“What’s my name?”
What seemed like a moment ago, I was arcing turns in the hunt for windblown stashes of chalky goodness and now I’m trying to comprehend what has just happened.
A couple of minutes passes by.
“What’s my name?” asks the Patroller in a Canadian accent.
I’m strapped in a blood wagon surrounded by ski patrol. I try to move and am given stern instructions not to.
“Treble Cone Ski Patrol do you copy?”
“Otago Rescue we copy over”. The conversation continues to crackle over the radio.
“Treble Cone Ski Patrol, we are enroute and our ETA is approximately 40minutes over”.
“Otago Rescue; we copy that; patient is stable; landing zone is cleared; over”.
I slowly start to attempt to piece together the situation at hand.
A medic arrives from the ski area base and tries to insert a line to intravenously administer pain relief of the opioid variety with little success.
On the fifth mis-attempt to secure the line I suggest that he stops attacking the normally bulbous veins of my lower arms and waits for back up. Yes, when you well and truly toast yourself, the morphine comes to you.
I’ve been in a few ‘situations’ over the years and while I can feel something is drastically wrong with my groin and pelvic region, I’ve endured worse pain and have learned the art of ‘breathing’ through it until back up arrives.
My mind continues to spin as to how I ended up strapped in a blood wagon awaiting an airlift to hospital. At this point all I can remember is making a sweeping left hand turn to make my way back up to the fence line to skip over a ridge…and I got bluffed.
My memory blanks with the first impact resuming approximately 8-10minutes and 400 vertical metres later below where it started and I’m surrounded by ski patrol at the bottom Treble Cone’s Motatapu Chutes.
I hear the whirring echo of the chopper in the distance, it’s a common sound in these parts as the throng of the rotor blades reverberate around the hills.
“We’ll get a line in when we’re airborne”, I overhear the air rescue medic as they bundle me into the back of the BK, a twin engine helicopter with double rear facing doors which make it a common choice for emergency air services.
The pilot hands me a head set and I hear the familiar voice of a local pilot who is in the area searching for some lost ski tourers in the cloud that has shrouded the mid layer of the hills all morning. The joker in me wants to say gidday, but I quell the urge to crack a joke over the radio given the situation.
We take off and the rescue medic gets to work on finding a vein to tap. There’s something about that first hit of morphine. It hits your system and while you still feel the pain, it takes the ‘edge’ off bringing a sense of calm.
“We’ll keep loading you up all the way to Dunedin” comforts the medic and he stays true to his word.
Fast forward fourteen weeks and while I know that I’ve well and truly dodged a bullet and gotten the get of out jail card, it has not without some major consequences.
As I run down my body I make a mental note of the collateral damage sustained.
Starting at the top, not much escaped. From a serious concussion, severe whiplash, damage to my left shoulder, minor fractures to several vertebrae, a severe haematoma and swelling to my tailbone, a dislocated left hip with a femoral head fracture wiping the articular cartilage dislodging a 1.67cm sliver of bone as well as tearing my psoas and labrum on the way through, a grade 3 meniscal tear to my left knee and a tibial plateau fracture. I’d learn weeks later that there were more fractures to be discovered.
To say the past three months have been a mega lesson in patience, acceptance and relentless optimism would be a mild understatement.
When you do something that is somewhat catastrophic in nature, there’s a few things you can expect.
The initial trauma as the body deals with what has just happened
the need for acceptance when the reality of what has happened truly sets in
the reality when you keep getting hit week after week with the ‘expert’ opinions on the various states of your injuries & the (not so great) prognoses
The surprise of MRIs and the other imaging revealing further injuries that didn’t reveal themselves initially
the realisation that recovery always seems to be two steps forward for three steps back and with an indeterminable finish line
the need to put on a brave face and weather the storm of questions that seem to be asked with relentless frequency
the not knowing…..
The curve balls and lack of information are likely the hardest to deal with.
If you give me an objective or a desired outcome, I’m innately programmed to work backwards and figure out exactly how I’m going to make something happen. I’m comfortable with curve balls, in fact I’ve come to expect them and embrace them.
Unfortunately in this chapter of the game of life this rule book just got thrown out the window.
This is the ongoing roller coaster that requires a daily commitment to ‘hang on for the ride’ and to be relentlessly optimistic.
At four weeks post accident I was told, “no, you don’t need crutches now” to an MRI revealing that I’d chipped a large piece of bone off the femoral head wiping most of the articular cartilage with it, along with leaving my medical cruciate ligament dangling by a thread and a missed fracture. No wonder that knee was rather angry and swollen. Weeks later I’d find out that I’d also sustained a fracture of the acetabulum which happens when the head of the femur gets driven into the pelvis congruent with a high speed feet first impact.
The patience game has been alive and well. Crutches for the first four weeks resulted in many a passerby enquiring if I would like a lift as I crutched my way to and from appointments.
As I started to hobble without crutches, I’d get some interesting looks as I attempted to my daily walk down to the lake.
It would take eleven weeks to feel as though I could walk without hitching my hip.
The physical part of the recovery is one bit, the mental part another.
You start to dissect the how and the why of what has happened. In a year when I consciously made a concerted effort to ease off the gas pedal, why was I continuing to be penalised and put into the time out box? It’s the question that can play through your head over and over.
How could a mellow blue bird day searching out stashes of snowy goodness go so drastically awry I still ask myself?
You go over the scenarios, the only sense of relief knowing that this really was a freak accident. A freak accident that so easily might not have happened, but one that could have (and should have) been so much worse, but wasn’t and finding the gratitude for what it is, rather what it isn’t.
There has been a decent amount of time spent waiting rooms and visiting specialists to confirm the state of the damage done and to ascertain the plan of attack to move forward. I can assure you that this is where the nervous self deprecating jokes stop and the realities kick in.
Open hip surgery with a full dislocation and clean up/resurfacing of the femoral head is still a very real possibility, although one I have negotiated with the surgeon to defer while I both explore non-invasive options and give the rest of the injuries I collected a chance to heal.
When you’ve blown out the whole left side of your body, there’s only so much one can deal with all at once.
As the recovery continues different challenges start to present themselves. While being knocked out on that first impact likely saved me from sustaining worse injuries, it would take until week six to start to fully feel the effects of the head injury, well and truly kicking me in the ass, just as I started to feel like I was making some progress. Yep, concussion is a b*tch and concussion 2.0 for the year is nothing to be taken lightly. Tiredness, fatigue and having to remove/excuse yourself from many a social situation when the noise, talking and conversing can be a little too much too handle and a momentary time out from socialisation became the norm.
I’ve endured my fair share of injuries over the years. Broken legs, blown knees, shoulders, ribs, ankles, lacerations, whiplashes, concussions and plenty of gravel rash, just not all about the same time like life served my up this time around. And while I’ve acquired a few tools on how to deal with these adversities, now I actually get to put them into the practice.
There have been plenty of questions, “aren’t you going insane not being able to do anything?” Well let me tell you this much, when you fully toast yourself there’s a certain amount of acceptance of the situation that has to go on and the ability to be patient and perseverant has become my greatest asset.
These are the moments when you find gratitude in the little things that went right. The people I was with, the ski patrol who were right there, the immediate dispatch of the rescue helicopter, that my injuries were not of the life threatening or paralysing variety, that is happened at home rather than overseas and most importantly that the banter has rolled hard and fast from the helicopter to the hospital and for the weeks and months that have followed.
If there is one thing that will define my memory of this little bump in the road, it will be the laughter, the gratitude, the choice to be relentlessly optimistic when the chips are down and to embrace the ride.