I waited over a year for this…

After being discharged from the ER, read for more.

Since the shut down of the cruising industry, I’ve been floating around trying to find my way between part-time jobs and new adventures. I embraced the little things throughout the year to fill a void of waiting for cruising to return. I got the call several times throughout the year to be a part of the return to service, but each and every time it was an uncertain offer and was pushed back. Finally after over a full year, I received an official contract, medical and training requirements, flight details, and I was on my way.

I boarded the ship, spent two weeks in isolated quarantine and I couldn’t believe I was back. It felt surreal. I looked out into the waves and felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be chosen for the restart.

It’s incredible what perspective and circumstance can do. Last year, I was on a different ship but was in a similar room for the same amount of days in isolation, contact abilities with family was similar, but it felt like a complete 180. Before I was scared, put into isolation unable to know when I could go home, stuck out at sea. After a year of being unable to perform, I felt grateful to be back in those cabin walls in the middle of the ocean.

The two weeks of quarantine was filled with virtual rehearsals, workouts, and cast bonding activities. We were so busy that the weeks flew by and when I got out, I felt like I had known these skaters forever. We took the next two or so weeks to rehearse the main ice show on Symphony of the Seas, 1977. I was casted for the role of the Jewel, a part that I felt like was made for me.

Our days of rehearsals were long, but at the same time, somehow still felt like we needed more time to practice. After over a year of not performing, and several months of not being on the ice at all due to lockdown regulations, our bodies take some time to adjust back to “show shape”. 

We got out of quarantine on July 5th and our first opening crew show was on July 27th. The two-day CDC trial cruise was August 1-3, where we performed two shows on Day 1 and one show on Day 2.

It all sounds exciting right? Finally getting back into it, what I’ve been waiting to do for over a year.

Unfortunately I’m not writing this from my favorite spot on the ship. I’m in a hotel room, with a stitches in my foot, trying to be optimistic that I’ll be back soon. I think that may be why I’m so frustrated, I’ve waited so long and now this…So let’s back up.

About 10 days before the CDC cruise, I started to feel pain on my right pinky toe. I thought it was normal install pain that skaters get from having our feet in skates for so long. I ignored it for a while. It was just a little blister in between my pinky toe and fourth toe, so I thought as soon as it closed, I’d be good to go. I went to the medical facility on the ship where they advised me to let the blister dry out for a few days and return back. I took two days off and began to skate again. A few more days passed, my foot started to become red, swollen and the pain was excruciating in my skate. I walked with a bit of a limp because the flection in my foot was limited, but I was still prepared to skate in the shows for the opening CDC test cruise.

In both of my contracts, I have never missed a show. I am stubborn and I will perform sick, injured, whatever I need to do to not make it more difficult for my cast. I’m not one to complain about pain, so when I do, it’s serious.

I stayed off of it so I could bare to manage during the CDC cruise. I pushed myself for several reasons:

  1. Selfishly, I didn’t want to be out of the opening night show for the CDC. The head office was onboard including the CEO of Royal Caribbean and Head of Entertainment, so there was no way I was going to be out.
  2. As well, because the head office was onboard, there was no way I was going to make my cast open in a reblock and put that extra pressure on everyone else when we already felt unprepared.

I’ve been waiting for the day to get back on the ice to perform. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this restart. I pushed through those three shows because when you’re an athlete and you love what your sport, thats just what you do. 

The next day, I had a referral to get off the ship for the day and see a podiatrist. Turns out, I had an abscess at the 4th toe, my foot was infected and I had cellulitis. Within a few minutes of looking at my foot, I had needles in it locally numbing the area. He made an incision in between the 4th and 5th toe where the blister initially was and drained the infected fluid and abscess out. He stuck some gauze in the incision and I was rushed back onboard, barely making it, only 30 minutes before the ship left out to sea for 10 days. I was put on 2 types of antibiotics and told to soak my foot 2x per day until healed. The only thing left was to have an MRI next time I was in Miami just to make sure everything looked good and was all clear.

My foot healed really well throughout those 10 days. The directors worked well in taking care of me, making me stay off the ice and learn from the sidelines. They held rehearsals for the cast on the ice, which I watched, and rehearsals on the ground for me to be a part of for the secondary show called “Iskate 2.0”. It killed me to not be a part of the soft opening for the crew, but I know it was the smart decision. Someone else was doing the part casted for me and on top of that, I was putting more work for others. The only thing keeping me level headed about it all was the hope that it would only be a few more days and I would be back starting the first official guest revenue cruise on August 14th. I thought “skate smart”, stay off of it now so you’re ready and rested for when it really counts.

August 12th rolls around and I have my MRI scan to get clearance. At this point, walking feels completely normal and I had begun working out (still no skating). I got off for the day, had my scan, and back on the ship.

August 13th: theres really no other way to describe today but absolute shit. I got called into medical on the ship where they read me the results of my MRI exam and they were unexpected, exactly what we were ensuring was not the case. The MRI report read:

Bones: There is bone marrow edema within the distal phalanx of the 3rd and 4th digits

Joint spaces: No dislocation or subluxation.

Ligaments and tendons: Normal

Soft tissue: There is cellulitis involving the 4th digit diffusely.

Impression: Osteomyelitis involving the distal phalanx of the 3rd and 4th digits, prominent cellulitis involving the 4th digit.

Now, the impression is what we didn’t want to hear. The swelling and cellulitis was known and that was being covered by the antibiotics. However, Osteomyelitis is an infection in the bone. This is worst case scenario. 

August 14th: I was sent off the ship in Miami to the ER, where I was admitted. I contacted the podiatrist that worked on me previously and he was in the hospital that day to take care of me. He came in and reviewed the MRI exams with the radiologist and found that the impressions of osteomyelitis in the 3rd and 4th toe was an over read, however a bone infection was found in the 4th toe where the abscess was previously.

Upon admission, a sonogram was done where they also found a tiny abscess remaining. I was tested for countless blood cultures and was put on an IV antibiotic drip and was moved upstairs into a room where I waited until further results. The initial response in treatment for a bone infection is 6 weeks IV antibiotics to start, if that doesn’t improve, the next step is bone removal/amputation.

When I first heard the news of my MRI results, I was afraid of losing my contract because there would be too much time that I would be off the ship unable to perform. When I got to the hospital, I was worried my career was over because I would lose a few toes. Remember how I mentioned its all about perspective? Yeah…

The following day, my foot was re-drained, this time a little differently. An incision was made at the top of my foot as well as on the inside between my 4th and 5th toe. The two incisions were bigger than last because the doctor wanted to ensure that he had removed any remnants of the abscess. The incisions were left open with a gauze in between to let the infection drain if needed, and the culture was tested again.

If the culture was negative and had no growth, then it would be stitched up. While I waited for those results and my blood work to return over the next few days, I remained in the hospital on IV antibiotics throughout the entire day and night.

I was scared and alone in a hospital away from my family and friends. I was worried I would lose my job this contract and if things didn’t progress properly, I would lose my toes. That means, my career would be potentially over and I’d have to find a whole new balance in life, quite literally. It frustrated me because it wasn’t an injury I understood. Break this, do surgery, ice, elevate, take this amount time to heal. No, it’s an infection and a plan that isn’t exact science; it’s more of an estimate, combined with clinical evaluation.

Ok so, perspective:

  • My culture came back no growth / negative: which is really good news meaning that it is no longer growing.
  • My blood cultures also all came back negative meaning there is no infection in my blood, which is very lucky.
  • The doctors were optimistic that with the way my foot healed previously on the antibiotics they put me on that IV antibiotics would not be necessary. They chose to opt for oral antibiotics for less risk and a possibility of me returning to work, not having to be confined to the hospital for 6 weeks.
  • Last but definitely not least, I am working for a company that is and has been taking care of me. They took action immediately when my injury got to the point of needing to debark. They put my health before my job without question and continue to ensure that getting me healthy is their top priority. They’ve taken care of my transport, hotel, appointment, and finances. They are making sure that I am safe and for now, are holding my spot checking in on me, and waiting for my return to the ship.

For all of these things, I am grateful.

On Tuesday, when these results came back, the podiatrist stitched me up and I was discharged with 1 month of two types of antibiotics and stitch removal in 12-14 days. The hope was to return to the ship right away and have the doctors there remove my stitches. However, because of the paperwork and logistics, that is not happening.

For now, I am waiting in the hotel provided by Royal Caribbean, mainly on bed rest (minimal walking so my stitches heal) with three follow up appointments, one with each doctor that worked on my case.

All of my appointments are within the next two weeks, from which I will know more on how long I need to heal, if further procedures are needed, or if I can return to the ship.

The paperwork is a bit tricky to ensure that everything is set in place so that I am allowed to return back on and continue service safely. Unfortunately I will have to quarantine again for two weeks once returning onboard making an extra two weeks that my cast has to perform with one less person. However, I do understand and considering the climate of the world, I wouldn’t expect anything different.

There is a lot of frustration and insecurity that comes from this situation. I am a control freak and I have no control over what comes next with my healing, nor can push the papers faster than the doctors and shoreside will allow; trust me, I tried. I’m on two types of antibiotics (8 pills per day). If I think about what happens if I don’t heal properly, I start to be really overwhelmed. What if it doesn’t heal and they have to take off my toes? Not only will I lose this contract, I may not ever be able to skate again. But let me tell you this, if that ends up happening, there’s no way in hell I wont at least try to still skate.

Each day is very long in the hotel, just waiting for more news. I don’t have pain in my foot but my eyes hurt from crying, even though I’m embarrassed to admit it. I’m not sure if sitting in this hotel room healing is more mentally or physically draining. I’m doing everything I can to trust that this treatment will work and I can return to skating. People say positivity helps healing so if nothing else that’s whats forcing me to look up.

Potential countdown is on: if all goes well, I can return to the ship on September 4th after each follow up appointment is completed (if no further treatment is required).

Cross your fingers. x

4 Comments

  1. Cole
    August 24, 2021 / 9:45 PM

    Sending you so much love!

  2. Tracy
    August 23, 2021 / 8:57 AM

    Sending love from Australia Sam. You are strong and amazing and you will be ok. I was on your last cruise on the Voyager the one your mum was on. Take care of yourself and hopefully we all will continue to hear about your performing journey when you are well and healed

  3. Joni Ribera
    August 23, 2021 / 3:37 AM

    Samantha ….I have followed your journey since the beginning of the pandemic n the ship. I am hoping your foot heals completely with no lasting effects. Sounds like you had good doctors and all will be fine. However, if you ever stop skating for any reason I think you could be a writer or journalist. I’m not kidding
    Joni Ribera

  4. Amanda
    August 23, 2021 / 12:18 AM

    So very sorry to hear of your plight. My thoughts are with you and even though I don’t pray often I will pray all goes well for you. BTW I only pray when things are dire like when I had Cancer and last year with open heart surgery lol I make all sorts if deals, like when I was a child. You are young and strong willed keep that positive mind of yours and all will be well. Life often throws curved balls. Its how you deal with them which makes you stronger. Speedy recovery to you and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Xx

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