Break a Leg!


A friend of mine has been telling me, for years, that Mont Tremblant is an exceptional place to visit for a ski vacation and that, specifically, Club Tremblant is the best value around for an all-inclusive stay. That includes lodging in a great atmosphere, lift tickets for the duration, lessons from a top ski school (one of its instructors had trained two skiers who went to Torino for the just concluded Winter Olympics) and three meals a day (a diverse buffet breakfast, a “ski-lunch” which included a sandwich, drink, fruit and snacks, and a five-course French dinner).

After a few years of going back and forth with plans, I finally decided to commit and headed up there for a first-hand look. It was everything my friend said it would be, and more. Mont Tremblant is located about one-and-a-half hours northwest of Montreal, surrounded by beautiful mountains and visual landscapes that would impress most anyone. I had an amazing time but, alas, it all came to an end too soon.

At the end of the second day my group decided to finish out the afternoon with a run called “Flying Mile”, a double-diamond trail (which for non-skiers equates to an expert trail) that I’d skied on a few times earlier in the day. The run includes two very steep descents but not much else of concern. I handled both descents with ease and quickly reached the lower portion of the trail just above where it meets up with a green (or novice) trail leading to the base of the mountain. My friend Dave, a much more seasoned skier than I am, was directly ahead of me and, as usual, flying over the terrain as if it weren’t even there. I had a fleeting thought that I hoped he wouldn’t get too far ahead.

At this point I really am at a loss as to what fully transpired. I wanted to turn to my right but when I transferred my weight to my left ski (which is basically how you turn right) nothing happened. I looked down to see my left boot floating slightly above, and free, of my left ski. Hmmm. That’s not right. I then tried to get it back into the binding by pushing down on my left foot. It came shooting right back up at me and my knee hit me in the chest. A smart person would have stopped right there. I tried once more to get control of the left ski and that’s when I lost my perspective, and my balance.

In an instant I was vertically airborne. Something stood me straight up and sent me a bit into the air. A moment later I heard the absolute distinct sound of breaking bone and an even shorter moment later I felt the excrutiating pain of the break shoot through my entire body.

I then slammed into the ground and managed to end up on my left side facing downhill with my left ski firmly trapped beneath my body. I looked down at my feet and saw my left ski boot facing up towards the sky. That clearly wasn’t right. I then looked away and felt it slowly fall, on its own, down onto the snow into what was somewhat the right position.

Understand that I’ve been the recipient of many injuries in my life. I was a pretty active kid and managed to break bones, tear ligaments and tendons, have countless scars from equally countless stitches and have had a several surigical procedures that required rehab. None of those experiences prepared me for the pain I was feeling at this moment. Stars kept appearing every few moments. I couldn’t focus. All I could do was lay there and scream out in agony.

Thankfully my instructor and a couple of my fellow ski lesson team weren’t far behind. They came to my aid almost immediately, which is to say that it only seemed like an eternity before someone showed up. My instructor, Simon (a great instructor regardless of my dilemma), was by my side and quickly called the Ski Patrol. As time went on, Steve, one of the other skiers on my team, stuck by my side continually trying to reassure me and do anything he could to comfort me (which pretty much amounted to trying to distract me when the biggest thrusts of pain materialized). Steve, I’ll never forget you and the time you spent with me that day. I only wish I knew where to reach you to properly thank you. I hope someone reads this who does know you and passes on the word.

After another short eternity (again, only seemingly so) Ski Patrol appeared as did Bob who was a member of the ski lesson organization. I still don’t know just how many people where around me, but it seemed like quite a large group. Martin, a French-Canadian member of the Ski Patrol was noteworthy. He kept asking me bizarre questions that I realized later were meant to keep me focused away from the pain and to try and keep me from going into shock. He was also funny as hell at a time when being funny is simply priceless.

Bob, Simon, Martin, Steve and the rest of the group checked me over from top-to-bottom and quickly came to realize that my left foot was in bad shape but that the rest of me was, thankfully, more or less intact. Not intact were the three layers of ski gear I had on my lower half. My thermals, inner layer and outer layer all needed to be cut away to check for a compound fracture and blood. The only relief I gained during these awkward moments came when the once-over proved to find no skin break or blood. I recall begging them to find a way to avoid cutting my pants as I’d just spent several hundred dollars on them. They also fit me flawlessly, which isn’t always the easiest thing to find in skiwear. No such option existed. They had to go.

It was after this analysis that it was time to start planning for my next move. Martin informed me that they’d need to turn me on my back and that it was going to hurt. The group slowly turned me over and Martin’s words proved accurate. I screamed out to which Martin suggested I scream louder. As an example he yelled out “Merde!” for all to hear.  He said I should go ahead and scream whatever foul-mouthed phrasing I thought might help at the moment (which actually helped). He then went ahead to describe the next action by saying, “Now Rich, we’re going to have to get your leg into a splint and it’s going to hurt far worse than you can possibly imagine.” Some of you might think that such frankness was a bit uncalled for at this point, but you’d be dead wrong. It was entirely what I needed to hear. That comment earned my complete faith in Martin as a no-bullshit professional and that’s just what I wanted around me at a time like this. Sure enough, when they put the leg in the splint I begged everyone there to just cut the leg off. I remember nearly losing consciousness and the overwhelming shaking that came with the onset of shock. The pain continued with every string they needed to tie and tighten around my crippled leg.

It was then time to lift me, by my remaining clothing, onto the toboggan for the trip down the remainder of the mountain. I had never thought about this journey before, having seen many people comfortably wrapped in warm blankets slide quietly by me on their own toboggan ride to the local mountain clinic. What I didn’t realize was just how bumpy that ride was going to be. It felt as if the Ski Patrol decided to take me down a rocky trail. Thankfully Martin was in my view the entire time and kept reassuring me of our progress and that I’d be fine. At the end of the trail I was hoisted into an awaiting ambulance that felt oddly like a hearse from my vantage point — the roof just inches from my nose. We then drove a short distance to the mountain’s medical clinic. That trip, like the toboggan ride, was also anything but smooth.

I was then rolled from the ambulance and into the clinic where I was immediately taken in to be seen by two doctors. I’m still not sure what degree Brett had as he kept referring to his partner as “The Doctor” but clearly Brett was pretty capable himself. This being Quebec where most everyone speaks with a heavy French accent, I was shocked to hear Brett speak perfect accent-free English. Turns out that was just a lark as he too was born and raised in Quebec.

Anyway, Brett and the doctor had me transferred from the toboggan onto the exam table/bed and looked me over. The pain was mind-numbing. I could tell that the bulk of the pain was in my lower left leg. In fact, most of it was coming from down below the boot. It felt as if someone was trying desperately to strangle my shin with a metal clasp, continually constricting it. It was at that moment that a horrifying thought hit me. I was still wearing my ski boots. Anyone that skis knows what I’m talking about. If you don’t ski, suffice to say that putting on or taking off a ski boot is not like dealing with sneakers. My wife and son have been skiing for four years now and still have significant difficulty removing their own boots without help. Your feet are almost hermatically sealed into your boots.

I asked Brett if my boot needed to come off. Dumb question I know, but it had to be asked. He told me that, yes, it had to come off. He then pointed out that I was lucky I was here and not at the hospital. Hospital staff generally would have no idea how to get ski boots off while the mountain staff did it all the time. All through this discussion I just couldn’t imagine having broken a bone down in the boot. It just didn’t seem possible. Both Brett and the doctor slowly, but with surgical precision, removed the boot from my left leg and the pain was only a fraction of what I expected, which is to say that I only nearly passed out from it.

Once that was taken care of the slow process of taking x-rays began. I begged for pain killers but “The Doctor” refused saying he needed to know what exactly I was dealing with before going down that path. It was at this point that I turned to Simon and said, “I can’t believe that just last night at the bar you and I had a conversation about what would happen if an American got hurt up here given the lack of support for our health plans.” Yep, we actually discussed that very subject in detail. Turns out that when that happens you’re expected to come up with either cash or payment via Visa or Mastercard on the spot. Thankfully, unlike America, all the details of this sort of thing were left for after my medical needs were dealt with.

The x-rays were taken and the results weren’t very promising. I’d clearly fractured my left tibia (the larger of the two leg bones also known as the shin bone) in two places. There was a clean break on a 45 degree angle and then above the break the bone cracked in a upward spiral (like a candy cane) and then a chip was hanging off at the top of the spiral. I’d also managed to break my ankle literally in half. It was at this point that the doctor offered me a couple codiene tablets which had no discernable effect what-so-ever.

I then joked that, given the situation, I was only sorry that I wouldn’t get to see the video taken that very day of my skiing. Everyone involved in lessons gets videotaped and we were all due to see them at the bar just before dinner. Bob, who took the video himself, ran out to his vehicle and returned with his digital camcorder and proceeded to show me my video! It was surreal and such a welcome gesture. I looked at the video and couldn’t resist the urge to try and will myself to stop right then in a vain attempt to avoid my current situation.

As the clinic experience started to come to a close, I realized that I was sitting there with no shoes and no real remaining pants. Simon, our instructor, had just changed on the way over to the clinic and offered me his ski pants. Thank God for that as no one else seemed to have a solution to this problem. He also removed the inner liner from my right ski boot which contains a very solid shoe-like object. These two items would get me back to my room. Simon also managed to track down my friend Dave, who, at that point, was entirely uncertain as to my whereabouts and thought he’d just managed to lose me at the base of the mountain.

Anyway, the staff managed to fit me into a large van and get me back to the hotel where Simon, Dave and a staff member helped carry me into my room. It was quite a humbling experience to say the least. The clinic had isolated my leg with a temporary partial cast and ace bandages and the pain started to become manageable so I decided to go and try and enjoy dinner. Thankfully the hotel also provided me with a wheelchair to use. At the hotel lounge I met up with Steve and his family along with another team member and his family. Everyone was so geniunely concerned about my situation. It was quite moving. Bob even showed up at my table to make sure everything was okay and insisted I call him if I needed anything.

I spent one final night at Club Tremblant but the pain was simply too much come morning and I had to tell Dave that we had to head home, 10 hours, in the snow. Ironically Dave got a call from someone watching his house. A tree had fallen on it so it seemed fitting that we head out anyway. We drove to the medical clinic for a final evaluation where I got the thumbs up to head home. They also prescribed a healthy dose of hypomorphone which later sent me on a fantastical personal journey that I can only imagine is like LSD. Unfortunately when we went to leave Dave found the truck had a flat tire. He tried to change it only to find the wheel fused onto the rotor and had to drive it flat into town for repairs.

I waited semi-comfortably in a warm bed at the clinic. Brett came to me with the bill and I braced for the bad news. I fully expected a bill of $2,000 to $4,000 and was astonished to find the entire thing came to less than $600 Canadian or about $450 US. Wow. Canadians clearly are doing something right up there with regard to health care. I should also mention that Club Tremblant and the ski school saw to it that we got a complete refund for the unused days. The only resistance we got was from the mountain itself over our lift tickets. I’d called that morning and was told that it was no problem to refund the unused portion, but when Dave showed up to get the refund Customer Service there said they never did that (which wasn’t true) but still went ahead and gave us the refund.

Anway, after 10 more hours on the road during which I had several trippy experiences, we got home and my wife and son finally got to see the results first-hand. It was quite a shock. My wife said it was so much worse than she could have imagined. I was just relieved to be home. The three of them got me set up for the night on my family room couch and I was soon fast asleep.

The next morning I headed to my own orthopedic surgeon who took more x-rays and informed me that the break was a bad one. There was some good news. In all his years he said he’d never seen a break like this where the fibula (the smaller rear leg bone) hadn’t broken as well. The end result was a prognosis of five to six months in a cast and several months of rehab getting back to walking again. There was talk of surgery to insert a rod into the center of my tibia (the type that stays there permanently). Thankfully it appeared that the bones were aligned well so, for now, surgery doesn’t seem necessary.

The pain is, so far, a 24/7 kind of pain. It’s there waiting for me the moment I wake up and the doctor says it’ll be three to four weeks before the bones start to re-connect at which point the pain should mutate into something different. I found it interesting that he didn’t say “something better”. I spent the first four days on no more than a total of about 2 hours sleep. The same situation kept cropping up. I’d get entirely fatigued and doze off. Suddenly I’d be jarred out of sleep by immense pain and realized that I somehow moved my leg violently in my sleep. Worse, I would realize I was only asleep for a matter of minutes when I’d awaken. This kept repeating for hours and days on end. It got to the point where I was afraid to fall asleep. Over time I realized I was dreaming about the accident, vividly. The doctor told me this was quite normal and that as soon as I relaxed fully, my brain took over and kept reliving the experience including trying to move my leg out of harms way, which of course, just resulted in more pain. Thankfully that hasn’t happened now in over a week. The closest thing to it was a beautiful dream I had one night where I was healthy and running on a mountain in the summer. What I didn’t know was that apparently, in my sleep, my legs were also carrying out the act. I found out the hard way when I was snapped out of the dream with a bolt of pain when my leg fell off the bed. I screamed so loud that my wife thought I’d been shot.

I’m now slowly going insane from being trapped in my bedroom for most of the day. Trips to the bathroom (just feet from my bed) result in a 20-minute ordeal of preparation, action and frustration. The cast runs so far up my thigh that just sitting on the toilet isn’t really possible. I’ve had to resort to taking “showers” while sitting on a plastic patio chair in my shower with my leg hanging out the side and the water just basically falling onto me the entire time. If I need more food during the day a trek downstairs is a commitment that requires at least an hour round-trip, not to mention the nap I need when I get back.

One positive is technology. A week before the trip I finally figured out how to get remote desktop control working on my desktop PC.  I have my laptop set up on an adjustable laptop/breakfast table next to my bed and that connects to the PC wirelessly as if I’m sitting right in front of it. I’ve also suddenly become a big fan of watching movies on my laptop which is something I never really bothered with before. I suspect I’ll be adding quite a large number of movies to my DVD collection over the coming months.

Meanwhile, Dave sent me the pictures he took at Tremblant and they were all stunning. Several family members and friends have asked me if I’m going to ski again. Of course they ask in that odd way that tells you that they really aren’t asking. Instead they want to just shake you silly and say, “Look you stupid bastard, this is a warning to not bother with this dangerous sport any longer. You’re not 15 or 20 anymore. Go back to golf or bowling.” They’re all well-meaning but ultimately they’re going to be disappointed. I’m entirely dejected that my season is already over and that I now have an even longer wait than normal for the next season to get here. Skiing just has that way of getting under your skin, at least for me. I suspect I’ll take things a bit slowly at first, but how long that will last is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t bet on the long side of that one. I’m also going to be very eager to get back to Tremblant. The experience was just amazing from start to finish. If you like skiing and want a great experience in the Northeast, give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed and odds are your trip won’t end like mine. Don’t waste time at the resorts on the mountain itself. Stay at Club Tremblant and you’ll get the best of all worlds for a price you won’t believe.

As far as my progress I’ve had one improvement already. I managed to cut out the morphine. It was really doing a number on me. Every single side-effect listed I managed to experience. Every dream I had was a nightmare with most of them involving my accident. Those that didn’t were just completely bizarre. In one, a large horse was trying to get into my house to kill me and then, out of nowhere, a local professional boxer showed up and beat the living daylights out of it. If you know the meaning of that one, please, send me a hint. As far as hallucinations, I have a painting above my fireplace in the family room that’s essentially a painting looking down on the tops of several houses along a beach. All the buildings and landscape are done in stark colors and distinct shapes. One morning I “awoke” (or so I thought) to see the painting taunting me by twisting the shapes into letters that formed words like, “Pain”, “Danger”, “Torture” and so on. I love that painting but I’ll never look at it the same again. All of this was just the tip of the iceberg. The morphine had to go. I mentioned all this to the doctor and he put me on something called oxycodone which sounds like more codeine to me. It only takes the edge off the pain and makes me a bit drousy but leaves my head alone. For now, that’ll do.

So, if you don’t see me posting for a bit, you’ll know why. Oh, and if you know of a good place to get deals on Mountain Hardwear ski pants, drop me a note. I’ll need to replace those for next year.

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