One Zumba Instructor’s Fight Past Paralysis and Chronic Pain to Dance
I’ll learn to walk again, because I don’t want to stop my love of movement quite yet.
I would have laughed at you if you had told me when I was 18 that 11 1/2 years later I’d be in a wheelchair in a diaper from eating a slug on a reality TV show in Fiji. I would have scrunched my face at the sound of “rat lungworm” and brushed it off.
The pain was insanely unforgiving, but I fought through it moment by moment to wiggle my toes and flex my ankles this way and that every single day with tears streaming steadily from my eyes. I tried to quit, but I simply couldn’t, and even if I could, John simply wouldn’t let me. Eventually I moved to the nursing home Community Living Center, where I was the youngest resident.
29 in a diaper. My lover was given a bed in my room, and together John and my physical therapist taught me the basic beginnings of learning movement, from flexing my feet, to calf raises, standing, walking, flexibility, and balance all over again.
There were moments (A LOT of them) where I sobbed and wondered why.
Why, when I run a website named tomorrow’s not guaranteed telling the world not to take for granted the simple blessings of life, was it necessary for me to lose mobility; the foundation for so many of my passions?
I knew how much I loved it.
“I UNDERSTOOD!” I’d sob.
I DIDN’T NEED THAT LESSON!
But moments are what they are… Moments.
Even if they are sad and angry, they still pass.
Flex this way, flex that way. A tear shed here, a sob there.
I chose to be released from the hospital on December 19th, (my dirty 30 birthday), with what may as well have been a medium-sized trash bag full of medicine to last me the month until I’d be able to refill. The pain of damaged nerves, atrophied muscles, a colon and bladder that had shut down was absolutely mind blowing…I’d just begun to leave my wheelchair behind all day 2 days prior to leaving. I was exhausted by simply Franken-walking to the elevators and getting to the dining room a floor down 3 times a day using my walker, but I was determined to leave the chair behind when moving to the next phase.
By December 19th, I’d proven to my physical therapist that with enough focus and drive, after 3 sessions a day for a month, I could pull myself awkwardly up a flight of stairs, and with even more effort, put on a pair of socks if given about five minutes for the process. I couldn’t sit on my heels, nor get up from the ground without groaning, sighing, and nearly crying, but I decided it was time to try to function outside of the hospital.
I joined Paramount Fitness on the 11th of January on a mission to learn to stand solidly, walk without a limp, jump, dance, and of course, RUN AGAIN. The first Zumba class I tried, I made it through two songs (the warm-up and the faster warm-up), then, humbled by my inability to keep up, I retreated to the stretching room.
I came back to class the next day and fell…several times. I made it through three songs before I needed to hobble slowly back to my handicap parking spot.
That was January.
February and March were full of the same…Hard work, yoga, balance practice, and dedication to movement.
I worked, screamed, laughed, sobbed, played, and celebrated. I danced.
I fell, slipped, chuckled, and stood out like a pink haired off balanced sore thumb, but I danced.
April second I taught my first scheduled post-parasite Zumba class at Paramount Fitness in Annville, Pennsylvania! 3 1/2 months after not being able to stand more than a quarter of a class, 5 months after I barely escaped death and the neurologist stated clearly that he was concerned about permanent paralysis. Just…5 months later, I shimmied, jumped, and squatted my way through an entire class!!!!!
The energy was nearly palpable. There was NO way you could even try to slap the smile off my face! I mean, really…I defied reality several times that day from the moment I OPENED MY EYES that morning and BREATHED deeply as I FELT the sun rays warm my skin to the moment I SAT DOWN and BROUGHT MY KNEES TO MY CHEST to PUT MY SHOES ON then WALKED out of the front door to DRIVE to class to DANCE!!!!!
How could anything go wrong when every single breath is simply a miracle?
I told the short version of my story at the beginning of the class, right before I said, “So if you have any reason to complain that class is too hard, or whatever….you’re NOT allowed to complain to me.”
I joke of course.
Live, laugh, love, DANCE!
Life is a gift. Appreciate it as such, because let me tell you a lesson that I’ve learned soooooooo many times at this point.
Tomorrow is NOT guaranteed.