Yes, that’s me on the left.
If you’ve been a follower of mine for a while you know there are a few things I’m great at:
- Self deprecating humor
- Tap dancing
You didn’t know the last one?! Well it’s true. Look how cute I was.
Do you know a few things I’m NOT great at?
- Talking about feelings and being vulnerable.
- Admitting that I’m not great at talking about feelings and being vulnerable.
Most people who meet me just assume I’m dead inside but I assure you…quite the opposite. Ask any man who has dated me. I’ll go from cold hearted bitch to lovestruck nutjob in the blink of an eye.
You’re welcome, future husband.
ANYWAY. I’m going to be vulnerable for a change and tell you a little story. A story of how I got here. It’s long and mildly depressing, but it has an uplifting message at the end, I promise. So strap in, folks. Because this little piggy went to the hospital. (*rim shot*)
One last thing (I have ADD – I can’t help the tangents). I’m sharing this now, after 16 years (and 16 surgeries), because I always felt this story was important to understanding why I am the way I am, and why I became a food blogger. I went through hell during this time of my life; physical pain, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and borderline agoraphobia. I was seriously afraid to leave the house. The first time I got in a car, I had to sit lengthwise in the backseat because my leg was in this Robocop-type contraption to keep it straight. I heard tires screeching for a SECOND and started freaking out. Crying, shaking, and yelling for my friends to take me home. It was awful. Honestly, sometimes, I can’t believe how different I am today. But it also took me a long ass time to get here, being comfortable in my own skin graft.
See what I did there? 🙂
So, if this story helps you stop comparing yourself to others and helps you appreciate the little things in life, then I did my job here. Because it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. I wasn’t very good at that saying until this happened to me. And now I’m going to take you back a few years…
It was late September, 2001. Yes, right after 9/11. I was seventeen and working at Barnes & Noble in Queens, where I grew up. Because Barnes & Noble is obviously where the cool kids worked. Here I am looking like an angsty teen with two normal legs, one month prior to this incident, in the Bahamas on vacation with my family.
One day – September 30, 2001 to be exact – my mom dropped me off at work and complimented my outfit, specifically mentioning how nice I looked in the new pants I was wearing. This was odd for a few reasons. 1 – my mom never compliments my clothing, and 2 – my mom never compliments my clothing.
I go to work. Business as usual. I’m about to take my lunch break when my boss asks me to switch with her. “Sure” I replied, “I’m hungry” (what else is new). I go to grab Chinese food (healthy) and meet my friend outside for a smoke (also healthy).
As I’m standing there chatting with my friend, we hear screeching tires. She says “oh my god, that car isn’t stopping” and I turn around and see the back of an old Cadillac flying towards me. I blink and the next thing I know I’m screaming, pinned against a wall by this car.
So just in case that doesn’t make sense – the woman driving the car was old, and neutral-dropped the car into reverse, flying back right into me. I got caught in between her car and the wall, in front of Barnes & Noble in the Bay Terrace Shopping Center. Good times.
To think if I hadn’t switched my shift, I might have been totally fine. That thought used to plague me. And I mean PLAGUE. But I’ve learned you can’t look at it that way. You CANNOT. But I digress. Back to the story.
Truth be told, I felt no pain at this point. Blame it on the ah-ah-ah-ah-adrenaline. According to the doctors, the fact that I was awake and conscious at all during this whole ordeal was amazing, and they called me “Superwoman”.
WARNING: SOME OF THIS DESCRIPTION WILL BE GRAPHIC BUT THERE ARE NO PHOTOS BECAUSE LITERALLY NEVER.
This was the damage: my right leg (tibia) was broken in half, through the skin. Total compound fracture. My knee was broken and my ankle also chipped and broken. My leg swelled up so badly that they couldn’t actually close it and I needed a skin graft after they were done repairing the bones/nerves/everything. I didn’t even know what a skin graft WAS. I was severely injured but also very lucky – my fibula wasn’t broken and if it was, I would have been amputated from the knee down.
Oh – by the by. Did I mention I was a dancer?? Of the classic variety?
Yea. There was that. Ballet, tap, pointe, etc. I had been a dancer since I was 4 and really that was all I ever wanted to do with my life. Dance. Perform. Ultimately end up on Broadway. Probably in Cats because cats. This happened a few weeks before my dance school auditions. Needless to say, I didn’t make any of those. Ever.
After they pushed the car off of me, I remember a very nice (and somehow calm) woman hobbled me over to a garbage can and tied her belt around my thigh like a tourniquet of sorts. While she did that, I remember looking down at my sock, my white sock, and I saw it turn blood red in a matter of seconds.
And it was a lot of blood. I do not do well with blood and this experience didn’t really help that at all.
Remember those pants my mom complimented? They were brand new and they were big on the bottom – wide legs were cool at that time! And thankfully so, because I couldn’t actually see what my leg looked like. If I had, I probably would have passed out. But…the pants were destroyed. Least of my problems, but funny how the universe likes to fuck you in little extra ways like that, isn’t it? And if you’ve ever been in an accident, you know that the hospital crew literally just cuts your clothes off with scissors. They just cut my pants and shirt in half as if they were cutting wrapping paper. Sad face.
The ambulance comes. They move me onto a stretcher. I start to feel a LITTLE bit of a pain and then it just gets progressively worse. I’m in the back of an ambulance, screaming, crying, and nearly blacking out. But…Superwoman stayed strong.
I get to the hospital. Someone has called my mom in the meantime…
“MISS POLLAK?! YOUR DAUGHTERS LEG HAS BEEN CRUSHED! GET TO BOOTH MEMORIAL HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY!!!” So, at least we picked the woman who wasn’t going to instill fear and panic in her, right?
My poor mom…seriously. I can’t really imagine what it must be like to be a parent in a situation like that. Considering my mom would plant a GPS tracking device in my butt if she could, I’m going to go ahead and say that she handled it pretty well up until one of my surgeries when they didn’t give me painkillers and I was begging the staff to shoot me. Seriously I asked people to kill me I was in so much pain. It was the first time I saw my DAD cry, and my mom…well…it was very Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment. But bless her, because she got shit done.
So they start moving my shattered leg around for X-Rays and that was it. Superwoman gave up. I saw stars. I screamed bloody murder and someone had to remove my mom from the hospital because she was so upset hearing me scream. I don’t even know how to describe the pain, but I do know it was bad enough to make me pass out. Evidently I went into shock. The next thing I know, I’m awake and drugged up again in the ER.
Ahhh the ER. The hospital. My home for a month. Yes. 30 days. I know it doesn’t sound like that much, but…let me tell you that’s a lot of time to be in a hospital for a “broken leg”.
So here’s the other fun part. They didn’t really clue me in to how bad it really was because I was a teenager.
They told my parents I would never walk again.
They told my parents I would never dance again.
They told me I’d walk with a limp for the rest of my life.
They told me I’d never run or do anything “athletic”.
You get the idea. Reallllll gloom & doom shit.
I won’t give away everything but guess what? I DO NOT walk with a limp. I DO run. I DID dance again. And I 100% pushed myself through very painful physical therapy every damn day to get to that point, but I DID IT. Because once I found out I was keeping my leg and they said it was “stronger than ever”, I said “well I don’t see why I can’t do half those things you told me I couldn’t, if not all of them”.
Did I mention I’m ridiculously stubborn too? And competitive? If you tell me the sky is blue I’ll probably tell you it’s actually cerulean (great crayon).
Case in point, fast forward to me below at 21 or so (with sick abs and blonde hair), a few years after the accident. You can see my misshapen right leg here, but who cares? I made it back to dance. Happy face.
Back to the hospital.
At this point my parents were sitting there thinking, “but…but she’s a dancer…this can’t be real”. And I’m sitting there like, “la la la this place has terrible chicken I’m in pain when can I go home?”.
When they did finally tell me what was really going on, I was devastated. I mean…beyond devastated. People think I’m a miserable bitch sometimes now and I think…”HA, you should have met me when I was in the hospital”. The nurses actually made me one of those hospital ID bracelets and changed my name to “Misery”. Not kidding. Wish I still had it because it kinda makes me giggle.
Another thing that makes me giggle? The social worker who came to talk to me sometimes. She would hand me one of those laminated pieces of paper that gave a range of smiley faces to sad faces, and I had to circle the one that I felt like that day: happy, sad, angry, etc.
Oh…this poor woman.
I’d cross all of them out and write “fuck you” across the top.
Yikes. I know. *laughs nervously*
But honestly, I was just heartbroken. Cut me some slack. Constant drip of morphine and blood thinners will make anyone a little loopy too.
I was completely bed-ridden for a month. I had a catheter (strangest invention ever) and used bed pans. GROSS. Want to know a good way to take a rebellious and headstrong teenager down a peg or two? That’ll do it. People ask me how I became so humble and I just think back to the time I pissed all over myself in bed because I forgot how to pee on my own for a little while. Good times.
So. After the initial sting and denial of that news wore off, I just got depressed. Like, severely depressed. Staring at walls and crying for hours type stuff. The first time I saw my leg out of the cast I cried hysterically for hours. My poor friend Rudy was there when that happened and I’m pretty sure he wanted to just run for the hills. But I remember him telling me, “Dara, it’s a scratch!” I wanted to kill him but also thank him for trying to make me feel better.
And GOD that thing was ugly. I kinda thought it looked like turkey jerky or pastrami (literally everything comes back to food), but if you’re sensitive to this stuff, you may want to avoid the following photo.
I would have to wear long pants at the beach to not get sun on it. I had to wrap it in ace bandages underneath because it was so sensitive. I didn’t wear short dresses or shorts for at least 2 years unless my leg was covered. I was so ashamed of it and embarrassed by how it looked, and now I wear that thing like a badge of honor. Funny how things change. Digressing again.
It also happened to be a beautiful Fall. I would stare out the window and watch all the people walking and laughing in the sun and just think “I would give my OTHER leg to do that right now”, you know? Just…walk. Stand upright. Shower standing up. Pee on my own without my mom holding my leg up. Such simple things that we take for granted every day. I wasn’t even sure if I would have them again. And that was the most depressing thought of all. It occasionally rendered me speechless thinking about what my future was going to be.
But…I had a ton of visitors. So I was forced to talk sometimes. Friends, family, people who pretended to be my friends from school so they could say they came to see “the broken leg chick”, old teachers I had in elementary school, dance friends…it was actually really nice to know that many people gave a shit. Even my dance students made little cards that made me cry when I found them. I was an assistant teacher for a little while to help with tuition costs.
And truth be told, this is another group of people to whom I am forever grateful: my friends who were there for me. They know who they are. I’m still friends with them to this day. They kept my spirits up every day. Literally every day they visited me. One of them even carved jack-o-lanterns out of cucumbers and peppers with me because he couldn’t find any pumpkins for Halloween.
Also shout out to my stuffed animal kitten, Morphine. My mom’s boyfriend Harry got him for me, and he was the first stuffed animal I got (in what would become a veritable CARNIVAL of stuffed animals after the end of that month). I squeezed him every time I was given medication intravenously, which was multiple times a day (damn you, Heparin). By the end of my stay, Morphine had finger marks across his tummy. I named every stuffed animal after a different drug. I thought that was amusing. The donkey was Colace because when I think of donkeys I think of poop. You can see them both here to the right.
When I was able to get out of bed and into my wheelchair (yes, I was in one of those for a while), my friends would push me around and race me down the hospital halls. File under: things that probably aren’t safe, smart, or allowed. But hey…it was fun. And damn I needed some fun.
My parents and extended family were obviously great too. My mom, bless her for everything she did and continues to do for me every day. She really is the most selfless human being on the planet (at least when it comes to me and I’ll allow it) AND she is the one who found the deli across the street that made the BEST chicken cutlet sandwich ever. I still think about this sandwich: warm chicken cutlet, lettuce, tomato, red onion, little bit of mayo, salt and pepper on a hero. Simple and perfect.
This leads me to my next point. This whole horrible story does have a major silver lining and purpose: I discovered my passion for cooking and food while I was laid up in bed, because I watched Food Network constantly. Something about watching people cook was very soothing to me. I would watch Ina, Giada, and Bobby. I’d write down their recipes on my notepad, and I’d hobble up the stairs on my butt (only way I could do stairs at the time), sit in the kitchen and cook.
I found all of my old recipes that I printed out on actual paper!! And some that are handwritten. Can’t wait to share some more of these! What did we DO before iPhones?
I’m also now a brand ambassador for Capezio, a dance apparel company, because I told them this story and they were amazed. It’s so surreal. Here’s a video I made with them and Physique 57 explaining the story (in a much shorter version).
I’m so thankful now, knowing where I was and how that situation could have been. And I’m proud of who I am – flaws, meds, scars, and all. I’m not perfect, but perfection is a complete illusion. You have to be strong, but you also have to accept your limitations and not beat yourself up for them. When my knee hurts from being in heels, I get upset. And then I snap myself out of it by realizing I’m lucky to even be able to wear heels and walk in them.
Unrelated, but who’s having a better time than my dad here? He’s not a doctor, he’s a dentist, but he found this really amusing. Let’s also note that I’m listening to a DISCMAN.
I think you’ve had enough for today. There’s a lot more about this time in my life, and I’m actually trying to write a book about it, so if you’d like to see that, let me know. Email me with questions, comment, share…whatever. I’m an open book. Or open cookbook. 🙂