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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Health Corner
Argentine Tangos

Post-Operative Healing: Dimitrije Medenica

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 18, 2002

About the Author:

Post-Operative Healing: Dimitrije Medenica

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower

Dimitrije Medenica (www.pilfandflip.com), well known in NY Tango circles, is recently recovering from a serious ski accident and surgery. He has just returned to the Tango Milongas.

August 18, 2002, with Dimitrije Medenica. An email interview.

Dimitrije Medenica

REZ - What thoughts crossed your mind, as you lay on the ski slope, looking at your broken dance leg?

DM — At first I was hoping that it would not be broken. I was hoping for a bad sprain, and it did not hurt immediately. I then thought, "There goes my Tango", but as I tried to move my leg and saw that I could not move it, I became very worried about being able to walk. It started hurting suddenly, and it became extremely painful to even move an inch. I had made a turn on my skis and had gotten my leg stuck below the other leg's ski. Only one ski had detached.

A man came down the slope with his little daughter and sent his friend down the slope for help. His daughter looked at me and asked, "Does it hurt?" I smiled at her and told her I was fine, that it did not hurt very much, because I have always believed that children should be spared the sight of suffering. Her father called her to him and the help came. They braced my leg and placed me in a stretcher, and off I went down the slope.

During the whole trip, I thought about how I would be able to find my girlfriend, Emmy, who had been skiing ahead of me. I came to the emergency room and was passed through a trap door for stretchers, and I immediately told them I had to call Emmy on my cell phone. I needed her close to me. She came quickly and was very supportive, particularly when the doctors were pulling my ski boot off.

REZ - What did you say to the surgeon, prior to and post operation, regarding dance?

DM — In the hospital, I was placed on a bed in a nice, spacious room and was given morphine all night long. Emmy and my boss, with whom we had been staying, remained with me most of the night. The next day I was taken to emergency surgery, where the doctors told me that I had a fracture of the tibia and of the plateau of the knee. They told me I would probably have arthritis for the rest of my life. I just kept asking them if I would ever walk again. They said yes, but it was a yes, which to me seemed hesitating. I did not believe them.

When I woke up after the surgery, I saw on my leg an enormous metal ring with metal pins attached to it and crossing through my leg. From this ring came three large metal pieces, which were held by two thick metal screws, which screwed into my lower tibia. Inside my leg was another large screw, holding the bone pieces together (which I still have). I thought, "What a relief; something is holding my leg together."

As I went back to my room, my pain was decreasing, and I needed less and less morphine, which I decided to stop altogether. The first days were very worrisome, as I could not walk at all. I could not imagine walking, much less tango dancing! I was only able to bend my knee about 10 degrees, and horrible pain would follow. On my trip home, I was placed in a special van with a wheelchair; with every bump in the road causing enormous pain.

REZ - How did you enhance or modify the physiotherapy to accelerate the healing, to return to dance?

DM — After two weeks I started physical therapy three times a week. I also accelerated my physical therapy, by repeating all the exercises in each session at home. I therefore spent about two to three hours on exercises every day. I wanted to go back to dancing fast, and I constantly told my physical therapists that I wished to dance Tango again. I did not really care about other dances; I just wanted to Tango. My first physical therapist even stated that Tango steps would be a good way to get my leg moving again, later in the therapy. Slowly, as the weeks passed, I was able to bend my leg more and also pedal full turns on the stationary bike.

REZ - During recuperation, did you listen to Tango music?

DM — During recuperation, I very rarely listened to Tango music, because as soon as I would listen to it, I would become sad. When my Tango friends came to visit me, I would be happy to see them, but would be sad as they left to go dance Tango. Slowly, as time passed by, I started listening to Tango. Later, when able to walk with a cane, I was invited by Olga, a friend, and by other friends, to attend a birthday party with Tango music. This was very nice and helped me towards being much happier.

REZ - When you returned to dance, was your choice just Tango, or other forms of dance? Why? How did it feel?

DM — When I returned to dance, four months after my accident, I started dancing only Tango. The reason was that Tango is softer on the knees, if one does not do complicated steps; if one does simple steps, the motions are very similar to walking. I am still only dancing Tango because of that reason, and also, of course, because it is my favorite dance. In a few months or less, I will also get back into the other dances. It felt extremely good to be able to dance Tango again; I felt that my life was coming back to normal; it gave me back my freedom of movement.

REZ - What were the doctor's instructions? The physiotherapist's?

DM — The doctor's instructions were to gradually apply more weight on my leg and to quickly get rid of my wheelchair, which he disliked very much. He was always very positive about my walking again, and I felt confident in his knowledge and encouragement. Even more, he reminded me of my recently deceased father who had also been a world renowned and very successful doctor. My doctor always told me that I would be walking again, and everything he told me actually happened as he said it would. I believed him unconditionally; a great man to whom I will be forever grateful. The physiotherapy team was excellent, particularly one encouraging therapist, who pushed me to my limits, without exaggerating. Maybe I will convince her to dance Tango?

REZ - Will you ski again?

DM — I will most definitely never ski again! This is the second time I broke the same leg while skiing. The first time, my ankle was broken; now my tibia was fractured. It is a very nice sport for those who love it enough to risk their lives, but I do not love it enough. I have suffered too much because of it and have seen people who equally suffered, if not more.

I have become painfully aware of handicap issues and accessibility, and as an architect I will strive to improve the living conditions for handicapped people; this is something that will be of great importance.

It would have been very difficult to get through this ordeal without my Tango friends, who regularly came to visit me. My girlfriend Emmy was very supportive and always there when I needed her to be. My sister Olivera, also a Tango dancer, was equally always there for me. My entire family was very supportive as well, particularly my mother who did everything for me.

Dimitrije Medenica

Personal website: http://www.pilfandflip.com

Architect / Website Designer (including all graphic work and flash animations)

3D renderings Teaching AutoCad for 2D/3D graphics and Photoshop

Work website: http://www.rbsd.com

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