. Its job was to keep my knee straight and not to let it bend. Moving was off limits for six weeks. In the first few hours after the operation, I still had some pain killers running directly into my femoral artery so I still didn’t feel my leg. The fear of losing it washed over me again.
I spent three more days in the hospital, recovering. I couldn’t really take care of myself – even going to the bathroom took me about ten minutes. The annoying wound on my bum wouldn’t let me sleep! The doctor said that there is no way that it’s a pressure ulcer since ‘they’re not created so quickly’. This is a mystery I still can’t explain.
Disaster in the shower
We were released home, the splint and I. When I got home the only thing I could think of was a shower. I hadn’t really showered in the hospital, other than a gentle sponge bath. I wanted to take off the splint and wash every molecule of the hospital off of me. I couldn’t get in the shower with the splint, cause it might get ruined and stay wet for a long time. Something so regular had became a huge project that I needed to plan in advance. I took off my clothes and the splint, and with a lot of help from my dad I got into the shower. I knew I should be really careful because there was nothing to hold my leg at that moment. Ten seconds inside the warm water and I felt it coming. A huge cloud surrounded my mind. I was about to faint. I tried screaming for help but all that came out was a whisper. I had no energy. At the last moment my dad caught me. Good thing he was waiting near the door, or the entire operation would have been ruined.
A month and a half after, I happily and fearfully said goodbye to the splint. What if it hadn’t been long enough and the new ligaments hadn’t yet stabilized? Maybe I should wait some more? You can never know – it’s all assumptions, not an accurate science. One of my legs was as thin as a toothpick, while the other looked like a tree trunk. Muscles that you don’t use atrophy quickly – The bodies moto is “Use it or lose it!”
I received another instrument that helped me fold my knee and reach a certain range, which grew every week during my physiotherapy treatments. This instrument received a nickname – The Robot. In order to make the best of my recovery time, I tried to work on the mental aspects as well. Strengthening my dedication and willpower, which are the key to success, especially when it comes to a long and exhausting process.
Wake up and Fight
With Gal’s help we built a training program that began with waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning (for the simple reason of how hard it was for me) for a three hour training session. The session included exercises for strengthening my upper body and core. During the rest of the day I did my physiotherapy exercises and computer work for marketing our show. But what if there wouldn’t be any show? Maybe everything that had happened to me was a sign that I shouldn’t be performing, that I should find another job? I woke up early every morning to fight against the despair, the depression, and my sense of victimhood.
5 months after my operation I was able to return to stand on my pointe shoes and train for the tricks in our show. My legs were shaking with the effort and fear. Since I couldn’t do some of the tricks in our show we had to find other ways to fill the performance time. Dr. Paskin was in total shock at my rate of progress . I felt that I was ready to try performing once again. We were up for any job offer we got. We returned to the Florentin Circus, this time with a contract for 15 birthday shows. It was an opportunity for us to run our show again, and to check the changes and transformations we had to make.
During the birthdays Gal had to host the event, which gave him experience and confidence with a microphone. With every show Gal discovered that he actually likes using the microphone and that he’s even funny (Well.. at least he makes me laugh)!
So we bought our own microphone and the show was deeply transformed – from a show which was based mainly on acrobatic technique, to a more clowney show that included text. At first only Gal spoke while I tried to avoid it as much as I could, it was so embarrassing… Slowly I also got used to it and got better at it.
In July of 2015, seven months after the operation, we traveled to Austria to perform in our first festival abroad! What the audience didn’t know, was that beneath my costume I was wearing a robot on my knee.
2 years after the accident
Two years after the injury I let myself perform without any kind of shield on my knee. Today I perform tricks that are much more complicated than the ones I performed before the injury. For example, I walk on bottles wearing pointe shoes without the bottles being held at all. This trick requires tons of stability and control of the knee. Dr. Paskin was so amazed by the results of the operation that he invited us to perform at an international convention for medical sports that he organized. I was so proud! I felt as though I was the trophy of world championship, placed in the center of the room to brag and tell stories about.
I was happy to brag and to compliment Dr. Paskin on his work. He deserves a lot of credit for my success. The other person who deserves a lot of credit is Roby Megrelishvili, who also came to participate in the convention as a guest. I didn’t know that he was coming and he didn’t know that I was performing. The encounter was very moving.
Despite the fact that my recovery has officially ended, my work is not over. The injury is still with me all the time. I need to take care of my knee, train, do physiotherapy exercises and generally move with a lot of awareness.
Today I am celebrating four years for a bad thing that happened to me, which I made something good of. In the past four years we’ve created a new show, changed four costumes, three amplifying systems, performed in 20 countries, and learned our show in six different languages. But that’s a subject for another blog post…