There’s a topic about my ballroom dancing that I’ve never talked to anyone about. I don’t know why, it just never seemed like a good time, or appropriate, or perhaps I didn’t want to share. I don’t know … I try not to over-analyze that part. Recently, I’ve been giving it some good thought. When I tell people that ballroom dancing changed my life, I mean it. Yes, I’ve made friends and gotten more confident and developed my rhythm and learned a bunch of stuff, etc. But, this is something much different. I apologize for the length of this post. I don’t expect people to read it, but I think it’ll be good for me to write it out.
In February 2009, I began my ballroom dance journey (I know — 6 1/2 years already!). That August there was a franchise competition in a town in NC about 4 hours from my house. My roommate at the time was also taking dance lessons and we decided we were going to go up and watch this competition. We got up early on Saturday morning — like crack of dawn early — and started on our trip. Everything was going great until we got about 30 minutes away from the hotel where the comp was taking place. It had started to rain and at this point it was monsoon-like, in my opinion. We were still fine, excited about our trip to see the dancing, playing music and singing like two crazy girls, and all the sudden we started hydroplaning. Life literally slowed way down to me. I know the music was playing but it seemed very far away. We were spinning around and around across the highway and my roommate looked at me and I remember saying, very calmly, “It’s going to be OK.” And then we were silent. There was no screaming and panic, like you see on the movies, we were both just amazingly calm. The car went off the highway, down the embankment (pretty steep) and bounced between some trees until it finally stopped by crashing into a tree (you can see in the pic). It took a moment for us to gather ourselves together and then she kept asking me if I was OK. I told her I was, but my side hurt really badly. She had to crawl out of the back of the car and we got out. My roommate was really worried about me because I could tell something was wrong on my side, but we weren’t really bleeding anywhere major — just some little cuts. We looked up the embankment to the highway and saw — in the pouring rain — a minivan had pulled over. There were faces pressed against the window staring down at us. My roommate starts up the embankment waving her arms and they just drove off. I still have a visual of my soaked friend with her arms up in the air yelling after them, “Are you kidding me?!”
I must admit that all I could think of was the pain in my side and that it just wouldn’t quit raining and I had trouble breathing. My roommate climbs up the embankment, much faster than me, which was pretty amazing as she had messed up her foot, but I guess she was running on adrenaline. Long story short … a kind lady stopped and let us sit in her van until the firetruck and EMS arrived. While were were waiting, we saw a truck hydroplane at the exact same place we did and go off in the median … a much better outcome for them. When the firemen arrived it bordered on a comedy routine … They realized we were actually from the car at the bottom of the embankment and all the sudden we were strapped down before we could say hello and then waited forever to get loaded up in the ambulance. I was put on shelf on the side of the ambulance that was at an awkward tilt towards the floor, with the oxygen cords wrapped all around my neck. My roommate, who’s almost six feet tall, was put on a board with her head sticking out of the side of van because of her height. Since she was strapped to the board and couldn’t move, she was getting torrential downpour right on her face and I could hear her sputtering and I did laugh a little. There were a lot of humorous things that happened before we actually got to the hospital, but I’ll pick up my story there. We did make each other laugh talking about how we’d view this someday, but we knew we were hurting. At the hospital in the ER, the nurses decided that they would cut off my clothes, since they didn’t know our injuries and we were soaking wet. Well, they cut off my clothes; somehow they thought my injuries were much worse than my roommate’s. I remember thinking, I love this blue dress, I’ll never get another one like it. Cat-scan and doctor’s examination was next. They initially thought i might have punctured a lung or something like that or worried about internal bleeding. However, I actually only fractured some ribs and had major internal bruising. I also banged my left shin on the glove compartment so hard that I killed off those nerves … to this day, I still have numbness there. Well, our phones got left in the car and we had no way to contact anyone. Who memorizes phone numbers anymore, right? Now, we just memorize passwords. 🙂 Well, we finally got one of the nurses to call the hotel where the competition was at and ask them to get one of the organizers to find a friend of ours who was already up there. We needed someone to come get us from the hospital. They got my friend and told her what happened and where we were. At this point my roommate had reached her family and not long after they were able to get ahold of mine. One of the nurses kept coming into my room with the cordless phone with another tearful family member of mine checking on me. I have to say when my dad called and was a little emotional, I about lost it … no crying yet though. We were still trying to crack jokes. Well, my roommate was released, but they kept me longer and then our other friend and the owner of the studio shows up. We were shocked that he came too. But apparently, the emcee called my friend’s name in-between heats and told her to go to the back desk. That’s very unusual. So, she went back there and they gave her a message that we had been in a car accident and we were at a such and such hospital — and that’s all. She didn’t know if we were alive or what. So, the owner found out and insisted on driving her to hospital to pick us up. Here I was completely naked with only a thin hospital blanket covering me trying to make small talk with the studio owner.
When I was finally released they handed me a bag with my shoes and my bra. My male nurse didn’t cut off my bra since, in his words, I know how expensive those things can be, I’ll try to save it. There was about 3 inches of water in the bottom of the bag and my stuff was just resting in it. I was wearing the paper scrubs and hospital socks they gave me and we shuffled out to the car. As I’m shuffling to the car, it started pouring rain again. I’ve been told I made a pitiful picture at this moment.
The car was towed to a scrapyard with all our stuff in it and we were told we’d have to wait till Monday to get our luggage and purses and everything. So we stayed at a nearby hotel the next two days. I got an amazing amount of wear out of those scrubs. Probably the worst two days of my life. The first night was rough. The second night was the most miserable I’ve ever been. The nurse warned us that this would happen. We were on pain meds and had fallen asleep. Well, we didn’t wake up to take our meds on time to keep the pain away. Suddenly, in the middle of night I was jolted awake to screaming from my roommate. I thought she was dying and I sat straight up … and my side just exploded with pain. Her foot was hurting her so badly she had started screaming. So, I was stumbling around trying to get meds; I piled up every pillow I could find to elevate her foot; I stumbled down the hallway trying to get ice from the machine to numb her foot and leg … all about 2 in the morning. We were both in agony. Lesson learned — when in a car accident always have someone around to care for you for a couple of days. They will keep your meds current and help you.
I basically spent more time in bed than not for the next two weeks. At that point, I felt well enough to go out and about. My roommate and I took a thank you note over to the studio. Different teachers from studio had called regularly to check up on us. My teacher came right over and hugged me very gently and pulled me out on the dance floor. I hesitated as I didn’t know how I would feel, but we did a very slow, simple rumba. It was like a cold glass of water on a hot day for me. He said we could go back to dancing whenever I wanted to. I don’t remember how long I waited till returning to my lessons, but it wasn’t long. My doctor told me to take it easy, but to keep moving. So I did. There were times I would come out of my lessons being all happy and cheerful, shuffle to my car, sit in the car, and just sob because I hurt all over.
But, here’s the biggest part of my story. The couple weeks after my accident when I spent a majority of my time alone in my room and in bed, mostly sleeping, I changed a little. I didn’t know it at the time, but I can see it now when I look back. I went back to work after two weeks and felt very distant from what was happening. I felt like I was watching life happen and I didn’t feel anything about it. I was in a teaching position that I’d held for 10 years. I went to my classes, I taught, etc., but something felt very off to me. Since I had no visible injuries except bruising, I don’t think most people in my life gave it a second thought. I hurt all the time, though. I got the feeling from my friends and coworkers that they didn’t care what was happening to me. My family was on the other side of the country. I withdrew more and more and spent more time alone. It was like everyone was going on with their lives and no one gave a @#$# about me. I became very detached from my work and the friends there.
All this time, I continued to dance and I felt very safe in the studio. I felt like people cared about me, cared that I showed up, were interested in my dancing, etc. And that became the most hopeful place for me. That year was so hard for me, I quit my teaching job. I felt like no one outside the studio cared if I showed up or whatever I did.
A couple years later I told a little of this to one of my sisters, who is a nurse. She said almost right away, “You had PTSD.” I was surprised … I think of soldiers and traumatized victims of crimes having that … not someone like me, who walked away from a car accident. She then explained to me that I had all the classic symptoms and that it was actually very normal — this is how our bodies respond to any kind of major trauma. And my insides were very banged up. Both the ER doc and my doc said they were after seeing the scan. My sister said that it’s the way the body and mind protects itself.
I could go on and on about this, I know. But the end result was, that car accident changed my life. It actually was instrumental in me quitting a job I assumed I’d keep for the rest of my life. I found myself going from teaching university to working at a craft store stocking shelves and doing the check out. I only stayed out of teaching for a semester and then started back up at another school, but i needed that year or so to heal. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I didn’t know that one needed to do that. I just assumed I was strong. Learning to dance and going to the studio was a lifeline for me. It really was a bright spot in my dark mind that I cherished and looked forward to — moving to the music, learning steps, just dancing … became a healer for me.
So when I say dancing is important to me, it really is … on many levels. I love it, but it helped to heal me in a way nothing else could. Now, almost six years later, I still have recurring pain from the accident in my side, shoulder, leg and hip. But, even when it hurts in the studio, when my teacher is drilling the heck out of me, I’m OK. It reminds me of all the things that I have to be thankful for. And towards the top of the list are dancing and Teach.