At the end of June I had both hips replaced at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. Since then I have been recuperating and learning how to negotiate the world with large new pieces of metal inserted with great craft and skill into my hips and thighbones. At first my body reacted in shock, shooting fluids to hips, legs and feet, causing much swelling, which is a perfectly normal reaction to trauma. The body activated rescue measures as though I had been in a massive car accident. As the days progressed post-surgery, I confused my body even further by commencing physical therapy. Trying to move the swollen legs and feet, pushing with intent against the system’s shock-protective mechanism caused what seemed like even more physical confusion. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding a total hip replacement require time to heal after surgery before they can once again provide stability to the ball and the socket. Little by little the body calms down and adjusts to the altered landscape, and learns to accept and profit from the new circumstances. Neuroscience shows how the brain can adjust after trauma and learns to use the healthy fragments to do the job of other injured parts. It is clear that the human body, as part of the same eco-system as the brain, also learns to use the situation at hand and utilize the available parts.
After leaving the hospital I spent one week at the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital near White Plains where every morning I was wheeled to a wing of the building to join what seemed like hundreds of other patients in wheelchairs for occupational and physical therapy. The time that I was in residence at Burke felt like living in a Fellini film or perhaps a Thomas Mann novel. A sprawling series of buildings built around 1915 and surrounded by vast green lawns, Burke services patients with serious rehabilitation issues caused by of all sorts of trauma. In the ambiance of the massive institution everyone has a job – to recover or to tend to those in recovery. Every patient has a story and all of us struggled together to regain movement and flexibility. From 9:30 till 4:30 each weekday we were wheeled from one physical or occupational therapy class to the next in order to learn how to function during the healing process and within the required restrictions and limitations, or what is called “precautions.” Much like broken bones that are placed in slings or casts, these limitations on movement allow the body to accept and integrate the new hardware until the adaptation process is complete and the body is strong enough to continue with everyday living.
Director Robert Woodruff after spinal surgery last year told me that during his recuperative period he learned to enjoy what he called, “the art of slow.” I often remember his words during my own recovery. The “art of slow” requires patience and an appreciation of the possible latitude and spaciousness within limitations. Learning to appreciate the “art of slow” is challenging. Within the set precautions that limit my “doing,” it is possible to discover new layers of “being.”
After Burke my beloved Rena drove me to our home in Manhattan, to begin the process of completing the necessary eight weeks of precautions. Rena has cooked, cleaned, helped me put on and take off clothes, shower. Everything. Her consistant empathy with each and every step of my recovery never lags. She experiences the ups and the downs with me. Her devotion is love in action and my own love for her deepens every day. I do sleep a lot. I have watched seven seasons of “Monk” on Netflix. I move religiously through the exacting prescribed PT exercises and attend physical therapy three times a week under the guidance of a brilliant therapist named Erin Singleton at the Hospital for Special Surgery.
The choreographer Molissa Fenley came to visit recently and with great compassion for my recovery process described a piece she choreographed on herself not long after her own ACL reconstruction surgery in which a section of her hamstring’s tendon was stapled into place on either side of her knee. The tendon then required nine months to learn how to become a ligament. She was given a strict format of restrictions upon her movement possibilities. From these limitations she created a beautiful three-part dance entitled Regions made in accordance with the “menu” that she was given by her physical therapist towards a healing calendar. The first part, Chair, is performed in a chair because this is all that her limitations allowed. Ocean Walk, the second part, was made when she was allowed to walk forward but with no turning. She then made Mesa, the third and concluding part, when she was finally able to use almost all her skills but with minimal jumping. (See the entire dance on her website: http://www.molissafenley.com/video.php)
While the alien bits of metal in my hips and legs are searching for stability, I am struggling to be patient, follow the PT’s instructions and find grace in the situation. Learning the “art of slow” within the restraint of strict limitations, I am trying to experience spaciousness and make unexpected discoveries. When I look at Molissa Fenley’s dance I see extension, magnetism and great expressivity within the confines of her “menu of precautions.” What is my own version of her expressivity?
Towards the end of his life, Merce Cunningham performed in public sitting in a chair. Despite the minimal nature of his movement, there was no doubt to audiences that he was dancing. His inner lightness and sensitivity was palpable. I imagine that Cunningham’s diminishing ability to dance must have been a source of great personal frustration and rage but that his desire to perform trumped the difficulties and led him to find the necessary expressiveness.
I do trust that the alien bits of metal in my hips and thighs will become my friends. I am hoping for a reconnection with daily life, a reboot. But now, within the enforced stillness determined by the limits set upon me, I am doing the best I can to be patient and have faith in the process and allow the necessary changes and adaptation to happen. I am attempting to appreciate and fully experience the art of slow. But finding spaciousness within limits is difficult. Mostly I am sore, impatient, pissed off, and want to sleep. Some days require all of my will power to push through three cycles of the repetitive and arduous PT exercises. I am in the midst of change, adapting to the new circumstances, but I do not yet know where I am headed. I do not yet know what these limits will engender.
As many SITI friends know, on August fourth our dear friend Jason Noble died after a valiant three-year battle against cancer. He was an extraordinary musician, composer, friend, husband and ambassador for the world of new music. We will miss him terribly and I believe that I speak for the entire SITI Company in offering heartfelt condolences to Jason’s family and fellow travelers.