I decided to make the most out of the President's Day long weekend by driving my trusty Jeep out to the mountains of Western North Carolina to do some mountain biking and some skiing. I got in some memorable cycling on both Saturday and Sunday. A bit on the wet, and cold side - but soul searching climbs and exhilarating downhills are always worth the trip. It never fails that every time I visit the Mountains I become further enamored with them, the solace, the friendly people, and naturally - the riding.
Come Monday though, I decided to go skiing on Beech Mountain, near Boone, NC. The weather had been a typical mountain mixture of cold days, colder nights and the occasional freak high during the days. There was some fresh snow, but with the fluctuating temperatures there was a lot of ice on the slopes. I enjoyed around 5-7 decent runs. However, on my fateful last run of the day, as I neared the bottom of the slope I made a sharp left hand turn, on what turned out to be a bumpy, off camber piece of hill. Therein was my mistake. I'm not a really good skier to begin with, and I'd had some instability on that part of the run previously and probably should have snowplowed (making a wedge with my skis) instead of overestimating my skiing abilities and attempting to execute a 'real' turn. I began feel a little unstable, a little too fast, and then before I could react my balance went awry, and I fell. During the course of my fall and the following slide I heard a loud pop and ended up down the hill a fair distance, in a lot of pain. As I laid prone on the slope, a few minutes passed where I was hoping that the crash would be similar to one of my innumerable cycling crashes where the pain is intense for a short period of time, but generally speaking there is little real damage done. Deeper in my mind though, I was hoping very much that the crash wasn't going to be a repeat of my fibula snapping 2001 motorcycle crash.
As I was prostrate upon the snow, thinking about my state I began chewing on the Velcro closure strap of my jacket to distract myself from the pain and muttering unspeakable utterances (my first real sign that things weren't really okay). Allow me to elaborate about the Velcro chewing...in recent memory, only twice have I chewed upon anything to alleviate pain. First, following my motorcycle accident and the ensuing crawl away from the wreck I chewed on clumps of grass. Next, and more recently I nearly tore a hole into a t-shirt after my first experiment injecting tincture of benzoin into a blister resulting from a 2004 trail ultra-marathon/speed hiking venture.
Gathering my thoughts and my equipment, I managed to convince myself that I would be okay to at least ski slowly back down and call it a day. I then attempted to clip my right ski boot back onto the ski. Having never before experienced a knee injury, the feeling of my femur and tibia sliding around wasn't once I was fully prepared for. It was then, while I was falling once again onto the snow that I realized I perhaps, had injured myself more than I had hoped. I then started to think that maybe, maybe I hurt myself for a reason – maybe, if it was something serious I was meant to get out of the Army and work in medicine as I've been thinking of doing...or if the injury wasn't serious, that I was just trying to cope with a potentially bad situation. In any case, it was a thought provoking little bit of pain.
I limped slowly over to the lift shack, and asked the resort employee if he wouldn't mind calling the Ski Patrol. He quickly obliged although he looked at me a little quizzically (I think I may have come across as inordinately calm for someone asking to get pulled off the mountain). After waiting a few minutes, a very nice, and very petite ski patrol woman came down to help escort me off the mountain. On the way up to the top of the mountain, we had a nice conversation about our various sports injuries, and I had a few minutes to enjoy the view from "The Highest Ski Area in North Carolina". After the ride to the top, the real fun began.
At 5,300 feet above sea level, I was greeted by two other Ski Patrol members, one gorgeous black haired younger girl, and a middle aged guy. There was also the yellow sled into which I was to be strapped for my ride, and the very young (ski clad!) son of my first Ski Patrol friend. The little guy couldn't have been more than 5, and was fascinated by the goings on with the yellow sled. My leg was placed into a splint, and I was secured into the sled for the ride down. The ride down was truly a unique experience. The pretty young girl was pulling the sled down, and the older, petite woman was holding a rope and skiing behind the sled ensuring it didn't go too fast. Also, and a bit to my chagrin, the little boy was skiing right next to his mom, down a fairly fast section of mountain, with nary a sign of concern on his nearly infantile countenance. That'll take a guy down a peg or two. The sled ride went off without a hitch, and I was seen by the first aid people at the ski resort, and referred to Watuga Hospital in Boone, which thankfully accepted the military health care plan.
The drive down from the resort to the Hospital (20 miles through mostly mountain roads) was less than a good time, but I made it without any significant problems aside from a fair amount of discomfort. At the hospital in Boone, I was seen fairly quickly, and had some nice, although brief conversation with some students from the local college (Appalachian State University) who were there escorting an injured friend who had fallen on her head. As is my nature, when I'm in pain, I make jokes and try to remain as lighthearted as possible. I had fun waiting around in the ER, talking with the various hospital employees and other patients/escorts and wheeling around in my chair. After being seen and evaluated by a doctor, I was given a knee brace and crutches, and a shot of an anti-inflammatory to allow me to drive back to Fayetteville without unacceptable pain. 4 hours later I was back in Fayetteville, attempting to get a few hours of sleep before I had to be up and seen by the Army Medical personnel.
After a couple of Physician's Assistants visits, and a painful initial first Physical Therapy visit, it looks like I'll be waiting until mid-March to find out what the true problem with my knee is, as I'll have to wait until the swelling goes down to make the best use of the MRI. The recovery time looks like anywhere from 4-12 months depending upon what in fact is wrong. Time will tell, but patience isn't something I've got in spades when it comes to my body.