Ski Day 19, The Last of the Season
It was a warm, gorgeous day. The Prince of Norway convinced me to ski in just my flannel shirt, and thank goodness he did. I was sweating even as it was. On our 11th run of the day, we were skiing some innocuous terrain under the lift. There was one baby jump and one small drop-off — level terrain that literally drops off about 1.5-2 ft, so similar to a jump, except it doesn’t send you up at all. I had hit both of them cleanly earlier in the day — they’re really no big deal at all, and I’m far more at risk for accidents in the trees.
People tell me to be careful all the time, and while I joke about scrapes and bruises here and there (I just bruise really easily, okay?), I am an incredibly cautious person. I don’t take unnecessary risks. I know what I can and cannot handle. I get teased about it a lot, but I’d rather know that I am safe than cave to peer pressure and risk needless injury. That said, skiing is a dangerous sport — as with most mountain sports, accidents are just something that comes with the territory sometimes.
I landed the first jump just fine, but as I came down off the next drop-off, the landing was flat and jarring, and my ski caught in place. Being warmer than usual, the snow was just a little bit slower and grippier. I wasn’t going fast enough for my binding to release my boot, so while my ski abruptly stopped, my inertia threw me in the opposite direction. I felt a huge pop as my right femur dislodged from my hip, and as I made contact with the ground, my bindings finally released. I took a small somersault and came to a stop with my knees bent (a very ladylike position, thank you very much) and sitting up.
Immediately, people from the lift were asking if I needed ski patrol. “I have to think about it for a second,” I called from below.
The Prince of Norway skied up behind me and asked if I was okay. “I don’t know,” I responded. I quickly did an inventory of my person and my surroundings. Head: fine. Wrists and arms: fine. Back/neck: no pain. Legs: ummmm… you know when Harry had the bones in his arm removed by Lockhart in Chamber of Secrets? That is the best way to describe how things felt. Adrenaline is a beautiful thing, so I didn’t feel pain immediately, but my leg felt very rubbery and disconnected. I knew that things were very bad. “I don’t think I can move. I think I dislocated my hip.”
I tried moving my leg, and I screamed. Another person called from the chair lift, “Do you need help?” He responded affirmatively for me — at this point, I couldn’t really make words, I just focused as much as I could on breathing through the pain, which I was rudely starting to feel. I think I probably sounded like a woman in labor. The Prince of Norway was visibly shaken and scared.
On the mountain
The first ski patrol arrived, and he asked for my permission to be treated. “YES. God yes. Please treat. You have my permission.”
He did an initial trauma assessment — he poked and prodded up and down my legs and my back. It really only hurt when he pressed hard enough to move my leg a bit, and I told him so. “Do you feel any wetness in your pants?” he asked me.
“I have no idea, all I feel is pain. My hands are going numb, but I can’t move them, because they’re supporting me. I can’t move.”
Worried about bleeding, he asked for permission to check down my pants. “Yes. Consent. Please.” Thankfully, I was dry as a bone.
The rest of ski patrol arrived, and they took my vitals and assessed how best to get me down the mountain. They brought a backboard and a hip brace, thinking it would be the most comfortable for me. They asked me if I could straighten my leg at all. I tried moving my leg, but it wouldn’t budge. Not even a little bit, not even at all.
They decided to transport me in the position I was in, thank all that is holy. They told me what I needed to do, and I whimpered in anticipation. I wrapped my arms around the first ski patrolman’s neck, held myself up as best I could, and the rest of the ski patrolmen lifted my body and legs as gingerly as possible while I screamed into their ears and they lowered me onto the litter.
They immobilized me as best as possible using blankets and pillows, and they told me to scream if I wanted them to slow down. I was laying on my left side, though, so every small bump we hit along the way forced my hip up, further displacing my femur, and with each of those bumps came an involuntary scream.
You know how in movies, you see people who endure excruciating pain by biting down on bits of leather? That is a very real thing. I think the goat leather palms of my mittens will have permanent teeth marks.
At ski patrol
They lifted the entire litter up onto a table, and I was introduced to two handsome paramedics. After some brief introductions, Paramedic #1 asked me what my pain level was on a scale of 1-10.
“How do you quantify pain? I have a high pain tolerance, but I have no idea. It really fucking hurts. Like a shit ton. I just want to ctrl+alt+delete everything,” I told them.
“Is this the worst pain you’ve ever been in?”
“Absolutely yes. Without a doubt, yes,” I responded.
One of the ski patrolmen took off my mittens for me, and he touched my hands. “You’re cold to the touch, darlin’. You’re going into shock.” He handed me a warm rice bag to hold. The temperature was lovely, but it felt so heavy.
A ski patrolman chimed in, “She’s in excruciating pain.” I remembered that I was involved in a conversation about my pain, and I started paying attention again. “She screamed the whole way down the mountain.” (Apparently, this is not normal.)
“Okay. This is what we call a 10,” Paramedic #1 explained to me. “Let’s get your information and load you up with some drugs, okay?”
“No morphine,” I cautioned.
“…no? We don’t get that a lot.”
“I might be allergic, and I would really like to not go into anaphylactic shock on top of everything else. Then you’d have to give me epinephrine, too. ACTUALLY — can we do that? That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“I think we should try it. For science.” I’d almost forgotten that the Prince of Norway was there, but this comment made me smile.
“Well, we could just pump her full of benadryl and morphine at the same time and see what happens,” Paramedic #2 retorted.
“I trust your judgment, guys. Just make it all stop, please.” Clearly, I have excellent priorities.
“Have you ever donated plasma before?” Paramedic #1 inquired.
“No, but I donate blood all the time. You’ll notice that I have lovely veins.”
“You do, indeed — this is a perfect main line you’ve got here.”
I smiled silently with pride as he prepared to pump me full of fentanyl. I looked over at the Prince of Noway and apologized for ruining his ski day. He responded softly and sweetly that he didn’t care and he was sorry that I was hurt.
“No, no, no,” Paramedic #2 interjects, “This is where you say, ‘Damn right you’re sorry, asshole.’”
I laughed, because that’s what I would have said. These are my people.
“How are you on pain? Have the drugs touched it at all?” Paramedic #1 was more focused on my treatment, which is appreciated.
“No. Not at all. Still miserable.”
“Alrighty, let’s push another, then, huh?”
“Works for me.”
The paramedics and ski patrolmen lifted me up from the litter to the gurney using the blanket that lined the litter, and that moment was perhaps one of the best of the day. It felt like I was resting in a lovely hammock, and for the briefest of moments, I forgot my pain. It was bliss.
The ride from the mountain to the hospital was about 40 minutes, but it felt much shorter, due in no small part to the excellent care and humor that I was shown. They explained to me every little thing that they were doing, and they made sure I was as comfortable as possible.
At this point, all signs pointed to a broken pelvis or femur. Paramedic #1 told me that he had to remove my boot to make sure that I still had blood flow to my foot. I visibly cringed, whimpered, and begged him to leave it on. If you’ve ever worn ski boots, you know how hard they are to get on and take off — they are meant to immobilize your foot, and they are tight. He asked Paramedic #2 to come over and immobilize my leg while he pulled it off. I coached him on the finer points of boot removal in between yelps of agony.
I begged him to leave the left boot on — it was helping to support my injured leg, and he agreed that there was no need to take it off. Bless him. After boot removal, though, he still had to get to my foot. I was wearing a pair of knee length ski socks under a pair of compression tights. I told him not to even try to take them off. “I don’t want to scream anymore. Please. Just cut it all off.”
He silently nodded to me and started cutting away. “Bad news: now you only have one ski sock. Good news: your foot looks great! A nice healthy pulse. What is your normal resting heart rate?”
“I’m usually somewhere between 50-60, why?”
“You’re at 55 right now, and even right after the accident on the mountain, you were only at 77. I don’t think we’ve ever come across someone with your level of trauma / pain that is as calm physically and mentally. It’s kind of astounding.”
“Eh, no point in letting myself freak out, right? I know I’m safe, so all I can do is focus on my breathing, I guess.”
“That’s very logical.”
They kept my mind busy with chats about skiing, the calls they get, and the differences between Mormonism and Catholicism.
“How are you doing on pain now?”
“Well, I’m laughing and joking with you guys, so it can’t be too bad, right? The smiley face for 10 is crying and looks kinda mangled — I don’t look like that, do I?”
“Dear, please recall that you were also smiling and joking before you received any pain killers and you were at a 10.”
“Oh. Right. In that case, I’m at a 9.”
“We saved the last dose of fentanyl for the transport, because it has such a short half-life compared to morphine, and it’s such a long ride. Do you want that now?”
“God, yes. Shoot me up.”
After getting the last of my clothes cut off of my body and a sheet draped over me, The Prince of Norway showed up and was permitted entrance into my room. One of the nurses asked if it was okay with me that he was present. “Oh, I don’t care. I’m shameless. He knows it.” He just nodded along. He knows all too well how shameless I am.
When the doctor came in, he introduced himself and asked me, “Was that you screaming on the way in, or did someone let a banshee into the building?”
“Why does it have to be one or the other? I was probably both things.”
After establishing that I could not have any water (potential surgery), they outfitted me with another bag of IV fluids and then the techs whisked me off to radiology.
Recall that I was still atop the blanket from the litter up at Brighton. They now had to transfer me from gurney to x-ray table, and the radiologist had determined that the blanket and thread were too thick — they’d have to get the blanket out from under me in order to collect good visuals.
“Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Seriously?”
“I’m so sorry.” They outlined how they were planning on moving me in detail.
“Well, thanks for letting me know. I guess I should let you know that I am going to scream a lot. Sorry in advance.”
And scream I did — this was the most excruciating part of the whole ordeal. Those poor techs were so delicate with me, and they did such a good job, but when I say that millimeters of movement caused acute pain, you can probably imagine how much pain rolling me around and actually moving my limbs caused. It was not at all lovely.
As I was rolled back into my room, The Prince of Norway was watching Walking Dead. “Thank god you weren’t there for that torture session. I don’t think I’ve screamed that much ever.”
“Really?! That bad?”
As the tech was leaving, he scrunched up his face and nodded sadly in agreement.
I lay there for a while, pathetically moaning and trying to find a comfortable position. I remembered that it was his brother’s birthday dinner, and I told him that he need not stay on my behalf — I’d be fine. I think he nodded just to placate me, but then he told me he mentioned to Jess that he was at the hospital with me. “She’s on a run up Millcreek Canyon or something, but I’m pretty sure she’s about to call in a panic.” Like clockwork, his phone started to ring. I have such good people in my life.
The doctor walked back in, cracked some more jokes about me, and told me that my results were in.
“SO! What’s the deal? What’d I break? How bad is it? JUST TELL ME, I CAN HANDLE IT, DOC.”
“Amazingly enough, you have zero breaks. You did, however, dislocate your hip.”
“I KNEW IT. Isn’t that the first thing I said on the mountain?! That’s what I told everyone!”
The Prince of Norway nodded in agreement. “She did say that.”
“Well, you didn’t tell me.”
"That’s because everyone and their mothers had me convinced I’d broken my pelvis and/or femur!”
“Well, to be fair, this is highly unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dislocation like yours without any fractures. It takes an incredible amount of force to dislocate the femoral head from the hip socket, and that usually causes a break somewhere.”
"Well, I’m nothing if not unusual.”
“You are absolutely unique,” he smiled.
“Oh god. But this means you have to pop it back in. Please tell me you’re going to knock me out for that. I do not want to be awake for that.”
"You will be sedated.”
“Oh, thank GOD.”
I’m all smiles at this point (actually I’ve kind of been all along, with the exception of when I was being moved [and consequently screaming]). From my understanding, the majority of pain associated with dislocations is resolved once the limb is reset. I was beyond excited for that moment to come. Add to that knowing that I was free of breaks? Magnificent news all around.
The doctor had been subtly checking my pulse through my foot on and off since I’d arrived. He has a very gentle touch, good eye contact, and a soft smile — he does a good job of inventorying me as a patient while simultaneously comforting me. As he finished telling me what to expect, he paused. “Your smile,” he said. “Don’t ever stop.”
I woke up from my sedation, flat on my back, both legs stretched out in front of me, able to move, and at a pain level of about 6. I was only out for about four minutes, and the handsome bearded doctor that reset my leg managed to do it in one fell swoop — there was zero need for all of the folks they had on hand to hold me down. (“Just in case.”)
E came to pick up The Prince and drive him back to the car, I was schlepped off to get a CT scan (to search for any hidden fractures), and shortly after I returned to my room, E showed up again with Jess in tow, who would be my chauffeur for the remainder of the evening.
The doctor checked in with the orthopedic surgeon about my scans / x-rays, and they both agreed that aside from that pesky little dislocation, I was right as rain. Doc acted as a go-between for me and the orthopedic surgeon about some specific questions I’d had, and then he gave me all of the follow-up information I’d need.
“It was an absolute pleasure to care for you, honestly,” and he put out his hand for me to shake, and I grasped it in turn and smiled.
“Thanks for teasing me so much. I know I’m an easy target, but it made me feel right at home.”
He just kept smiling, said, “Come here,” and then he gave me a huge hug. “We would all love to see you again, hopefully under better circumstances next time. Such a delight.”
As he walked out of the room, he pointed to the spot that The Prince of Norway had been standing in, “That guy… your… friend? Boyfriend?”
“Oh, he’s just a friend. A very, very good friend.”
“I was going to say — he’s a good guy. I approve.”
Apparently, even though accidents happen and Utah has one of the youngest populations in the country, it is nigh impossible to find a 24-hour pharmacy. Jess drove me all over creation trying to get my prescription filled, but we failed. We grabbed a couple of essentials (frozen pizza and ice cream), she brought me home, and she did some much appreciated nursing before heading off.
Sleeping with only ibuprofen as a pain killer was less than ideal, but I managed. This morning, the third vertex of the Girl Gang trifecta used her lunch break to take me to the pharmacy, help me fill my RX, and make sure I was situated and okay. She actually mentioned to me that she had told a friend what she was doing on her lunch break. “Oh my gosh, was she with a buff guy in a sleeveless shirt?! I heard her screaming from the lift!” #lolol
The Mormon’s mom also called me in a huge panic and asked me what she could do for me. “I can get your groceries, wash your laundry, do your dishes, make you supper, take you to the doctor…?” I assured her that I was fine, and I pinky promised to let her know that I would call on her if there was anything that I needed.
“I know that you’re an incredibly independent person, but you can ask us for anything. We are happy to help. Don’t be too proud.”
I managed to get a follow-up appointment with the orthopedic surgeon today, and as soon as I had it confirmed, I called his mom up and asked her to give me a ride. She was elated to help, and she also brought over a ton of food. God bless Mormons (and also: kind people in general).
At the orthopedic surgeon’s office today, they reiterated how unusual my injury was. “Most hip dislocations in this type of sports accident are anterior — the femoral head pops forward out of the hip socket. You experienced a posterior dislocation, meaning that your femur popped backward out of the hip socket. It takes so much force to dislocate a hip that in the process of a posterior dislocation, the patient usually breaks the posterior wall of the pelvis, the acetabulum. Your dislocation happened so slowly there there was no break. It’s highly unusual, but you’re very lucky.”
Proof that I was not out of control, and it was just a freak accident, which is sort of nice. Had I been going faster or skiing more recklessly, it’s likely that my binding would have actually popped open and released me before the dislocation. Oh, well.
I’m currently on the same recovery plan as someone who has had a hip replacement surgery. I’m on severely restricted physical activity for the next 6-8 weeks, because while my ligaments and tendons scar and tighten up, I’m at risk for re-dislocating, and I never want to feel that amount of pain again. This includes no fitness at all and no bending more than 90 degrees at the hip (sitting upright with feet firmly planted on the ground = 90 degrees).
Because my femur was basically rammed into the muscles in the back of my leg for a few hours, I have some swelling and soreness in my glutes and hamstring. Sitting for extended periods does not feel lovely, but the doc told me I can stand so long as it’s comfortable to do so.
Things that are lovely: good friends and chosen family, beautiful weather, living to see another day, extra time to knit and bake, and drugs that make my face feel warm and fuzzy.