In early April, the Clutterbuck family in Stettler received the second, major surprise in a year, but unlike the first time, this surprise was a good one: a week’s stay at the Disneyland Resort in California, tickets to the park for three, and round-trip airfare, all anonymously donated to the family.
“Disneyland is really a place where you leave your troubles behind,” 21-year-old Olivia Clutterbuck said. And she would know about troubles.
On Monday, Oct. 16, 2013, Clutterbuck was in the elevator heading to the 10th floor of the University of Regina residence.
Around the fourth floor, the elevator suddenly jumped a floor and became stuck. After a few minutes, just as Clutterbuck was reaching for the alarm button, the elevator fell.
While Clutterbuck only remembers reaching for the button, and then waking up on the floor of the elevator, she knows that when the elevator fell down, her body went up, crashing into the roof of the elevator, before falling to the floor. It is believed that the dancer’s physical condition is the only reason she didn’t break bones.
Today, she is a half-inch shorter than she was when the elevator fell. She suffered a crushed disc in her back, several compressed discs and a major concussion.
Her pelvis was damaged, which in turn caused damage to the lumbar area of her spine.
The worst, though, is the hearing. The fall damaged her head, and part of the damage has shown itself with tinnitus – that ringing in the ear never goes away for her. She also developed hyperacusis, or supersonic hearing.
Today, Clutterbuck can’t leave her house without wearing “sound dampening” earplugs that eliminate 25 decibels of sound.
When she needs more relief, she wears ones that remove more sound, and adds sound-reducing earmuffs to the mix.
The flight was agony for her, but something she said was absolutely worth it.
“I had tears streaming down my face,” Clutterbuck said. Eventually, staff at WestJet moved Clutterbuck up to a seat in the fourth row, moving her far enough away from the wings that her sound reducing earplugs, cotton-stuffed ear-muffs, and hands over the earmuffs provided her with some relief.
“Take-off and landing were still tough,” she admitted.
The moment she walked into Disneyland, though, that was all forgotten. Disney has been a dream for the Stettler woman, who studied dance and had previously auditioned for work with the company.
She had actually been offered a job based off her audition when she was 18, but due to her age, the work visa had been denied.
While she got stares for the earmuffs she was wearing – the noise level of everyday crowds requires her to wear them to avoid days-long debilitating headaches – every moment was magic.
Goofy asked about her earmuffs, as did Tinkerbell – the faerie gave Clutterbuck a tight hug and whispered to her that she hoped that faerie dust would fix it for her.
If only it was that easy.
The cost of aids to help cope with hearing loss are covered by the province and by health plans to some extent, Joyce Kiryk, Olivia’s mother, explained.
However, the cost of help to cope with hearing gain isn’t.
And it is entirely debilitating, Olivia Clutterbuck admits. She can no longer go to a movie theatre or a bar with friends. She celebrated her 21st birthday lying on the couch in a dark room, in pain. She can no longer dance like she did, though she has begun to work dance into her physical recovery, and just the other week did a dance move that she hasn’t been able to do since before her accident.
“The other teachers (at the class) just came over and hugged me,” Clutterbuck said. “The students didn’t know why, but they knew what it meant. I just wanted to cry.”
Though it hurt, it’s successes like that which help Clutterbuck get through every day with the constant ringing in her ears, and the supersonic hearing that lets her hear every conversation and the music clearly in a packed room.
To put it into perspective, a hearing specialist wishes to see someone’s hearing between five and 10 decibels, Clutterbuck’s mother explained.
They had to stop testing her daughter at -5 decibels because it was too painful.
To date, the family estimates it has spent roughly $10,000 on therapy and specialists to help Olivia deal with her supersonic hearing, concussion and physical recovery. The generosity of friends, family and the community has been a blessing, Kiryk said.
In addition to the anonymous donor or donors who financed the trip for Joyce, her husband Bob, and Olivia to Disneyland, the Stettler Kinettes came through with a donation of $1,000 to help cover the cost of recovery. CARS Dance Family has also been a big help, according to Kiryk.
Clutterbuck knows she has a long way to go, but the trip to Disneyland in May – a place where dreams come true – have helped her be ready to face the challenges ahead. This summer, she hopes to be teaching a dance-based fitness class. Aids designed to work as noise-cancellation units are on the list of upcoming changes, which will hopefully cancel out some of the ringing caused by tinnitus, allowing her to sleep easier and function better.
But when it becomes difficult, all Clutterbuck has to do is close her eyes and remember Tinkerbell, and the fairy dust helps make it better.