My family and I recently saw Dolphin Tale, a movie I knew was going to be touching since I had watched the trailer and even blogged about it. In case you haven’t heard or seen anything about the book or the movie it is inspired by the amazing true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who got caught in crab pot ropes and was severely injured. Winter was rescued and taken in by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in 2005. Winter’s tail got badly infected and needed to be amputated; however, she learned to swim without a tail by developing a side-to-side motion (like a fish). Sadly, the unnatural motion caused stress on her spine and continued motion would eventually damaged her spinal cord through paralysis and could possibly kill her. Thankfully, Winter was fitted with a prosthetic tail — a first for a dolphin. It took a year to research and develop.
Not surprisingly, I found the movie to be very heartwarming. I have to admit I have a huge soft spot for any type of animal, but dolphins are one of my favorites. My daughter and I spent an afternoon with dolphins many years ago during a vacation and fell in love with their playfulness and exceptional communication skills. They are very intelligent and seem almost human in their interactions.
The most interesting part of the movie was not the movie itself but that I found myself relating to a disabled dolphin. I have related to many things since my spinal cord injury, but never to a dolphin. What was it about this wonderful mammal that had me admiring how she was able to accept and move on with her disability but it had taken me six years to accept my limitations and even longer to forgive Dr. Liar. I doubt that Winter spent time hating the crabbers who left the crab pots in the Atlantic Ocean. Following her extensive healing and the loss of her tail (it actually fell off since the infection was unable to heal), Winter was able to accept her fate in life and moved on…literally. Within a short period of time and a bit of healing, she was swimming and doing what dolphins do…play and enjoy life.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium hosts children of all ages as well as disabled students on a regular basis to show others that life doesn’t stop when you are injured. I believe I am not the only one who has learned a lot from one dolphin…in fact, I think she has changed a lot of lives or at least proven that life doesn’t have to end when something bad happens. In the movie, Winter appears to ‘show off’ her missing tail as if she knew she was helping others deal with their disabilities.
There is a line in the movie that Morgan Freeman says about Winter “Just because you’re hurt doesn’t mean you’re broken…” a lesson that a dolphin knows almost immediately, but we humans take longer to figure that out or not understand at all. We feel sorry for ourselves, want pity or use excuses as to why we can’t do or be who or what we used to be — a feeling I know all too well. While I can understand why I am unable to do some of the things I used to do, there are things that I make excuses for not doing. I also have learned, like Winter, that you must learn to do things differently or modify yourself or your surroundings whether you like it or not. As an example, I never thought that as an adult I would have a tricycle instead of a bicycle. If I would have known, I would have never spent so much time learning to ride a two-wheeler! I would have saved myself a lot of bumps, scrapes and bruises.
And, just as my connection to a dolphin was feeling strong and I was inspired, I head to my twice a week physical therapy session. Feeling empowered, my therapist informs me it was time once again for my balance testing — something that is done on a regular basis to see if my brain and spinal cord are “communicating” to the point where I no longer need an assistive device for stability when walking. Sadly, although I am feeling physically and mentally stronger and have lost weight — I once again failed my balance test. What that means is I am dependent upon a cane when I am away from the house. And, you may be thinking why is using a cane such a bad thing? Simply put…using a cane is a pain — it gets in the way, makes my wrist and shoulder hurt, and the questions you get from people, the stares and the whispers…”I wonder what’s wrong with her?” I would rather they just asked.
I have found that children do ask these types of questions. This past summer, my nephew was boating with his father and my husband and they came across a father and son sailing on the York River. Their sail had become broken and they were adrift and needed assistance. The father was missing his right hand and my nephew, not missing a beat asked him what happened. The man stated he was born with a flipper to push and a hand to pull. My nephew’s question didn’t seem to bother him at all. In fact, I thought the man’s response was rather clever.
I complete the rest of my exercises and vent to my therapist about my frustration regarding my ongoing balancing situation and ask if my brain and spinal cord will ever learn to communicate. My therapist, S.S. who reminds me of a modern-day Yoda has a knack of answering questions with questions and constantly challenges and motivates his patients. For me, his long-term patient, is hurt, but not broken, wants to heal, but knows she will never be the same is keeping the faith just like Winter. One day I am waiting for him to say “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” Or maybe I just need to hear “May the force be with you!”
As a side note, those interested in learning more about Winter and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium may visit http://www.seewinter.com for updates, web cams or to donate to the organization.
©My Unplanned Life and www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2012.