“Pop” is the sound I hear my knee make as I fall into the fresh powder that has surprised Stevens Pass in early February. My ski is still attached to my boot, I see blue sky and hear happy sounds as today is the best ski day of the season. I was feeling pretty proud of myself – Adam is the primary ski parent, but I was in charge this weekend – so I got the afternoon skiing the day before with our daughter, did all the logistics in the morning to get our kid to ski school on time.
Now here I am – sprawled out on the mountain – it’s 10:45am. Ski school goes until 1:30pm. My husband is about 2 hours away. I debate troubleshooting my foot to see if I can move/get down the mountain or call him now in a whimper.
I opt for the former. I get myself up. I try to slide down on my good ski foot – looks like it’s working. I try to turn. Bad idea Helen. I hear another pop and my knees collapse on me as I end up back in the (still soft) snow. More fearless kids and snowboarders fly by. Fine, I decide I’ll just stand up and take my skis off and walk down the mountain since that doesn’t involve turning. No go. I stand, I hear a third pop, I fall again and accept that I need help.
I call my husband. He is calm and empathetic. Pretty sure he is at some new zoo checking out lions and tigers with our almost 4 year old. He reassures me and reminds me to flag someone down and ask for help. I promise to call back once I figure out if I can walk or not. We lament that it’s my right knee – all my leg injuries are always on the right side (from a twisted ankle when I was 6 to a fall down the stairs during pregnancy resulting in a liz frank break and everything in between).
Eventually ski patrol finds me – they called me an easter egg as apparently it took a bit to find me as my explanation that I’m surrounded by trees and there is a lift above me was not descriptive enough (I suppose that’s fair). I also learned that you are supposed to cross your skis to signal injury – good pro tip for next time.
Anyway, I get my first ride down the mountain on the toboggan – the ride is smooth and fast. I have this vision that I’ll be in a warm lodge with hot chocolate and ibuprofen while we sort out next steps. Alas, COVID. I am one of the lucky ones and get to be inside in the lobby of ski patrol lodge with blankets on me and no meds allowed unless I have some on me. My options are to ride down the mountain in an ambulance (I’m pretty sure my 7 year old would think it’s the best thing ever) or wait for Adam to come pick me up. It’s now 11:30am. Still 2 hours from end of lesson, but cutting it close. We make the call that he needs to drive up.
So now, here I am, with warm blankets, a mostly charged phone, throbbing knees pondering my situation. Here were my reflections:
1) I’m so glad I was out skiing and living. Yes, the accident sucks and assuming it’s a ACL tear (one of the most common skiing injuries), it will require surgery and a long recovery. But the point is, I was out with my family, living a full life. A year ago, ski resorts were closing because of COVID and we did not know if life was going to ever be normal again. The fact that I could get a standard ski injury, is in a sense proof that life is getting back to normal.
2) Don’t take health for granted –It’s so easy to forget how fragile we are. One wrong step – be it a spill down the stairs or a bad turn on the mountain – and everyday mobility and life gets significantly impacted. Anything we can do to maintain health is key. When I broke my foot a few years back, I remember the joy of being able to go on a walk without pain. These injuries suck, but they are such good reminders of importance of gratitude for health.
3) What am I going to learn from this – I spent some of my “bonus free time” talking to my sister while waiting for Adam and she said “the great thing about you, is you are going to make a list of 10 things you’ve learned from this accident and become better for it” – may we all be so lucky as to have a sibling that sees the best in you at all moments of your life. Most importantly, she reminded me to look out for these lessons and embrace them.
4) Meet new people and reconnect with friends – for better or for worse, a knee injury is a very common ski accident. This means that I have now caught up with friends and colleagues who have gone through this, found a support group on Facebook and Instagram and am living this experience with other people as opposed to alone. At a time when social interactions are still limited, this has provided a new topic of conversation and a reason for much needed chatter, laughter and camaraderie.
5) Thankful for remote work – I am 100% convicted that my recovery will go faster because I am working from home. There is no need to walk from meeting to meeting is a huge plus to letting my limbs rest and recover. While I am anxious to get back to interacting with people face to face and feed by need for in person watercoolers, I’m glad my injury happened at a time when there is still 0 pressure to go into the office.
6) Good reminder to slow down and be present – whether I like it or not, physical limitations require a different pace of life. So what does taking advantage of it look like – more blogging, more reading, and hopefully also being more present, a challenge I struggle with as screens take over my attention rather than the day at hand.
Where am I now
It’s now been about a month since the injury. MRI indeed confirm a complete anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. I decided to proceed with surgery (and am now just over a week past it) in order to be able to get back to skiing and living my life to the fullest with my family and friends. Recovery ahead looks daunting but it’s well understood (I realized that as my orthopedic surgeon handed me a 20 page detailed “PT protocol” to give to my physical therapist).
I am so grateful to my partner for his incredible patience and resilience as I continue to injure my foot. I humbly accept the help and try to be a mindful burden - less self pity and more self sufficiency when possible. Finally, I am contemplating getting a Peloton as there will be a lot of cycling in my future during recovery. Perhaps, I will learn to love a new form of exercise and get a cool accessory out of this whole ordeal. Always looking for that silver lining (or at least a gadget).
I’ll keep posting any helpful rehab tools/gadgets that I come across, but so far, 2 come to mind:
Lots of chocolate to heal the bruised ego – a friend brought me Frans’ chocolates and that was amazing
Wedge pillow to keep your leg elevated
Polar Ice machine therapy wraps your knee in a pad that is ice cold
Cute shorts as the brace takes up both most of your leg and you can’t really wear much (I’ve been wearing Athleta, Lululemon and some Madewell ones) – a wardrobe malfunction can totally be avoided here
Coda on Privilege
We end most of our posts with a note on privilege and ways to give back. Since the theme of this post is about outdoor activities and specifically skiing, I want to call out that Plain Valley Ski Trails runs a wonderful cross country kids ski team. We love the community in Plain - so want to take an opportunity to highlight a good cause to support.
So sorry you got hurt, Helen! Proud of your can do spirit!
Totally sucks! I remember when Lora broke her arm snowboarding on her 3rd day. She was just standing and had an awkward fall. That was during residency and meant no surgery for her for a few weeks. Any longer she would have had to repeat a year of residency. Thankfully she did not. Lucky we are still working from home so you can fully recover faster with less stress. Silver lining.