Learning to take the Rough with the Smooth.
I have had a dream year out in Chamonix skiing and climbing with my friends, but like all good things they eventually come to an end, or so I’ve been told. I never really believed ‘them’, my youthful arrogance or general positive nature persuaded me that I would continue learning, getting stronger and climbing and skiing harder. I have not been injured for some three years now and to this date I have never sustained an injury from climbing. On Saturday the 10th however I managed to ‘accomplish’ my first ‘Season Ender’ in a particularly unspectacular skiing crash at the Grand Montets ski area in Chamonix. I managed to break my leg hitting a rock whilst skiing some questionably worthwhile off-piste on my second run of the second day’s skiing this season. I have been informed that I take this years prize of “le premier genou de la saison ” I.e the first knee of the season. Here’s how it happened.
I have kept a kind of journal since the accident. I’m not looking for sympathy from posting it and yes I know people have had worse experiences but it has taken a lot of courage form me to post this here for the world to see. Here it is.
Saturday 10th The day of the Accident.
Here I am, sat in a bed in Sallanches hospital just down from Chamonix. I feel like such an idiot. The winter season that I longed for so much has gone for me now. I was so motivated this morning and now I feel like selling everything remotely climbing a skiing orientated and getting a risk free job as a…..I don’t know something boring. This morning I wanted to go skiing so badly, on this, the first day of the season that I accepted the risk of going it alone, away from the crowds with my soft, unfamiliar legs. I have had much more impressive crashes in my time for sure but today was the first time anything came of it. If anybody had been there to see it they wouldn’t have thought I had broken my Tibial Plato and they probably would have been annoyed at how long it took me to get back to my ski’s that were only a few meters above. I was annoyed at how long it took me to get back to them but I knew when I first tried to stand up that I had done something bad. I hoped that it was a bad sprain or a bruised bone. The initial adrenaline helped with the pain and even lulled me into the idea of finishing the run on one Ski to get myself off the hill. I tried to get it on but couldn’t. The new snow was too soft and my leg was too painful to mess about with that so I sat down on my ski’s and considered my options. As the Adrenaline slowly subsided and the pain in my knee throbbed harder and harder I realized that the only way out was by helicopter, despite being only a few hundred meters from the piste. I got my phone and for some reason rather than calling the rescue services I called my friend Ally first. He’s also first in my phone book so he was easy to find. I think I wanted to hear a familiar voice and hear his ideas on what I should do despite knowing what I had to do. I spoke to him for a few minutes which helped a lot. It helped me feel less alone. There were a few other skiers around me but none of them seemed to notice me shouting for help. I managed to covey the message to the rescue services via my phone (thankfully it had signal and battery) and a group of skiers found me just after I spoke to the PGHM (chamonix helicopter rescue service). It was about 45mins before the helicopter came by which point I was very cold (Bring a spare layer net time idiot!). The Doctor on the helicopter who appeared to be English gave me a dose of morphine and managed to get a few shots on my camera before we arrived at the hospital.
Soon I was sat in the hospital begging the nurses to take of my ski boots and massage my toes!!! “my knees fine but I think me feet are about to fall off!!” I said. I didn’t really expect them to understand but I soon got the message across and I was soon dealing with some pretty severe hot aches in my feet.
I waited for my X-ray during which time a particularly attractive French nurse put in my IV….which was nice and soon I was being wheeled of to the strange dark room with the bizarre camera that glides in from above. I few minutes later after the film was developed and my suspicions were confirmed. “sorry sir but it’s broken” muttered the French radiologist in his best English. I saw the doctor as well who told that I would have to have an operation and that he couldn’t do it until the morning. The nurses drugged me up and put a basic plaster on for the night…..I’m not looking forward to tomorrow.
Sunday 11th Operation time
I was operated on this morning, feeling very groggy right now with a very dead leg. I’ve had some friends visit earlier and I’m not feeling too sad. I feel a bit more like a human pin cushion right now. Man I hate needles. The realization that I’m out of action for a while has crept in now. Not really had a lot of time to think about it but I guess I won’t be in the mountains for a few months. I don’t really want to go back to my parents in Devon but its my only choice right now. No work = no money = no rent = no place to stay. Its kind of a blessing in a way as I was struggling to find a place to stay in Cham anyway. Not feeling that great right now but what can I do. What’s happened has happened and I can’t change things now. I wish I hadn’t hit that rock.
Monday 12th The Rough and the Smooth.
Feeling better now. Lots of pain this morning but they have given me an local anesthetic and its not too bad now. I made a list of stuff that I’m going to work on whilst I’m out of action. Speaking better French is at the top of the list. Its hard to communicate with the doctors and nurses here, they are all friendly enough but I hate feeling like ‘ze stupid English’. I’m not alone in my room now, I have a French guy for company who’s done his knee too. I had a physio session today and I’ve been told that I can’t put any weight on my foot for 6 weeks, and I won’t be walking for 3-4 months and no sport for six. I’m hopeful for a quicker recovery than that but its very unlikely I’ll be back in action in the Spring which is my favorite time in Chamonix. I tried to walk with crutches today too. I made it about 5m before the pain was to much and I got to tiered, hopefully I’ll feel stronger again soon. After I got back to my bed the realization that I wont be able to do what I love for the next few months hit home hard and I cried. Climbing and Skiing is all I have known for the last few years and this will be the longest break from the mountains I have had in the last 6 and I hate the prospect of it. I want to wake from this nightmare now. I want to go out in the fresh air and the beautiful mountains with my awesome mates for more adventures. Maybe one day I’ll look back at this journal and laugh at how week I was. Its only a broken leg for Christ sake and its only a few months, it could be worse.
Tuesday 13th I hate tubes.
A sleepless night last night. This room is unfathomably hot and the new French guy snores like a Pig. He’s nice enough and he’s been helping me with my french which is great. One more day and one less tube coming out of me today. The nurses changed my bandage and removed the drainage tube from my knee. That was an interesting experience. When they started the procedure I soon picked up on the fact that the young nurse that was doing it hadn’t done it before. We both put on our brave faces but she struggled to hide her shaky hands. I tried with my best French to tell her she did a good job even though it hurt like hell. More friends came to visit and I’m so grateful for they’re company. More news tomorrow hopefully.
Wednesday 14th tube freedom
I’ve been told I can leave on Friday! I’m hoping for one last night in Cham before I’m back to Devon with a beer and a home cooked curry with all my mates. I slept very little last night and I was woken this morning by a nurse informing me she was going to take out my IV and local anaesthetic tubes. Always good to start the day with a dose of pain. I thought I was better with pain but it turns out I’m not. Still at least now I don’t have a trolly of various clear bags and tubes to wheel around so I can take myself to the toilet now. Ben came and spent some time with me today and he helped me with my first short expedition down the corridor. I’m getting my strength back now and it was good to leave this room. He showed me the so called ‘two step shuffle’ which he learned when he broke his leg in school. It’s apparently the fastest way of moving on crutches still only using one foot. It basically involves a hop after you put your foot down and before you put your crutches down again. I won’t be trying it for a while but it made me laugh until my stomach hurt watching him fly up and down the corridor… the nurses enjoyed the show too. One of the nurses introduced me to a French guy a similar age to me in another room. I hobbled into his room only to witness a scene that might have haunted the dream of a child. He had broken his femur badly in a speed riding accident the day after me. His room has dark and filled with many miscellaneous machines with strange readouts and many tubes and cables. I could read the pain on his face. We spoke a little with our broken languages and I found out he works for the PGHM and he was actually the same guy who answered the call from me on Saturday. Small world. We had a short chat and I left his room feeling a lot better about my situation and very sad about his. He had a lot of tubes that had to come out at some point!! He also told me that he won’t be walking for 6 months. Poor guy. My room mate has been released today so I’m looking forward to a good nights sleep tonight. The leg’s pretty sore right now but I’m getting used to it. One more day to go until I’m out of here….
I’m used to the injections now. I can count 15 that I have had since I have been here. So much for my good nights sleep too. My leg was very sore and about 2 o’clock they brought in another patient. Another snoring patient. I cant complain really because I’d could be with 10 or 15 patients in a ward back in the UK, I’m just getting a bit crabby from the lack of sleep in the last few days. Still, all good training for the big hills I guess. I also really enjoyed having the window open when I was alone, I always sleep better when I am cold but the 80 something year old guy I’m with now probably won’t. I have been talking with the Austrian Alpine Club insurance company whilst I have been in the hospital. I bought membership with them a year ago after the BMC could no longer insure me because I am resident in Cham most of the time. This whole experience has made me appreciate the value of having good insurance and I can honestly say that the £35 I spent on it was the best money I have ever spent. I have lived and worked and climbed in France without really knowing what what happen if I ever needed to go to hospital.
I have learnt a lot about what you need to have in place to stop your self from walking (or two step shuffling) out of hospital here without a sizeable medical bill. He’s what I have learnt.
- If you haven’t already got your EHIC/E111 card get it. Punch a whole in it and wear it around your neck always or get it surgically inserted into the back of your hand. I will always carry it in the future. This covers 80% of your medical bill in the event of an accident. That’s a lot when a day in a hospital in here costs between 1055 and 2525 euros.
- Get proper insurance. Your insurance should cover the remaining 20% of your bill Get the card, punch a whole in it an but it with EHIC and save the number into your phone. Luckily I’m not in here for long but If I was here for a few months then my insurance with AAC would not be able to cover the whole cost of the remaining 20%.
- Make sure you have repatriation cover. i.e. a way of getting you back to where you need to be. (my parents in Devon in my case). I need to get a ground ambulance all the way as I can’t bend my knee fully right now. 15 hours or so in my own ambulance with a couple of staff (hopefully Blues and Twos the whole way, 160kph straight to Calais, fingers crossed). That would be expensive if I didn’t have insurance hey?
- If you get rescued from the mountain and your not broken then expect to have a bill (unless you have insurance) for the chopper or the PGHM. They are good at what they do and charge accordingly. You have been warned.
- But in the end climbing and skiing are pointless activities that if you pursue for a long time it will end badly. Best just stay at home. Leave it up to the professionals aye.
Still got a few more interesting days to add in the near future.