Sunday, 20 April 2014

An unlucky break

Winter has still been hanging in here, certainly up at Sunshine where I ski. I like skiing in the winter. I'm not a huge fan of spring skiing, which is why we always plan a trip in May, after the SnowHost season is over, while the skiing conditions become spring-like, and before you can go out hiking.

Looking at the weather last week, the forecast was for a bunch of fresh snow on Wednesday, so Karen and I decided we would go up skiing on Thursday. However, Karen got sick with a cold on Tuesday, spent Wednesday not feeling the best, and Thursday in bed with me playing nursemaid. In the meantime, 20 cm fell on Wednesday and Thursday, so I was itching to get up to the hill. When Friday came, she was still very, very sick, and at 8 AM said she wasn't coming with me. I headed off to ski alone.

It was a great day, snow wise, less so visibility wise. Occasionally socked in with a white-out, most of the day was overcast with OK viz. So I was staying near trees, playing in glorious 25 cm deep untracked powder.
A 25 cm test in the South Side Chutes
What it skied like
Here's why not being near trees was good.
Bye Bye Bowl. 25 cm but no viz
I actually got a chest shot in the lower part of Bye Bye, but I deemed skiing there just too dangerous, and I wanted to ski conservatively because I was on my own and am going to Africa in 12 days. So I decided to head back to Goat's Eye, and to take one of my favourite routes through the Lower Rock Ledges, where no one rides, the powder accumulates and the trees give you viz.
The entrance. Good viz, 25 cm untracked. 1:05 PM.
Normally I ski in and take a picture. Friday I didn't, so here's a photo of the route I use taken on an earlier day.
Mar 21, with similar powder & traffic, but sunny.
I skied into this point and stopped, checked for traffic coming down from above, and started down. In 2 turns, I was near the trees in the centre left of the picture, in powder over my boot tops. I was not going fast.

I recall noticing a bump in the snow, which are only ever caused by something under the snow. Turns out that bump was a tree, possibly a branch of a short tree. Unbeknown to me, my right ski went under it. It caught my boot at the instep, and the boot and ski stopped. I didn't. I pitched forward and crashed, my right foot firmly jammed under the tree bit, breaking my tibia.

Well, THAT hurt. My first aid training kicked in. Looking back towards my foot, I could see my lower leg canted forward at the boot top. I forced myself to get calm, control my breathing. I was able to use my pole to get my left ski off. I was pitched down the slope, putting a lot of very painful pressure on my right shin. Once my right ski released, I used my left boot to step on my right binding to free my boot, though it was still jammed under the tree bit, and I was kind of hanging from it.

I was able to get out my cell phone and tried to call Dispatch to get Patrol. But right there, I had no cell service. I tried a few times and gave up. I carry a whistle for just such emergencies, for as I have written elsewhere, you can scream for about 2 minutes, but you can blow a whistle all day. I blasted out SOS about 3-4 times. I was visible to and within shouting distance of the Angel chair. Someone called out that they would get Patrol. A couple of minutes later, I saw a Patroller riding up Angel chair with a sled. He called out to me that he was on his way. Other riders appeared on the run and offered assistance; I asked them just to stick around until Patrol came.

A couple of minutes later, Troy, the first patroller arrived. I know many of the Patrollers on the hill, and Troy is no exception. Troy cut my pants a bit to expose the site and confirmed that I had broken my tibia. He called for a sled, and after a few more minutes, my Patroller friend LC arrived. I was loaded into the sled, and skied down to TeePee Town, where a skidoo picked us up and pulled me to the Infirmary. Note: skidoos smell bad and kick up a lot of snow when you're riding behind them.

There was an on-call doctor in the Infirmary, and between LC, Troy and him, plus a bunch of nitrous oxide, they got my boot off. He confirmed that my break was a pretty bad one and would almost certainly require surgery. I called Karen to come get me to take me to Banff Mineral Springs Hospital. I could have taken an ambulance, but didn't see the point (and they're expensive). They packaged me up, and a whole lot of people I know in Patrol and other departments dropped in to see how I was doing, including the head of Patrol, Martin; Al, the Mountain Operations Manager; and the head of the ski school (and head of the SnowHost program), Stuart.

One service SnowHosts provide is called a "ride along", where we go down in the Gondola to accompany injured guests. They couldn't find a SnowHost (we don't carry radios), so Stuart escorted me down. Karen arrived just as the got to the bottom. I was loaded into the car and trundled off to the hospital, a 15 min drive.

On arrival at the hospital at 3:15 PM, I was triaged immediately and put in an emergency bed. There were 5 other tib-fib fractures in emergency Friday, in addition to me. A doctor saw me after about 30 min, and I got X-Rays. The doc looked at them and told me I was looking at surgery, and that the on-call ortho doc had already been called. He showed up after another 30 minutes. He told me I had a "butterfly" fracture of the tibia, wherein a wedge shape piece of bone had broken out of the middle of the tibia. I also had a radial fracture of the fibula up near the knee that wasn't major and didn't need any specific treatment.

For my tibia, he said the only real option was to put a titanium rod down the middle of the bone to stabilize it. It potentially could be fixed by just letting the bones heal under a cast-like object, but that wasn't recommended for a number of reasons. Here's a video of the rod procedure.

He told me I was 2nd in line for surgery tonight. At 5:45 PM, I was admitted to my room. At 7:15 PM, the anesthesiologist came in to discuss procedure options. At 7:30 PM, I was wheeled into the OR. By 8:45 PM, I was in recovery and by 9:30 PM, I was back to my room.

I opted for a spinal anesthetic instead of a general, so was kind of awake for the procedure. Yes, the rod is hammered in. With a HAMMER. I heard the incisions, the hammering, the stapling, the suction, and a bunch of other fun stuff.

Coming out of recovery, I was numb from the waist down, and that slowly wore off over the next 7 hrs, until about 4 AM. They checked my vitals frequently (every 15 min for a few hours, then every half hour, then every hour).

I also got a room mate, a chap from Oakville who broke his ankle in a crash avoiding a skier at Lake Louise. He got 4 screws. He was 3rd in line, and joined me at 10 PM. We got to spend the night trading ski stories, for sleeping was a non-starter until almost 6 AM.

Once the spinal wore off, the concept of "pain management" reared its head. I tried percoset, but that didn't do anything. I got 10 mg of morphine at 6 AM, but by 8 AM, that hadn't achieved any change. So I was hooked up to a self administered morphine pump, given the warning that I had to be off the morphine and back on the percoset with pain managed before I could go home.

I spent Saturday spaced out on morphine, occasionally passing out sleeping while I had visitors. I had a solid 90 min nap mid afternoon which left me feeling much better -- for about 20 min. But it was clear I was spending Saturday night in the hospital, too. My roomie was discharged at lunch.

I thought I would get solid rest on Saturday night, but it was not to be. I had pain that was not pleasant and keeping me awake, I couldn't get comfortable, and I got nurse visits every 2-4 hrs. So I probably got 2 hrs sleep between 4 AM and 6 AM, and finally gave up trying to sleep at 6:30 AM.

I was discharged at 10:30 AM when Karen came to get me. And so for the next 2 weeks, my instructions from the doctor team are that I know only 4 rooms: the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen and the couch (which I didn't know was a room). This afternoon has been a struggle in figuring out how to do this 4 rooms thing, while taking a whole lot of percoset. So far I'm 50:50, with a whole whack of pain that isn't pleasant that the percoset doesn't seem to manage well.

Interestingly, I have no cast, nor am I likely to get one. I'm non-weight bearing for 6 weeks (that's May 30th), using either a wheelchair or crutches until then. I can't drive, since it's my right foot. My first follow up will be ~April 30.

Which is/was the day we were to head for Africa.

Which is now off. And we have no travel insurance for it (I never get that, figuring that when I'm committing to go, I'm committing to go). So we're trying to contact the safari company and re-schedule the safari to the fall.

I'm less worried about the flights. I paid for them by AmericanExpress, and I have trip cancellation insurance through them. But the safari company only took MasterCard, so that wasn't an option.

I'd call this a major screw up on my part, and a really unlucky break.

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