Sunday, February 13, 2005

Just Another Day

Posting has been light lately (please say you’d noticed) as I’ve explored the possibility of “getting a life.” Results have been mixed.

On Tuesday, my friend Sandy and I went skiing at Sugar Bowl. It was a nice, quick drive up there, with just a little traffic passing through Sacramento, and clear skies when we reached the mountain. She rented skis and boots, we got our lift tickets, and by 10 we were riding up the mountain. No snow had fallen overnight, but a little snow had fallen Monday and I think the snow machines were working Monday night, so there was nicely groomed fresh snow and almost nobody on the mountain. There were no lift lines to speak of and it was a nearly perfect day of spring skiing. By the time we’d stopped for lunch around noon, we’d had about 8 or 9 good runs and we were already feeling a little tired. Well, I was. After a short lunch we headed up the mountain again and on about our third run found ourselves in the midst of a terrain park, with lots of jumps. We skied up and down the sides of the jumps and when we reached the bottom decided to go back up the same chair and try a jump on the way down on the next run. Coming down again we cautiously crept up a couple of jumps, hitting them with just enough speed to barely clear the top and catch a little air. After pausing about half way down, I chose a jump I would try, selecting one over another one beside it because there was more room at the top before the slope resumed. I figured this would give me more room to land and regain control. I started at it from about 100 yards away and maybe 50 feet above it and had a pretty good head of steam going when I reached it. The jump was much steeper than I anticipated and when I hit it my knees were thrust up toward my chest; I think I was prevented from falling forward only by my momentum and the sudden upward motion the jump forced me into. The next thing I knew I was in the air, facing the sky with my body parallel to the ground. I don’t know how high I was but I had no idea how to get my legs and skis back underneath me and the thought ran through my mind that this was going to hurt. That was followed by the thought that this was really going to hurt. Sadly, I was right.

I landed on the left side of my back, with the area from my hip to my rib cage absorbing the impact. I felt my back compressing and the air being forced from my lungs. I heard Sandy asking if I was okay but was unable to take in a breath to answer her. I tried to sit up but was only able to make short jerking motions with my legs. Things weren’t quite working right. I lay back, not very comfortably, and gradually my ability to breathe returned. After taking a couple of breaths I was able to sit up. When I had fallen I thought I felt and heard my sunglasses fly off my head, so I was surprised to find them on my forehead. Sandy had reached me by now and when she asked again if I was alright I was able to force out an “I think so,” so she said she would go get my ski for me, which was the first sign I had that I was missing one. I slowly stood up, feeling pain in my lower mid-range on the left side of my back. I walked sideways down the hill to where Sandy was waiting with my ski, and after I put it on she asked if I would be okay or if needed help getting down. There were a couple of snowboarders who had been resting beside the jump I had attempted and they offered to go for help. I thanked them, but I figured if I kept moving it would keep my back muscles from tightening up and I would be okay, so after I got my ski back on we resumed down the hill, avoiding the remaining jumps, though.

At the bottom of the run, Sandy asked if I wanted to go into the lodge for a cup of hot chocolate. I said I thought I’d be better off if I didn’t stop, so we got on the chair and rode back to the top of the mountain. When I got off the chair I started to doubt the wisdom of this plan, as the pain had increased and it was going to take a conscious and painful effort to complete each turn as we headed down the mountain. Taking our time, and pausing a couple of times, we finally reached the bottom of the mountain. We took off our skis and went into the lodge, looking for a first aid station where I could get some Tylenol. We found one, and after I explained what had happened they did give me some Tylenol, but one of the ski patrol guys also wanted to check me out. After he had done so, he wanted to take me over to another first aid station, at the other lodge, where they had a nurse. They took me over on a ski-doo, and Sandy had to make it over on her skis by taking the lift to the top of the mountain and coming down another face to get to the other lodge.

The first aid nurse wasn’t happy with my vital signs, so she hooked me up to an IV and called an ambulance. My pulse rate and blood pressure were bouncing all over the place and she didn’t know why. The ambulance guys arrived at the same time as Sandy and advised me that they could drive me to the hospital or my friend could take me, but with my vital signs unstable I might have a medical emergency on the ride over (those are words you want to hear). If I went with them, on the other hand, I would have to be strapped to a board and then to the gurney and have my spine immobilized. I chose the security and relative humility of being strapped into the ambulance. Sandy later told me she was so sorry she didn’t have a camera to preserve that image. Sweet, eh? She also told me later that one of the ski patrol guys, who was helping carry the gurney down the stairs, nearly tripped in his ski boots. Now that would have been funny, me and the four guys lowering me down the stairs sprawled in the snow.

At the hospital there were three people asking me questions at once; a doctor, an admitting nurse, and somebody else. I think the third person was just trying to trip me up. Finally they moved me to a hospital bed and unstrapped me from the board. This was so the doctor could poke me in the same places the ski patrol guys and the first aid nurse had. I still hurt in the same places, only more so in some of them. Doctors ask a lot of questions, but they haven’t much to say. When I asked what he thought, he told me my liver, spleen and spine seemed okay, but couldn’t be sure yet about anything else. He would need x-rays next.

When they finished with the x-rays they wheeled me back into the examining room where I’d started. A couple minutes later a nurse came into the room and attached a vial of painkiller to my IV. I asked him what it was. “Morphine,” he said. Really? Wow. Morphine. Within a couple of minutes I started to feel…different. I bent over at the waist and stretched my back a little. As near as I could tell, it still hurt about the same. The difference was, now, with the morphine, I didn’t care.

A couple minutes later Sandy showed up, bringing my shoes. My appearance probably wasn’t as shocking to her as it had been at the first aid station, but probably every bit as ridiculous, sitting cross-legged on the gurney in a t-shirt and my long-underwear, with the IV still in my arm. Another nurse, Mo, came in and took my pulse again. She held my wrist and took it manually while at the same time using a monitor that clips onto a finger. There was no agreement between them, so she hooked me up to another monitor, with four sensors on my chest. While hooking me up she asked me how old I am. When I told her, she looked askance at me and said, “little old to be jumping, don’t you think?” Everybody’s a comedian, and I’m their raw material.

Finally the doctor came by to tell me I have a cracked rib. He told me what to do about it (when I asked if I could go skiing again in three weeks, he told me not unless I wanted to see him again) and gave me a rib belt and a scrip for a painkiller. We went to the pharmacy across the street, where nothing fun or interesting happened and nobody said anything memorable.

All in all, it actually was a great day. The skiing was great and everybody who helped us, from the ski patrol to the ambulance guys, to the doctors and nurses in the emergency room, was cheerful and helpful. Although I’d had some pain and discomfort and a great day of skiing was cut short, I wasn’t seriously injured. I don’t think I’d want to repeat the whole thing, but it was a fun and interesting way to spend a day with a good friend.
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