Mon | Nov 30, 2020

Claire Reid in a tough dance of life

Published:Sunday | February 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Dancer Claire Reid of Denham Town lost her right leg in 1999 after an injury to her big toe got infected.
Claire Reid tries to get Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna to dance the Kumina during a recent function at the ACIJ-Jamaica Memory Bank.
Claire Reid of Denham Town, St Andrew, dances on one leg at the opening of the ACIJ-Jamaica Memory exhibition on Jamaica’s intangible cultural heritage.

Claire Reid of Denham Town, Kingston, has one leg, so she goes everywhere in a wheelchair, in the sun, in the rain. And at age 66, she doesn't seem like slowing down anytime soon.

Yet, it is a hard-knocks life for this eternal dancer. For as long as she can remember, she has been fending for herself and dancing up a storm. And when fate took her off her feet, she didn't roll over and give up.

She said from she was a little girl, she has been dancing with the troupe from Tivoli Gardens, performing at places such as Little Theatre and Devon House, where they danced Kumina. She recalled parliamentarian Olivia 'Babsy' Grange as one of her tutors.

Then one day, while she was on her way to sell goods on Pechon Street, downtown Kingston, she realised she was between two moving cars. The one behind was threatening to hit her. In trying to escape the vehicle, she stepped on to a piece of metal embedded in the sidewalk. The metal impaled her right big toe.

The following day she sought medical attention at a clinic and eventually at Kingston Public Hospital. She said she didn't get an injection at any of her visits, only tablets. She continued to sell her wares though her foot was swollen. When it rained, she would wrap the wound in plastic bags. But the wound would not heal.

Reid underwent a battery of tests, but medics could not determine why the wound refused to heal.

"Mi only lef to take out mi womb and put in it back," Reid told The Gleaner. That's how frustrated she was.

Got Worse

And, things were getting worse, to the point where poor circulation and gangrene set in. On a computer screen, the lower leg, Reid said, looked green, and her thighs red. But the entire leg had turned white. To save her from death, doctors recommended amputation. That was in 1999, when Reid was 50.

The already petite mother of two, under stress, had lost much weight, so she consented to have the source of her ailment removed. She said she put the matter into her doctor's and God's hands. In the operation room, she drifted off to sleep under the influence of anaesthetics, hoping to wake up with only her right big toe gone.

However, she said: "When I woke up, trying to stretch, I feel this foot can't come out. I say, 'Doctor, how this foot not coming out?' Him say it would soon come out. They didn't want to frighten mi."

Yet, it was a few days after when she attempted to scratch an itch that Reid realised something was a bit strange.


There was nowhere to scratch, despite the itching. She decided to see what was really going on.

"When mi lift up the nightie, and mi see the foot gone, mi say, 'Waaiiee!' an mi bawl out inna de hospital. Mi say how doctor say him a go tek off mi toe, an him gone wid de whole a mi foot!?" Reid related, tears welling up in her eyes.

To calm the inconsolable Reid, a medical practitioner injected her, knocking her back into slumber. When she woke up the following day, she gradually accepted that her right leg was amputated above the knee. Yet, weeks of stress followed her out of the hospital. She had bills to pay, and other matters to take care of, and nowhere to turn to get financial support.

One day, in her tears, she heard of a function at Emancipation Park for people with disabilities. She decided to attend. It was the first time she was going on the street with her crutch, so she wasn't confident. Timidly, she crossed roads and eventually reached.

At Emancipation Park, Reid sat in the audience, but when a particular song grabbed her, and with the assistance of her crutch, she surrendered to the song.

"It just get me out a de seat, and a see the MC do like this, and ah forget say mi have de one foot and mi mek one leap, and jump pon de stage, an' I start to get way, an' I get way, and win one basket. From that day until today, I am dancing [again]. Is it keep me going with the Lord," Reid said.