February 5th, 2015 is a day I will certainly not be forgetting anytime soon.
It was the beginning of the epic storm we had here in the Northwest and after a day of teaching children how to ski I had to get the last few runs in of the day, with my friend and pilot at KSM. It was last lift and he had convinced me to check out a section of trees off the run, so I veered off where I was comfortably bombing down in the blower pow into the trees. All I can remember is feeling strong, confident, like I was really starting to become a good big mountain skier; that all my hard work was paying off. It was day 35 of my ski season and I was scheduled to easily surpass 100 by the time my big Alaska base camp trip was over in the spring.
My last turns were between two tight trees as I saw a jump ahead due to a dip down into what was probably a creek. Not being an avid freeskier I opted not to take the jump and veered right. Then somehow I was falling forward, and I heard/felt a giant pop. My best guess is my ski got caught on something and as I tried to roll onto my side to easily get back up and keep going, my slightly-too-high DIN setting and my tech bindings kept my leg in place just long enough for things to snap rather than follow along with the rest of my body. The sinking feeling as a child that you’ve done something very bad and are going to be in big trouble with your parents is exactly how I felt. Stupidly I realized I had no whistle on my jacket; I was so used to always being in the backcountry and having all my gear with me in my pack if anything ever went wrong. So I screamed at the top of my lungs for a few minutes. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get very far, especially with my friend having been ahead of me. At this point my extensive bush training and first aid skills came into play. Always talking to myself out loud for moral support and to keep my blood pressure down, I unhooked my leash from my boot, left my ski where it was, and proceeded to get myself up on one leg. I used my adrenaline to traverse downslope and out of the trees, getting as far down on the run as I could. I then sat myself down and elevated my leg by putting it upslope, hoping someone would find me skiing down the run once my friend had gone for patrol at the bottom.
I was very adamant to every first aider and paramedic that no one would be taking my boot off until I was at the hospital, partly because of pain and partly because I knew it was my best splint at the time. I had visions of an old boyfriend when he broke his leg on a planting block, and the best thing anyone could have done for him was kept his hiking boot on and applied a splint right away. So alas I was stubborn. I knew from the start something was broken, but when the doctor came in post xrays at the hospital and told me I was broken my fibula, I was shocked. The lesser of the leg bones, luckily, but I had also managed to completely tear all the ligaments in my ankle off the bone, offsetting my tibia too. Surgery it was, in three days time. One can perhaps imagine for a person who has never even had stitches before, to now have a plate and 6 screws in her leg to be quite a big deal.
Reality quickly set in as my livelihood was completely rearranged, including my line of work. I tried to be overly optimistic in the beginning, especially showing up to Rock Talk the week after my surgery. Over time I realized my chances of a field season were slim, and that I would have to work extremely hard. Even now, nearly 9 months later, I am still recovering. It has taken a large amount of pain, persistence, and perseverance just to be where I am today. I began swimming without the use of my legs 4 weeks after the accident, I took my first steps without the use of crutches nearly 8 weeks after the accident. I did huge amounts of physiotherapy in the spring along with even more swimming, yoga, pilates, kayaking, and climbing to get myself as ready as I could be for my field season. Then I spent the whole summer battling large amounts of pain as my leg tried to fast track muscle building (which isn’t really realistic, for the record). BUT. It was possible. I was able to mostly resume my lifestyle in a mere 4 months. You would be amazed at what a positive mind and the healing human body can do together. I have become a better geologist, tree planter, skier, and person in general. It has humbled me and made me further appreciate all the small things in life. My legs are my livelihood as a mapper, and I truly cherish that now.
I will leave you with a letter I wrote to my friends, family, and community here in the Northwest for all their support and love. This is how I was really able to heal!
So, I broke my leg, tore some ligaments, big deal right? Well, for someone who spends every day outside, active, doing something that requires the use of both legs…its a pretty big deal. For someone who spends 5-6 months out of the year hanging out on the side of a mountain with 50 lbs resting on her hips, climbing in fallen trees bigger than trucks and scaling cliffs, or traversing peaks and glaciers carrying gross amounts of rocks in her backpack…its a terribly big deal. For someone who relies on their legs for their livelihood, their line of work, whether it be planting, mapping, skiing…its a HUGE reality check. Everything changed the moment I felt that pop.
It is at this point I must thank the efforts of everyone who helped to get me from the side of a mountain in a cold blizzard to a warm hospital bed with drugs. The pain washes away a lot of what actually transpired, but I remember trying to do my best at not being terribly annoying and as appreciative as possible. I am so thankful for each and every one of you for doing a fantastic job. Those were some of the most important moments and all of you made it as easy for me as it could
The initial stages of healing, in reality, aren’t THAT bad. I can deal with pain, no problem. Give me all the torn ligaments you want! Six weeks of hobbling on crutches, it could be a lot worse. I remind myself of that every. single. day. I quickly adapted to the extra effort it takes to do everything in daily life. A glass of water, getting dressed, bathing, doing laundry, turning off a light switch. Its incredible, the amount of movements, habits, that we take for granted. We fail to see how perfectly and in tune our body has to work to execute these tasks. How everything has to work as part of a team, and if something is broken, the efforts become increasingly more difficult. My favourite is getting up in the middle of the night to go to the washroom. This requires serious skills. My usual stumble into the bathroom with eyes half open is a thing of the past. Now I have to balance properly to get myself up off my mattress on the floor, tricky on one leg, and proceed to open the door and manoeuvre myself. I can’t be half asleep and on crutches, it requires large amounts of focus, especially in the dark. This is one thing that has not become any easier, because I always have to force myself to be much more awake than I want to be.
I joke about the fact that I don’t have to do laundry as often because my socks last twice as long. I also love to ask someone to please pass me my “shoe”, referring to the singular and not plural because I am indeed only needing one of them these days.
Its a funny thing, looking at something that is broken. Its also a weird feeling that I have not used my leg for the last 6 weeks. How it becomes so much of a habit, and yet not at all. Its amazing how your body can adapt. I have watched in amazement as my leg has slowly started to feel more “normal”. First, it started to let me sleep through the night, instead of waking up in pain every time I tried to move from whatever position I was in. Then the swelling subsided and it began to reveal itself again to me; bruised, smelly, but healing. A ray of light telling me, ‘Hey, I got this, don’t worry, we’ll walk together again soon!’
I push every part of this injury every single day. First, it was being able to wear pants…taking off my cast and precariously slipping leggings or pants that wouldn’t fit over the cast over my leg. Most times early on I paid the price for pushing too hard. For walking too much, being too active even though I just went and hung out at Shames for the day, or had a road trip to Smithers. My leg would tell me to fuck off, stop it, chill out, RELAX. Something I am incredibly terrible at. Again I would feel defeated, every time I had to take one of those stupid T3s. To wash away the waves of pain that would leave me bed ridden but unable to sleep. Second was fighting off those pain meds. Before the surgery, they were a godsend, allowing me to function and be mostly awake. After the surgery, I was done with them! Or so I thought. I took to being okay with taking them at night, but even early on I pushed that button. It was at 3am I would be reminded why I needed the pain meds. At this point in a half asleep stupor I would be searching for the bottle beside my bed, popping them, and then trying to entertain myself until I finally felt the ease to be able to fall back into much needed sleep. Third, was my mobility. The fact that I cannot drive has been a huge blow to my life. That I cannot run the most minute of errands, and simply get anywhere without the help of someone else is something I have never experienced before. I am an extremely nomadic person, and so this has been the ultimate test. I have tried not to see my house as a prison, but sometimes it has certainly felt that way. Fourth is sleep. In the beginning it came and went based on pain, but as the pain began to subside and I regained some strength, the little amounts of exercise I was doing weren’t enough. The idea of sleep became torturous, as it was something I could not achieve. Tossing and turning for hours at night, to be lucky if I got 4 or 5 hours only to wake up and lay in bed until the daylight came. Sleeping in late to try and waste more of the day so that it would blend into the next. Time cannot pass quick enough. This goes into the fifth, and most difficult push. Recovery. Counting down the days until I can bear weight on my leg, and even then that will only be the beginning of a much longer recovery. It has felt so fast, 6 weeks.
By far, the most amazing part of my recovery has been the support. I wish I could begin the express all the ways in which every single one of you have been the reason I have breezed through this. Never for a second did I want skiing to be something that I looked upon with dismay or sorrow, for I would not be able to do for some time. No way. I have done the opposite, continued to immerse myself in it in every way possible. The ski community here, my ski community, has only helped in facilitating that. Whether it be sitting with me at Shames to have a beer or two, posting observations or articles on backtalk, letting me sit in on guide meetings or simply just shooting me a message, a text, a call, to see how my recovery is going. Another HUGE part of this, has been talking injuries. To share stories, listen and learn from others on how I can be better. How I can be a better healer, a better skier, a better person. I have been searching for that everyday. So thank you, because each and every one of you have provided suggestions, advice, tips, that have all been instrumental in helping to better myself in so many ways.
I have learnt so much about myself, over these past 6 weeks. I know I will continue to learn as I proceed through recovery, with the help of my team…thats you guys! I am proud of myself, but I am much more proud of my team. For those of you who have answered my calls when I really needed someone to talk to, thank you.
I have also realized how strong my body is. I have a new appreciation for what it can do. Being a figure skater, a track athlete, a skier, a planter, I always put the focus of my strength on my legs. But now, I realize how MUCH I can still accomplish without both of them.
One of the most important things I have experienced, is that having a big injury doesn’t mean you have to stop living the life you love. Yes I have had limitations to what I can do, but thanks to all of your help, I have accomplished so much. I have been back in the mountains, I have kayaked, done yoga, gone to parties, attended guide meetings, gone to a conference, done road trips, gone swimming, so many wonderful things that would not have been possible without the help of others. Most of you will attest to the fact that I haven’t really slowed down, and I don’t intend to. I will be pushing harder than ever in the next step of my recovery, to go above and beyond where I was before February 5…
In fact I finish this letter as I am sitting outside, on a picnic table at Shames. Throughout this unexpected challenge my love for skiing has only increased, I am as passionate and determined as ever. Thank you, from the bottom of heart.
Once those peaks glisten white again next fall, you’ll be hearing from me.