The Recovery Position [Pt Two]

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Helen Parlor

Recovery after the knee operation was slow and I had to be patient. The recovery process taught me a number of things about my body, my mentality and my training regime.

I joined my local gym and received some sound advice about the way forward in order to re-balance the muscles in my leg to support my knee efficiently. I complemented this with cardio work and upper body strength. I was trying to make my body as efficient and balanced as possible so that when I got tired my muscles would have the ability to cope with this.

I found that this training complemented my dancing enormously. I was not aiming to become a ‘muscle head’ but was looking to maintain a level of fitness that could cope with the levels of physical exertion needed in my work with Motionhouse.

Having The Time

It felt like a breath of fresh air. My dancing was becoming more developed, the movements bigger and my body felt far more efficient. After so long, feeling so low, I began to feel that I had an aim again.

Returning to Motionhouse was a big step for me. I was able to put all the things I had learned during my recovery into practice and it felt good. At no point did I think ‘I can’t do this’, all I kept thinking was I have a new body part to play with and I felt like a new dancer. My time out gave me new things to concentrate on and I felt proud of myself, being able to return to work, a much improved version of myself.

Medical Matters
What is an Intracerebral Brain Hemorrhage?

Internal bleeding can occur in any part of the brain. Blood may accumulate in the brain tissues or in the space between the brain and the membranes covering the brain (subarachnoid space). The bleeding may be isolated to part of one cerebral hemisphere (lobar intracerebral hemorrhage) or it may occur in other brain structures, such as the thalamus, basal ganglia, pons, or cerebellum (deep intracerebral hemorrhage).

Intracerebral hemorrhage can be caused by trauma (brain injury) or abnormalities of the blood vessels (aneurysm or angioma). When it is not caused by one of these conditions, it is most commonly associated with high blood pressure (hypertensive intracerebral hemorrhage). In some cases, no cause can be found.

Blood irritates the brain tissues, causing swelling (cerebral edema). It can collect into a mass called a hematoma. Both cerebral edema and the presence of a hematoma within the brain will put increasing pressure on brain tissues and can rapidly destroy them.

Information from American Accreditation HealthCare Commission ©2004

What is a Sub Arachnoid Hemorrhage?

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. It happens when an artery close to the brain surface ruptures. Blood leaks out into the space between the membranes that cover the brain and spinal chord.

It is a very rare condition (there are less than 10,000 in the UK every year) although it is always serious and needs urgent medical attention. Most people affected are between the ages of 35 and 65. However, it is not possible to tell who is at risk of a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

There are three membranes that cover the brain and spinal chord. Together they are known as the Meninges. They are: Pia mater (inner membrane), Arachnoid mater (middle membrane), and Dura mater (outer membrane).

Between the inner membrane and the middle membrane is a network of blood vessels which are surrounded by a clear fluid (known as cerebrospinal fluid). In a subarachnoid hemorrhage., one of these blood vessels bursts and blood leaks out into the cerebrospinal fluid.

information from NHS Direct ©2000

The Biggest Challenge Yet

Two years on the biggest challenge of all came my way. During a weight class I suffered a brain hemorrhage. A terrible pain shot through my head as the blood leaked into my brain from an aneurysm that had burst. I did not know what had happened and I must have looked completely normal as I took myself, un-approached, off to the toilets where I was violently sick and collapsed on the toilet. When I came round I still had no idea what was happening to me.

I packed up my equipment in the gym and without any one stopping me I headed out to the car park and after ringing a friend, they drove me to the hospital. The hospital staff could not find what was wrong. At first they suspected meningitis, but the tests came back clear. I was sent home where my Dad saw there was something seriously wrong. I began repeating myself like I had lost my mind and I was not able to focus on the things he was saying to me. Even a trip to the doctors did not help.

The next morning we had a call from the hospital asking us to come in. At this point I thought it was for more checks. However, I was given a bed and asked to lie flat and not to lift my head at all. My back was in agony as I was meant to have a physiotherapy appointment. The fear of what was happening began to set in. No one at this point was really telling me anything. I was even asked if I was a cocaine user. I was rather confused.

The next day I was taken to the John Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford to a specialist brain unit. After a scan they explained that I had a small bleed in my brain but I had recovered very well, probably due to my high level of fitness. I had to lie flat to prevent any further hemorrhaging. One of my arteries was going straight into a vein with no capillaries between the two to break up the pressure. As a result I had suffered an aneurysm which had bled.

They needed to block off the blood supply from the artery to the vein so that the pressure could be lowered and then the blood could start to re-route itself safely. They could not operate through the head, as the problem was so deep, so they had to enter my pulmonary artery in my groin. Then, like a remote control they drove up to my brain and did the work that way. Amazing eh?

The sickness I felt post op was horrible. So much had happened over the past few days and here I was in a specialist brain ward after only performing less than a week previously. I knew my lifestyle was pretty diverse, but this was getting to be a little much! I was even still working out whether I could return to finish off the rest of the tour.

The First Operation

The first operation was very successful and they talked about another operation in February to close off any other potential hazards that may cause problems in later life. But what about dancing? Rest for a month and then only light duties, teaching and choreographing.

I was very lucky and I knew that. I had a couple of projects on the go and everyone had been extremely understanding. Kevin Finnan, the artistic director of Motionhouse, came to visit and gave many wise words of encouragement which helped my recovery process. Lucy Frazer, director of Hampshire Dance, was keeping a choreography project available for when I could do it. I appreciated the professional support I was receiving.

However, by Christmas time depression was starting to come. I had major financial worries as the insurance policy at work only covered injury not illness and Motionhouse were unable to wait for a decision from my surgeon in terms of returning to work in March. Therefore, they employed another dancer. I felt like I was receiving a quadruple whammy. The tears that flowed were quite something. Everything I had worked for, sweated for, fought for and believed in seemed to have abandoned me. The company moved on and I stood still.

However, we cannot dwell too long on the things that we feel are turning against us. It is very easy to do that, especially when you are dealing with difficult situations. However, there is a time when you have to focus your thoughts more positively. Realise your own interests and ambitions again and start setting yourself targets, however simple, to refocus and energise your mind and attitude. Fighting for what you believe in is one thing yet letting it become a constant burden is another.

Thinking Back Looking Ahead!

Think back to those times in your life, especially if you have been doing a lot of touring, when you have wished for some time-out. Time to explore new and fresh ideas. Time to develop and discover new things. Spend time on new projects. Feed your mind!

Sometimes we have to feel the burden in our lives to completely realise what we want, helping us become more focused and ambitious. If things were handed to us on a plate would we ever realise that things are worth fighting and working for?

Believe in yourself and be determined. Open up pockets of time to look after your body and mind. Go for long walks, get sound advice, talk to people about your options. In fact, if I had gone back to Motionhouse in March then I would have missed out on some really exciting projects that I now have the pleasure of being a part of.

Use it as time for self-exploration. Widen your skills and knowledge. Go to those seminars, workshops that you never could before. Develop your teaching skills, learn about computers. So often we live in this ‘dancers’ world’ where everything revolves around our art form. But then what? Surely we need to keep learning about things to develop as artists.

Read a book and do not be afraid of taking the time out to do that. If you are injured, find out why. I know that sounds stupid but I can recall of so many times when people really do not know what is wrong with them. If you don’t know what’s wrong how can you deal with it? Listen to your instincts and do what is best for you.You can not expect to move on if you are continually giving yourself excuses.

So, what now? Well, I truly believe that if I was not as fit as I was when I had my hemorrhage. then I might not be here to tell the tale. Once again, I have looked at altering my training. No more weight classes, but I have decided to keep up the cardio vascular and the toning exercises so that I can hopefully rejoin the career I really love.

Again, I feel different. I do not necessarily feel like hurtling myself around a stage and bouncing off walls, but I feel like exploring what else I can do to develop my dancing, the subtle things like control and character work. I have been to many shows, watching how they present their work and seeing what is missing in my own work. Sometimes we are blinded in our own small worlds.

I feel that I can open my eyes again and ask questions. Times like these help us reassess where we want to go, becoming clearer and perhaps more defined in our art, a little less afraid to ask questions and realise new opportunities because, let’s face it, what have we got to lose?

In fact, without these injuries or illnesses I think I would have been a fairly bland performer. But, now no one can say to me that I have not experienced life’s ups and downs. These factors help me feel more passionate about what I believe in. I just hope that some one will employ me and look to utilise those experiences.

If I compare myself with when I graduated, the way I look at work and choreography now have completely changed and become deeper. This is due, in part, to the situations, however horrible, that I have found myself in. Hopefully the brain hemorrhage. situation will not ‘put people off’, because I’m not finished yet!

I hope that anyone reading this who has been affected by illness or injury can take something from my experiences and I hope those experiences can offer some light at the end of the tunnel. I do not profess to know everything about these situations or particular injuries, but I have had a lot of experience and hope to communicate the opportunities that these situations can give you.

It does not have to be over yet.

[ Read Part One ]

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Who The Hell Are You?

The Recovery Position [Pt One]