It has been 6 months since my accident in Verbier, in that time I have spent a lot of time reflecting. This has undoubtedly been the hardest experience of my life.
Although things are continuing to improve and I am optimistic and excited for the future. The challenge of injury is always interesting, the sense of purpose profound.
Once again the ball is rolling and I am on a mission to return to Freeride. On a whim, and maybe as a way to understand things for myself I wrote this account of an extremely weird and painful two weeks in the pain room at Sion hospital, Switzerland.
24 hours post break, and I'm pretty sure my roommate is insane.
Grunt - snort - extended conversation with… no one I guess? - Or actually, is he talking to me?
No, surely not, there’s a curtain between us and he's not even stopping for breath, but then again, how would I know if he's talking to me, the only French I understand is the type that gets me a coffee and a pain au chocolate.
Listen harder; maybe he's trying to give me a coffee and a pain au chocolate?
I'd like that.
Come to think of it, it's difficult to tell what’s going on here, I have had a lot of morphine. Actually, too much morphine, I know this because the nurse said "Maybe we gave you too much morphine" to which I responded with a quick chuckle, and then just tried my hardest to hold my head on the top of my neck. I'm pretty sure they removed my neck bones during the surgery. I said right leg damn it...
Coming to terms with the fact that I have ended my season only days before starting my third season on the Freeride World Tour is difficult, more so, as I was skiing better than ever!
Even still, my first day in the hospital is pretty good. The surgery was a success, the morphine is doing its job (too well) and I haven't spilled my pee bottle on the floor yet.
I have a bed by the window and the view is pretty good too.
The only thing on my mind is the surgeons’ last words “If you are in extreme pain, and the morphine doesn’t have any effect, things are turning bad and you need to call us”
This is unsettling. Plus, I have now accepted the fact that my roommate is, in fact, mad.
Bing! Excuse me, Nurse? Are there, um, any other rooms I could move too? My roommate makes me uncomfortable..
Ahhh yes, I don't think he is a very good fit for you. Yes, ok, we can move you.
Score! Another window-side bed, my roommate is sane, and the view is even better!
But now I am back to 8 out of 10 pain, I have compartment syndrome, and I could lose my leg, so that's bad.
Back I go, into the black hole which is general anaesthetic, a place even further removed from time than dreamless sleep, and my short trip to the hospital slowly starts to lengthen.
The return to life from surgery is always weird. I snap back into existence, shivering wildly and manage to spark up a conversation with the nurse in the best French I have ever spoken. I have no idea what I said, because it was in French, and I don’t speak French.
On returning to my room, my wounds are checked, and I come to understand the extent of my current state of openness.
Both sides of my leg have been sliced open, stuffed with gauze, and loosely laced to keep them from opening any further, while I bleed my swelling away.
I can barely move my foot and my toes don’t work, but I have some feeling, this is important.
I set to work, trying my best to respond sincerely to the kind messages of support from friends and strangers. Most of my responses are total nonsense, due to the drugs, for example:
“Thank bunch for the jkmeessahomgb me”
The following two weeks are pretty dark.
My pain levels sit consistently between 6 and 8 out of 10, something I gauge off the initial 9 out of 10 I experienced during the initial shattering of my leg.
I’m maxing out my pain meds and sleeping pills, and the loneliness of being away from friends and family mixed with the language barrier and total uncertainty of everything from when I’ll be able to poo to when I’ll be able ski is wrecking my mind.
The issue is that I am in an emergency hospital, and if a patient arrives in critical condition I get bumped off the list for surgery.
So I spend the better part of a week on call for surgery, which often means foregoing food and drink for a whole day as I need an empty stomach before going under.
There is something inherently troubling about being left open for days on end.
Filled to the brim with unusual substances, I wake up feeling soft and comfortable. More comfortable than I have ever felt.
In fact, the whole room feels soft, I can’t touch it but I can see, and hear it.
Every edge is smooth; every corner is almost spherical. I shouldn’t know this but I do, my senses are trading inputs. My outputs are confused. The feeling builds, and this indescribable roundness and softness is rapidly encroaching upon me, like a mink bubble wrap nightmare.
I panic, I scream and I frantically shout for help. I’m sure that if it grows much more I’ll be trapped forever.
Finally, the tangy smell of a nurses overworked armpit levels me out, my face buried in her shoulder.
A week and a half has passed, I’m finally closed, I did my first poo a few days ago, and I have a new roommate. He’s also mad.
During my stay I have been heavy on the call button, so in an effort to cut down on nurse calls, I try to find ways to optimise on each one. The most obvious is the pee bottle. Through a tentative trial period, I conclude that I can fit 3 bladders worth into one bottle, resulting in a 60% reduction in pee bottle empties by the nurses. It’s pure genius.
However, despite my good intentions, I create more work.
With a janky twitch of a wrist, while reaching for more snacks, or during a poorly executed bottle to bedside relocation, my dreams of optimisation are dashed. And somehow, after the third pee related mishap, it’s the same nurse on call each time. She doesn’t speak English, but I recognise a couple of naughty French words.
On the whole, things are getting better, my friend Elisabeth Gerritzen made the podium in Hakuba, and I’m making really good progress in “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the wild”, and I am pretty sure that my morning poos are dense enough to fuel an interplanetary delivery ship.
Oh, and I can move my foot and toes a little bit now, and someone told me I don’t have necrosis, which is great news.
Although, necrosis sounds more like the kind of dark magic you’d use to control a skeleton army. Which I’d be down with. Maybe next time. For now I will settle with being a cyborg, on account of the titanium rod in my leg.
The final five days are a notable improvement on the first week and a half. I still wrestle with anxiousness and sleeplessness, but at least I can get out of bed for 15 mins at a time, a few times each day for some good old fashioned freedom.
The pain of having my leg below my waist is bad, but it’s a small price to pay to ditch the sweaty confines of the hospital bed with it’s bed pans and sponge baths.
Adventures, are initially restricted to within the walls of my ward, but I quickly progress to quick jaunts outside the hospital building – Things are finally picking up!
Right on the two week mark, I am released from hospital. Thanks only to the exceptional skill of the Sion hospital staff my muscles and nerves are still alive and I get to leave weighing roughly the same as I did on entry, with my leg is still attached and a pin in my shin.
Two more days of brutal independence and I make a break for New Zealand.
At home, things are in my own hands, and with unwavering focus I set on my mission to return to the sport I love.