No Fairytale

Emergency surgery

Aida Poulsen, editor in chief of HealthyLivinG magazine

Aida Poulsen, editor in chief of HealthyLivinG magazine

From time to time life seems determined to illuminate us on how fragile we are. One day you revel in blade running, figuratively and literally; savoring your powers and riding the wind beneath your wings on a verge of turning into a superhuman.

At this very moment you suddenly lose a balance for a fraction of a second and smash at the ice, which was always lurking there, honing in on how to better shatter your—so fragile—confidence and bones into a hundred pieces.

Following excruciating weeks all you yearn for is to douse the pain in a long, long sleep like the Sleeping Beauty and wake up in the arms of Prince Charming—the best in the world ortho surgeon, after he has already completed the magic of putting together the puzzle of your pieced bones.

But while no one bestows a fairytale on you, you are left with dragging yourself by your hair to bring it in a no-fairytale way.


You begin with scratching your head, trying to reckon your blessings: it’s an elbow shattered, not a leg; it happened on the best spot on Earth to shop for an orthopedic magic—a world’s hub for trauma centers—Los Angeles; and your “support system” is adamantly showering you with flowers, cards, foods you can’t eat, plentiful advice and a relentlessly buzzing phone.

So just pull through a crucifying pain to stay awake, do your research and slither to comb a dozen of brilliant orthos at your disposal.


It took me five longish, enduring days to probe seven surgeons. Six, all as one, trumpeted: “Forget your figure skating, six months to 70-80% recovery, 2-3 weeks cast, 5-6 hours surgery.”

The seventh was characterized by a Beverly Hills’ big-shot-ortho as “almost as good as me, but not the best bedside manners” and didn’t even bother to show up for an appointment.

My son Nik and I were waiting and waiting in the trauma center—the Torrance Harbor hospital—only to see Dr Zinar’s adolescent resident. Resolved to leave in indignation, we asked on autopilot:

- What’s the surgery plan (kid)?

Suddenly the lad’s overworked, frizzled eyes sparkled like the screen on which he enthusiastically opened my MRI and went on and on into every detail with a flagrant dexterity, wrapping up by flooring us with:

- Zinar and I do three-four surgeries like this…
- … a month?
- … a week.

The best answer from the previous throng of fancy surgeons was: “One-two a year.”


It took us performing a backflip, however, to finally meet in person the mysterious master of the shrewd adroit resident. The-Real-Life-Prince-Charming was short, bulky, and, in place of a finery with golden embroideries, wore a befitting attire: stained scrubs evidencing butchering-in-the-OR-since-5 AM.

Dark attentive eyes in a halo of messy curls were deducing, I felt, my character more than anything else, gauging how I will bear what was ahead for me. Tenderly held he my wretched limb in his hefty warm claws:

- No cast whatsoever, two-hour surgery, 100% recovery, and you owe me a video of triple Lutz.

And, beaming at my amusement:

- See, I know something about figure skating too. See you in surgery tomorrow.
- … Wait, don’t you need a blood work? EKG or something..?
- Go away, ya healthy. – Softly smiled the fagged hulk-knight.

Nik, quite blighted by this time by the antecedent unanimous verdict of jury of six surgeons, finally lightened up:

- Whoa, he’s as crazy as you are, mom! We’ve found our guy. Real stuff.

As it later transpired, Prince Charming’s bedside manners were actually not bad: they were non-existing—he entirely delegates the post-op care: the noble butcher doesn’t concern himself with trivia outside the OR and seems to be out of capacity to tune in to one’s clamor, even though I didn’t have any.


Those he left a patient with are tasked with diverting your mind from looking into the surgery details—you have no chance to lament on how many metal plates or screws your flesh is abiding.

For some reason I’m not responding very well to the extreme pain—opioids don’t work on me—a sign of a stubbornness, I’m told, so I had to stay in post-op for three nights, despite it drilling a hole in my pocket, just to let the medics somehow manage the hype of the twinge. The art of brushing under the rug the answer to my questions and determination that my curiosity is my enemy, mounted, unyielding.

Only after six weeks I had gotten it: they were right—seeing an X-ray with metal pieces of art, Dali style, was not for a fragile, damaged, bleeding state of mind. I was actually feeling grateful for preserving my sanity and delaying the shock of admiring the steel laces until recovery kicked in.


I found the key to pulling through a devastation like crushed in pieces bones is an unbridled, unconditional, pretty much unreasonable optimism. To have a passion also helps—in my case, a passion for figure skating drove me to blindly dismiss the unanimous verdict of six, one after another, obstinately hunting for the one who would ante up my chances. Injuries just shouldn’t be allowed to clip our wings, shouldn’t they?


With that determination, I’ve started reaching, crawling I mean, for the immediate goal before me—lowering pain meds. The pain will be your biggest foe for another six months or more.

It will take all your inner might to manage this most dangerous part—more dangerous than the injury itself—evading creating an addiction to opioids during the time when they are unavoidable—will be central for your entire life.

It will take two-three weeks for the agonizing pain starting to subside, and you cannot take chances with opioids or morphines for that long.


Do yourself a favor—do not let yourself feel for yourself; instead, extort yourself as much as possible, bordering on the impossible. Figure an extreme activity of the sort that will give you a temporary pain relief.

Run, hike, dance if your lower limbs are intact. Do weights, sing, work your abs, back and arms if legs are affected—do anything you can.

When two physical therapists showed up in my hospital room to help me out of bed, I was doing squats, holding the pole with IVs. Not because I’m a superhuman, but because that was the only thing that helped with pain.

I figured a dance-off (yes, in stitches and bloody bandages) is my chance to stop constant throbbing of pain. Half an hour of “back to life” feeling and back to grinding your teeth and obstinately holding away from the loathed stash of strong drugs shoveled by the doctors.

In two weeks after the surgery I hiked 4.2 miles up Eagle Rock mountain. Well, to be exact, hikers were hiking. I danced off all the way up. And down. Friends, out of breath underneath the hill, yelled: “Hey, remember, you just had a surgery?” “What surgery?”


Second, keep trying to substitute for ibuprofen during the day time, when the hyper activity like dance-off can hold off drugging yourself. Then you can sometimes even sleep an hour or two only with ibuprofen, a horse dose though. Then comes a night you slept entirely on ibuprofen, so you now can take prescription poisons only 4, then 3, then 2 times a week, and finally, be entirely be free of them.


Now you are battling ibuprofen- at first, lowering the dosage to a human one, then relapsing to a horse dope, lowering again. Lowering, lowering, lowering, staying free of it for an hour, two, three, half a day. Sleeping with Valerian root pill, melantonin, going back to ibuprofen, replacing with Tylenol- shuffling all until the grip of pain loosens to leave you free of harsh chemicals. Not free of pain- don’t expect that. But with tolerable level of pain, which will spike and go down at times. Just learn to not let it affect your mood and activity. Outlaw the pity. When u can’t tolerate- go jump, dance, play- that will bring your mood, vitality and powers up.


- Do you know your numbers?- Wondered at my straightened arm the Prince of Reality in the 3-weeks appointment.
- Zero on extension, 128 degrees on flexion.
- Woah, I thought you are a Princess.
- Me? You have no idea how much I’m not.
- That takes a character. You are tough.

In four weeks after the surgery, when the appointment was over, I inquired the Charming Butcher, oops, I meant the Charming Artist:

- What else can I do to speed up the recovery?
- Go skate!—Leaving us speechless with open mouths, The Prince of Stained Scrubs moved out of the doorway, but peeked back.
- Just don’t fall for six months.— Finally disappeared the Charming, with a bang.

I murmured:

- How? I’m on the ice, you know, landing tilted jumps on one blade…

My physical therapist did not believe her ears, she called in her colleagues who looked incredulously and kept shaking their heads rhythmically:

- No way he said that!
- Ya little liar!
- We will call him and ask to confirm.
- You can’t be allowed to skate or ski for at least six months.
- He probably knew that I will anyways, so why even bother forbidding? His reception has a wall of athletes’ pictures he treats, he knows the make.

I went back on ice five weeks after the surgery. In pain, with suffocating fear of falling, I skated two days before confessing to my coach Ada: “I’m contemplating to ask my Jeet Kune Do sensei to teach me how to fall on ice: he taught me falling technique for martial arts, and he does stunts for Hollywood, why don’t we try it?”

Ada’s eyes rounded, terrified: “Nooooo!” It took me a week to convince her to go together to the sensei’s dojo and try it on mats under Ada’s strict supervision.

As I expected, sensei Tsuyoshi impressed her. Ada teaches the most complex coordination techniques I have ever encountered in any sports, maybe because of that she was able to acknowledge the sophistication and elaborate skill of my sensei. Seeing me repeating his moves while protecting my arm, seemingly landing on my rounded back and shoulders made her relax and trusting him.

So Tsuyoshi got invited to the ice rink, where, to the utter amusement of our usual gang of skaters and coaches, I was gracefully utilizing the Jeet Kune Do technique of falling on five points of my body instead of one, which turns a fall into a smooth, controlled and pleasurable fly. Ada was ecstatic and to this day starts every training session with me showing off my falling in grace.


Figure skating was chosen by me as a mission impossible, beyond reason and possibility to learn when started after age of 5. The complexity of coordination, the brain plasticity, the learning capacity and agility of the musculature, the flexibility of both—body and brain—essential to learn figure skating basics, which consist of high precision multi-revolutions jumps, multi-directional, deep edge skating and spins, are unattainable when starting past the tender age of kindergarten.

So I figured this sport is a tool of perfection for reversing aging, and I’m talking aging of the brain more than of the body.

Here is the list of what I have lost and gained with my skating extortion:


Arthritis (runs in the family)
Memory problems (Alzheimer’s in the family)
High cholesterol (strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks in the family)
Poor vision (glaucoma, cataracts in the family)
Knees cracking (after 5 times torn ligaments from skiing)
Poor sleep (sign of brain aging)
Gastritis (stomach ulcer in the family)
Bone density loss
Sagging skin
Energy loss
Low metabolism
Muscle loss
Back pain (broken spine from domestic violence)


Agility of brain and body
Sharp memory
Well-structured working day
Working capacity
Bursting energy
Lean muscular body
Bone density
Balletic posture
Skills and abilities
Fast metabolism
Motivation to get up and run to the rink six times a week
Motivation for a 40-minutes off-ice training daily
Motivation to eat healthy
Passion for a beautiful sport
Knowledge of human body engineering (essential for FS’ tilted, rotated, intricately landed jumps)


If you think you are not made of steel nails, just stick with golf and tennis: you WILL have hard core injuries in skating; it is painful and daring, and one must be drilling holes in the sealing with his head to progress. All that knowing you’ll never be proficient- that chance has gone before elementary school.

But it’s no cause to repine: have you seen many well educated pro skaters? The sport is too demanding, it consumes a young prodigy, leaves no room for development of other abilities, and couples with extremely low chances of making a decent living- success depends largely on luck, as probability of killing prospects by poor jumping technique from poor coaching or injuries is higher than of the opposite.

Just figure out what sport works for you and stay passionate to enjoy daily your fair shot of endorphins (hormones of happiness) instead of boring dusty gym.

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