Authors: Lucinda Ruh
Thirdly, I was not well. I was in constant pain from my back and living on painkillers. My hips were starting to hurt a lot as well and they were popping out of their sockets frequently. My health was deteriorating. I was still in a constant flu-like condition with my nose running, my ears blocked and ringing, now more than ever, and had constant migraines and sinus headaches. I had a serious deep cough that wasn't improving. I was dizzy and weak and my legs felt swollen. Mind you, I was feeling all this together every single day and no one knew. I always prayed at night before I went to sleep that I would wake up the next morning with all my ailments healed and find it all was just a nightmare. But it never happened and every day I was more exhausted then the day before. My immune system was in such a low state.
I was now twenty-two and would be turning twenty-three, still without having gone through puberty. One of the skaters came up to me once and said, “You know, why are you always sick? You're the only one here that is always sick every day. What's wrong with you?” There was a tone to the voice that was condescending and mocking. I did not say anything and just smiled and walked away. What was I to say? How was I to explain? Sit down and go through my whole life? I thought my experiences were so different from theirs and so complicated that in no way was it possible for the skaters to comprehend me. They had no idea and I was too tired to explain. My stomach was in constant pain. I could only eat white boiled rice and grapes. Then here and there I added fat-free brownies. I would eat only things that were fat free since I got sick from any oil. Those were the only things I ate for six months! My mother had given me a rice cooker to travel with and bags of rice and I made my own every day. It was the cutest rice cooker, a
I enjoyed the little and simple things. I wasn't into the grandiose materialistic world. I wanted a simple life of truth and peace.
So I was struggling with myself through the duration of the show. However the actual performing and spinning was wonderful. I so wished I was feeling healthy so that I could enjoy every minute. I wanted that so badly. I liked the tour manager and the one male skater and we became great friends. They were both such goodhearted and goodhumored men with gentle souls and they were the ones I turned to if I needed help. Our friendship would last forever.
What I thought of as my recurring “flu” got worse at a certain point in the middle of the tour. I was used to it by then, but I was so sick with a bout of the serious influenza type of illness that as I would spin the fluids would flow from my tear ducts and I wouldn't be able to see clearly for the rest of the time I was on the ice.
It was one disaster after another. I was a human just surviving. I did and do believe that through sickness the soul is rejuvenated and there is a reason for illness. My body, the vehicle, was failing, but at the same time I knew and felt my soul was starting to heal and come alive. Just how long would I have to be sick? I told myself, “Well I had made myself sick from the age of nine and that was now so many years ago? So it might take a few years to recuperate.” If I did not have that belief so engrained in me I don't know what I would have done.
Believing is power and that belief kept me alive. It was like I knew and felt things would soon be incredibly good. I just did not know when. Patience would be my lesson. It did not feel like I was climbing a never ever-ending mountain. It felt like I was in the deepest hole and just kept dropping further and further into the darkness, and until I would drop so deep into the earth that I would come out of it on the other side, I needed to search deeper into my mind, heart, and soul. Deeper into the meaning of life and its purpose. Deeper into my destiny. No richer does health seem to someone than when they become sick.
Most of the other skaters on tour seemed so balanced â balanced in life, in their demeanor, and their eating habits. They seemed so normal. I was not normal for sure, and so physically off-balance that it astonished me I could keep my balance so well on the ice and in my spins. But I was clumsy off-ice, bumping into things and dropping stuff all the time. Maybe the spinning was catching up to my health and me. My male skating friend mentioned to me that in order not to be dizzy I must spin in the other direction off-ice to unwind my body. I never did, but now looking back perhaps I should have. Perhaps it might have saved me from a lot of trouble. The spinning was winding me up like a doll, and my brain was in such a twirl that I was feeling like I was spinning off-ice as well. My brain felt like it never stopped spinning.
Sometimes on off-days individual skaters were called to do press releases in the cities coming up. On one such occasion when I was called I had to fly to Texas from California for a one day television and radio media press junket. I was excited since I loved appearing before the media but I was exhausted. I arrived in Texas in the evening and went to sleep. The next morning I woke up and at the breakfast table I fainted. This time I was revived quickly and I did not need to go to the hospital, but once again memories surfaced and all day I was in fear. That evening I flew back to California and the tour continued. I am sure someone in the team must have heard of what happened but no one said anything and I felt they did not care. As the tour progressed my fainting spells often recurred. Strangely, they repeatedly happened around 2:00 a.m. I would fall asleep after a show and then awake about two hours later, white as a sheet, sick to my stomach, and the room would be spinning. I would drift in and out of consciousness and they would call the hotel doctor.
It was frightening and I felt I had no one to turn to or to take care of me. My parents were back in Dubai and I had no family in the U.S. It happened so often that it would change my life forever. I had no idea how significant these occasions were. The fact that no one helped me terrified me as well. I remember one specific time the doctor asked if someone from the group could sleep in my room with me in case of another emergency and to check on me when I was so ill. Although I was embarrassed to say I was unwell and ask for help, I called several people from the team but no one wanted to lend a hand. The feeling of being all alone and sick was alarming. The fear started to live in me, in my veins and in my heart. These fainting spells were scarier than you can imagine, and that they were real and not a part of my imagination was paralyzing to me. My life was turned into a kind of explosive despair.
In June my touring was over for the time being. No matter what was good or bad during the tour, the members of the skating tour would become my family for a lifetime, and for that I am extremely grateful. It made me a part of a fabulous entity of people that in one way or another would always support me and be a part of my soul. It decorated my life with the celebration of a way of life and I can only be thankful for that time. The adrenaline had kept me going, and now that the tour was finished I collapsed in a big heap on returning to my home in New York. My mother had come back from Dubai to wait for my arrival. I needed her. I was in such a dire state I needed my mother desperately. By now I was scared to death to fall asleep alone. My mother would have to hold my hand and sleep next to me. I was so afraid of falling asleep and then never awaking or waking up and fainting. I cannot tell you how scared I was. I was more scared then when my mother hit me and more frightened than when I competed in front of millions. I had never been this scared but it was only when it was time to fall asleep. Not yet did this fear overtake me at any other time of the day.
I needed a break from skating and took a few weeks of just roaming the city and enjoying all the life and culture it had to offer. I walked and walked for hours at a time. Although it felt as if the atmosphere in New York had changed dramatically since 9/11 it still was bountiful with energy and sophistication, hustle and bustle, and a feast for the shopping eye. I had fun during the day, but in the evenings the fear would creep over me. It was a terrible time, only to get worse.
During this time I finally underwent many tests for my ailments but doctors could not find anything significant other than total exhaustion, not realizing that this was a very significant diagnosis. Yet they were baffled by my poor health. The more the doctors were baffled the more I became absolutely terrified throughout the day about fainting. I felt so weak that I felt like I could faint at any minute. Both the brain and the body were working together against me, or actually they were trying to tell me something but I had shut down so much I did not want to hear it. Which came first? The body or the mind? I think in my case it was a mixture of both from years and years ago. Maybe one of my injuries had caused pain, which caused fear, which caused more injury and illness. Or maybe the fear and emotional pain was first and they caused injury and more pain and illness.
It hindered me so much that by the end of the summer I could not go anywhere without holding my mother's hand. Otherwise I would burst into tears, my body would freeze and I would just collapse. Miraculously I continued with skating. This was the wrong thing to do when skating conflicts were the basic cause of my misery, but not wanting to give up the one thing in my life I still had, I had to continue. It's not like it was giving me more joy but it was making me feel like I was accomplishing something. I felt there would be no life if I stopped, yet ironically I had no life continuing with skating, either.
The next season of 2002 to 2003 I toured the world with shows and performances. National Geographic interviewed me for a whole hour show about my spins. They had professors and scientists from all the top New York City universities who came to the rink as I did my spins to try to explain the phenomenon of my talent. It was a very interesting television documentary, but with no interesting outcome or explanation of my spinning ability. Maybe my spinning was meant to be a magical secret from the heavens after all! It felt more sacred that way and I was glad that my spins were not explained in terms that withheld magic.
Up and down my emotions went and my ailments remained. During some shows I was too tired to want to go and I would cry in desperation. But once on the ice my smile went on, my spins were faster than ever, and I had standing ovations. I was an actress in my own movie and a good one. No one knew what I was living through and it was kept that way to keep the fascination of my role alive. As long as I skated, that would be my role. Everyone wanted me to spin.
The most wonderful show was the 9/11 memorial at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I had attended numerous performances at this stadium yet each time destiny brought me there it felt very special. The reason for the show was so beautiful and the New York Rangers joined the skaters. Times like these were memorable. My fear would not be with me while performing, because most of the time when on the ice I felt like I left my body anyway, and it was not really me skating. The fear, however, would be with me before I got on the ice and right back after I got off the ice. I would eventually have problems with performing, but for this time I had a slice of peace while skating. I could push the fear aside with my focus on what I had to do.
Since my mother understood that, she thought it was best for me to keep on skating so I could just push my fear to the side. But what we did not realize was that it was still there and one day it would inch its way back to the center to erupt like a volcano. My mother had to come with me everywhere. I refused to go anywhere without her. The money I received from all my touring and skating would never amount to what my parents had spent on me. Either because I never had anyone standing up for me or I was not an Olympic gold medalist my salary was not one to brag about. The amount compared to the stardom I was getting was actually usually quite hurtful because I did not feel appreciated. Compared to what others got I can only imagine the difference. The money we were spending for my mother to accompany me everywhere, even on the German tour I participated in for the third time, hardly made the money I earned from my work seem worthwhile. But I was not in it for money. I actually despised getting money for selling my spins. It felt cheap.
The state of my stomach was terrible and I was still on rounds of antibiotics, but now I had also visited a doctor in New York City who had treated the Pope! I thought this man of such stature could definitely cure me. Many more antibiotics and medicine was administrated to me but I feel the real cause was not being administered and I don't know if I felt any better. The state of my back was terrible and I was in so much pain. I could barely walk at this point and I cried before and after each show just bearing the pain. I could not practice. My mother and I decided we needed to finally get, after all this time, a second opinion on my back and my hips.
We then visited a famous orthopedic surgeon in New York City where we finally received a true diagnosis of my spinal condition. I had to take MRIs and numerous X-rays. When the results came in and he sat us down. He told us seriously and sternly that I would need urgent surgery. He said he could tell I had previously had a huge spinal fracture. And now, because I had continued to skate, I had two discs and three bones that were all crushed together, and there could be even more serious damage to my back. I had big bone tears in both hips as well. In fact, he said, he did not see how I could walk. On hearing this, I fainted. I was in shock, especially since I had skated all this time with such a serious injury and that worse things could have happened to me. I felt so thick-headed to have continued skating when in such great pain, but that had never stopped me before so why would it have stopped me then?
The doctor then looked at the old pictures I had with me from Switzerland and said sadly I had been wrongly diagnosed. I should have been treated properly and not allowed to be back on the ice until the original fracture from my fall had fully healed. My mother and I had no words, or tears. We were dried up.