Call me a slow, but I learned this weekend that taking care of blisters is kind of a big deal.
An infected blister can land you in the hospital.
I’m writing this after having spent three days off my feet because of a silly little blister (although the emerg doctor said something along the lines of, “wow… I’ve never seen a blister like that before”. Real reassuring, doc).
I find this story a little embarrassing to tell, but I’ll tell it anyway (in part because I like talking about myself, and in part spare you from making choices as foolish as mine). I’m even sad to say that this blister story isn’t even directly related to dance.
Aside from the obvious foot-care lessons you’ll take away from my story, I hope you’ll also appreciate the less obvious, but highly relevant, lessons revealing of our often misguided, illogical reasoning as dancers, and the strange choices it causes us to make.
Minor foot-wounds can escalate in non-linear ways
I remember a dancer once telling me she got a blood infection after a modern dance intensive because of bacteria she picked up through a cut in her foot. Some of us are susceptible to those nasty slits where the toe and foot meet, for which there is no real effective tape-job.
When I think of all the times that I’ve danced barefoot on floors spattered with other dancers’ sweat, and sometimes blood, with splits under each toe, and did not get a staff infection, I realize that chance played a pretty significant role in my recent foot episode.
Dancers get a lot of blisters and foot wounds. Never once have I thought twice about taking care of them. Maybe that’s just me. My laxity about hygiene resembles that of my iliofemoral ligament.
I’ve even used duct tape on blisters, leaving it on for a few days until it finally came off in the shower. Definitely don’t do that, guys.
I’m reading the book “Fooled by Randomness” By Nassim Nicholas Taleb (strongly recommend).
The main theme of this book is that we need to be taking into account the randomness of situations as well as the other factors such as the who, what, when, where and how. Why? Because there will always be the “rare event”. The one we don’t expect to happen. The one that seems random because nothing has ever happened like it before.
Of COURSE we can’t predict things to happen that have never happened before. That doesn’t mean the possibility of them happening to you is nil.
For example, we can put in all the hard work for a performance, have it down perfectly, but then slip and fall on a slick patch: The rare catastrophic event. That’s never happened before! That was totally random!
Knowing that randomness dictates a portion of our lives in this way, regardless of how prepared or informed we are, we can choose to cushion our decisions to ensure that if something bad does happen, it won’t be the worst case scenario. We’ll be ok.
It won’t end in a trip to the hospital…
Today’s example, you get a blister. That really sucks. What sucks more is knowing that there is a small chance that the blister can get infected, which can get into your blood and lymph, and send you to the hospital.
It’s a small chance. But you need to pad yourself against that small chance because life can be random like that.
And to entertain the 8 of you who will read this all the way through here’s what happened:
What can happen to an infected blister in 24 hours or less
(You can skip this narrative and go to the conclusions if you’d prefer to save time)
I walk a lot. Walking became an important part of my life the day after my hamstring injury when I promised myself internally that I would never take my legs for granted.
Apparently though, I still do.
I wear out shoes really quickly, which then start to poke my heels and give me blisters, and which I tend to ignore. I was limping, but was running late and had to get to work on time, so I kept walking. Priorities.
Something in my inner thigh started to hurt, which I assumed was my adductor acting up because of my altered limpy gait pattern: Hip hiking, avoiding pronating the foot, and I’ve strained that adductor before. Made sense to me, but I kept walking anyway.
Over the course of the next 6 hours at work, the blister puffed up to the point where it hurt to put my shoes back on. But I did anyway.
I went home thinking, “I be damned if I let this annoying little blister prevent me from walking to work tomorrow”.
Then, nearly the moment I arrived home, the weird symptoms started. My fingers on my right hand went white and numb (think Reynaud’s-like). My vision went blurry, it was harder to breathe, my heart rate was way up, I felt feverish, dizzy, was shivering to the point that my teeth were literally chattering, and I couldn’t think straight. I was cooking dinner but I couldn’t feel the knife in my hands or see what I was chopping clearly.
So I took a half-hour hot shower, and was in bed by 9pm thinking I was having an allergic reaction to the cold (it was -40 degrees that day).
I woke up the next day feeling equally gross, and my blister had grown and looked to be red, puffy, and infected. My inner thigh was even more tender, and not in a muscle soreness type of way. But I went to work anyway (are you noticing a trend?).
I had a workshop to teach and sure as hell was not going to let a little fever and a blister stop me from hanging out with my students
It soon became obvious to myself and my partner, based on the fact that being vertical was a challenge, that I was unfit to teach. Then, another friend of ours, a chiropractor, came in to check me out. Her conclusion was “That shit is infected and your whole lymph line is blocked and inflamed. You should go to the hospital”.
That blister escalated quickly in less than 24 hours. The sore “adductor” was a lymph node in my groin.
Then, as I was walking the 20 feet or so to the exit, to get into my friend’s car and head to the hospital I started to black out. I have a little history of fainting, so I knew what was happening and was able to collapse to the floor with relative control, and was also fortunate to be in a room full of 30 odd chiropractors, physios, massage therapists, who were there for an NKT level 1 seminar.
I am now the girl who left NKT in an ambulance.
In the ambulance, speaking with the paramedic, I lost nearly all my faith in the medical system. Her conclusion: “Sounds like the blister is totally unrelated to your fever and fainting, and you probably had an anxiety attack. You can get therapy for that”.
At the hospital, the same paramedic emphasized at triage that I had an undiagnosed history of anxiety attacks. I am amazed at how little medical professionals truly listen. Listening is a skill I am working on, personally, and to her credit, say she has inspired me to further cultivate it.
Note to self: NEVER again tell a medical professional you’ve experienced “anxiety”. Of course I’ve been anxious before! Hasn’t every human being felt anxious? As a performer I’ve felt anxious waiting in the wings to go on stage to the point where I think I’m going to pee my pants. But I do not have an anxiety disorder. Please don’t put words in my mouth and overlook what’s really happening to me.
The doctor finally checked me out. His conclusions “Doesn’t look infected. I think the fainting is unrelated. So is the fever. Why exactly are you even here?”
I wanted to cry out of frustration.
I had to ask him to please palpate the swollen and warm lymph nodes in my leg. I had to talk him into considering that the blister could be infected (it was). I had to question him until he speculated that I might need anti-biotics (I did) and whether he should drain the blister (he did, eventually).
I can’t believe I was that close to being sent home with no action, and no answers. A reminder to always advocate for your own health.
Doctors see so many people in a day. It’s not their fault and we can’t blame them for doing their best on a given day. The system isn’t perfect and I was a less urgent case. I can appreciate that and am grateful that in Canada I can receive care without having to pay big money.
I do feel very fortunate to have received advice before heading to the hospital, from several people that I respect and trust more that any doctor. Their words allowed me to stand up for my health and ask questions to receive the treatment I needed.
Finally, the doctor opened the blister to drain it and bandage me up. “Oh, look at that, it is infected. That certainly explains the lymph node inflammation. I’m going to prescribe you some antibiotics”.
Now, having spent three days off my feet, I can finally appreciate this foot-care thing.
Some people say these things happen for a reason. To teach us a lesson, or something. I don’t think there is implicit meaning in this, or that anything happens for a specific reason, but I do feel that circumstances like this make for excellent opportunities to reflect and learn.
I realize that i was misinterpreting my resolution years ago to not take having legs for granted.I was still ignoring signs to slow down, this time under the guise of “if I stop it shows I don’t appreciate what my body can do”. Instead of becoming more mindful, as intended, I was reverting to old patterns of over-use under the illusion of appreciation. A fine line.
I realize that I need to stock my bag with band-aids, and that even if I “don’t have time” to stop to pick up first aid supplies in my rush to work, people will be understanding of my need to take care of myself. Something I also didn’t do very well as a dancer.
I realize that a surface wound can affect motor control and cognitive function. Being off my feet without a healthy dose of movement. An altered gait pattern. A feeling of lethargy that drains the ability to think clearly. I could feel my shoulders tightening in an attempt to ground me, as my feet didn’t have their same ability to get feedback from the floor.
I realize that we must stand up for ourselves when we find ourselves in the care of medical professionals who will not listen or see the full picture. Be an advocate for your health.
I realize that by not taking care of myself I let other people down, being unable to teach that day, and missing a few days of work. We do this as dancers, too.
I recently read the biographies of two dancers: Kenny Pearl (who was a teacher of mine) and Misty Copeland (who is awesome).
Their stories have this one thing in common: Both Copeland and Pearl danced through injuries when they knew they shouldn’t have, but they did it because they didn’t want to let people down- The people who believed in them, their choreographers and employers, and especially themselves.
Misty danced an important performance with 6 tibial stress fractures. Kenny constantly picked up the slack for other injured dancers, filling in for them on tour, picking up extra performances, until his knees finally gave out on stage.
This blister incident of mine… It’s that same thing we do as dancers. We’d rather take a huge risk with our bodies and our careers than take care of our basic needs.
This theme shows up often in my life, and I know I am not alone (please tell me I’m not alone!).
So, this is not a blog post about foot-care for dancers. It’s a call to think critically and not be an idiot about these things (although incidents like this can create really great space to reflect and think critically about our choices).
We think that we have no choice- Either we sacrifice our bodies or we let people down, but this is false because we wind up letting people down to an even greater degree if we sacrifice our bodies.
This is a blog post about being fooled by randomness (just read the book!). This was a freak, random incident. Historically, I should have been totally fine. Be aware of possible outcomes, especially the rarest, highest risk outcomes, that we don’t think will happen, and make appropriate choices.
And to leave you with one piece of foot-care: Always put band-aids on blisters. But you already knew that.