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By Dr. Linda Hamilton
How to deal with tetanus scares, and what you need to tell your company about your eating disorder
I’ve been getting mixed messages from my ballet mistress. One day she’s complimenting me in rehearsals, the next she has me working with the apprentices. I got a great evaluation from my director, who promises bigger roles soon. How do I deal with this conflicting behavior? —Humiliated Corps Dancer, Brooklyn, NY
Gracefully (if you can). You’re in an awkward place in your career where your current work doesn’t reflect your true potential. Until the situation shifts to solo parts and, hopefully, a promotion, you have to pay your dues. Of course, dealing with ambiguity is challenging. Studies show that company dancers often experience occupational stress when they don’t know the reasons behind their daily schedule. Try to reframe the situation as a chance to showcase your professionalism, while keeping your eye on the end goal. You might also convey your desire to progress by asking to learn a role just for your own improvement.
A dancer in my group cut his foot open backstage, and he was given a tetanus shot even though he’d already had one six years ago. Is it necessary to get a shot every time I step on a nail? I thought it was every 10 years. What’s the rule? —Jason, Anaheim, CA
It depends on the circumstances, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although 10 years is indeed the golden rule for booster shots to protect you from tiny scratches, tetanus bacteria are more likely to enter your body through burns and deep punctures from nails or knives. After exposure to a sharp object, it’s considered best to have another shot if it’s been more than five years since your last booster, given that your immunity is lower. Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection, which causes painful muscle spasms and can lead to death from suffocation. Walking around in tights or bare feet puts you at risk, since the bacteria can stay around for years in soil, dust, water and manure. Once infected from a dirty wound, symptoms may develop three days to several weeks later and can include headache, trouble swallowing and muscle stiffness starting in the jaw. Fortunately, many insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act cover preventive services such as vaccinations at no cost. Before getting a shot, be sure to discuss any history of allergies, epilepsy or other nervous system problems with your doctor. And if you’ve never received a primary series of tetanus shots as a child, you should start ASAP.
I recently developed a serious eating disorder that’s forced me to sit out performances. I’m in treatment and most of the artistic staff is being supportive. The exception is my closest teacher, who screams at me to eat more and wants to know whether my therapy is working. How can I get her to back off? —Struggling Anorexic, Philadelphia, PA
Ideally, you need to give your therapist permission to speak to one person on staff so they know: a) you’re being treated and b) when you’ve achieved your target weight to dance, period! The rest of the details are confidential. This will keep your artistic director informed without intruding on the therapeutic process—and keep everyone else out of the picture. Your teacher may feel helpless and frustrated since it’s common to believe that someone can get better simply by agreeing to eat. Yet disordered eating does not develop by choice. People fall into these problems due to genetic vulnerability, personality factors, dieting—or all of the above. Recovery takes time and requires the help of health-care specialists, including a psychotherapist, nutritionist and medical doctor. The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve known many dancers with eating problems who’ve regained their health and gone on to have highly successful careers.
Send your questions to:
Dr. Linda Hamilton
2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023
Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass) and co-author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition (St. Martin’s Griffin). Her website is drlindahamilton.com.