I’d never been known for being graceful. Today was to be no exception.
There were no clouds in the sky at all. I remember that. And I remember thinking I hadn’t seen blue that intense since scuba diving Cozumel’s 90 foot wall of coral.
Picture this: double black diamond trails, thick with new snow…no tracks but mine…cold sharp air kissing my face so hard I looked like I had been making-out at a drive-in movie the entire previous night (a proficiency I honed in High School). I took a deep breath, inhaling pure joy. What a great weekend for a church retreat. After all the whack-a-doodle boyfriends and bosses over the last seventeen years, I’d made it through. I had recently remarried, having left a Madison Avenue marketing career. I was now a respected ‘Family Minister’ at my California Lutheran Church. There was money in the bank, and I was in tip-top ‘buff ’ shape. Hey, even both my grown kids were talking to me. I sighed, “If this is the last day I ever ski in my entire life, I will be a happy camper.”
You remember stuff like that.
Then on my second run with my “church kids” I felt a tingling in my left toes.
“Must be the new boots, I should have broken them in.” By the fourth run there was numbness up to my left knee. I reached into my ski pants and rolled the elastic waist band of my panty hose down about 6 inches below my gut. That felt better. By the time I was at the top of the next lift, the pins and needles sensation had returned and reached up to my left hip. I pushed my way over to our group.
“I’m going to catch up to you guys at lunch. I think I’ve pulled something. I’ll go get some ice and take care of this. Not as young as I used to be, ha.”
“Great timing,” I muttered, “the day before my 54th birthday. But of course, the warranty must be out on all my working parts. Why didn’t I get the extension warranty?” I headed toward the base lodge annoyed at the interruption.
Out of nowhere I fell. It was about 10 a.m. Okay, that may not mean much to you, but I don’t fall, not unless I’m jumping a half-pipe and then it’s a full out ‘yard sale’ with equipment scatter o’er hill and yon. But simply falling had not happened in the last twenty years. And being that early in the day, it was not even possible.
Then things got completely weird. I tried to get up on my downhill left ski but my leg was having a private mutiny. It had not just gone to sleep, it had slipped into a coma.
And while I could not feel my muscles, there was a strange sensation on the surface of my leg. It was like bee stings on top of a ‘wicked-bad’ sunburn. Yet strangely, I couldn’t sense the coldness of the snow under me.
Then an ‘out-of-body-third-person-slow-mo-trauma-drama’ started taking over. I could hear my pulse pounding in my head as if my eardrums were being pummeled by the entire cast of Stomp.
Hel-lo crisis mode. Self-diagnosis ensued. At last, all those hours in front of General Hospital would be of use. Sprain? No. Shin splints? No. Gangrene? Not yet. Soon my internal ‘Shame Gang’ commenced to spew. My mind was a swamp of self-ridicule.
“Way-to-go, lard butt.”
“Told you ya shoulda eased up on the Christmas butter cookies, but nooo.”
The entire left leg was definitely DOA. I ignored the voices and flailed around to my right side. But the voices only got louder:
“It’s those new fancy-schmancy way too expensive boots. Ya know people are starving all over the world.”
“It’s arthritis. Whadda you expect at your age?”
“It’s frostbite, high altitude, heartburn, the heartbreak of psoriasis.”
Being “Joe Cool Skier” had dropped off my priority list. I wailed to anyone within earshot, “Gangway! Injured skier here!”
My Mother’s voice joined the ‘infernal’ dialogue between my very frozen ears.
“You just need to eat some protein, dear. How about a nice peanut butter sandwich?”
The ski condo we were staying at was coming up on my left. I had to decide in the next three seconds if I would go eat or look for help. I cut through the woods toward the peanut butter. An electrical spark, much like jumper cables slapping together, shot through my left hip. I screamed loudly, to no one but the trees, the only Dorothy Parker quote I knew, “What fresh hell is this?”
I doubled back to the lodge. At the bottom I careened into a stall of skis which exploded like a toothpick factory. Releasing my Dynastars, I threw my poles behind me. I was aware I was clunking toward the doorway doing an excellent impression of Chester from “Gunsmoke.” I left my brand new ski gear splayed across the snow, but I really didn’t care.
“Where’s the first aid room?”
“No hablo ingles.”
“Fine.” Then in my best Spanglish, “Donde esta rojo xeis?”
“Yo quiero el Ski Patrolo.” She nodded and left, probably to laugh where I couldn’t hear her. (I could see that month at the Costa Rican language school was time and money well spent.)
In a half an hour, or maybe a decade, a man appeared. He carried a royal blue backpack embossed with a red cross made of duct tape. The tape was peeling and the glue side was covered with lint of all different colors.
“You okay?” Why do people always ask that when you are clearly not okay?
“No, I am not okay!”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I can’t feel my left leg.”
“Did you fall or run into something?” He took off my boots and looked at my ankles. Thankfully I have great ankles, nasty big bubbly thighs, but great ankles.
“No. I was just skiing and then zap. My leg fell out from under me and it’s paralyzed. And the stinging is excruciating. I think I’m in real trouble here.”
“Well, maybe if you warm up in the lodge, you know, drink some cocoa.” He winked.
This is the part of a harrowing episode when you start hearing sounds come out of someone’s mouth, but they are so bizarre, so inappropriate to your pain, that you can’t believe you just heard them…so you keep looking, hoping that whatever they did say will reorganize in thin air and make a smattering of sense and re-enter your ears as something sane. I waited. Nothing. “Cocoa, sure, whatever.”
I was still hoping the numb leg thing would be a great story around the fireplace by sunset. ‘Skippy Ski Patroler’ went off to fetch some cocoa. I knew my body was in serious trouble but I was powerless to communicate what was wrong. And the expert? He was going to apply chocolate. It was like a bad PMS joke. That’s when the tingling sensation started up my other leg. I slipped to the floor (picture, if you will, a candle left in the sun to melt). I placed my boots around my head so perchance the family next to me with fourteen ice-coolers and as many children would notice when they kicked me with their massive swinging boots. I quietly re-lived clammy palms and sweat running down my forehead upon my first reading of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Back and forth, closer and closer. The tingling continued up toward my rib cage heading for my lungs and heart.
All the self-talk stopped abruptly, except for one clear voice, “Oh, my God. God, Lord, Jesus, not good.” (and no, I am not sure if that was a prayer or cursing, but it’s the best I had to offer at the moment.)
I was now grasping reality in bite size pieces, like a slide show in my head. Here is the beautiful mountain (look at that clear sky); here’s the ski patrol dude, and this is the place where my legs became paralyzed. Oh well, the kid sitting next to me will probably kick me in the temple before too long and my life will come to a grinding halt. At least it will happen before I have to deal with being a paraplegic.
“Should I call for an ambulance?” Skippy asked tentatively.
Ya think? Or maybe you could just roll me outside and I could be a lawn ornament.
Somewhere between a half hour and a century later the ambulance arrived. Several extras from Baywatch ran into the lodge and lifted me onto a stretcher, my butt was the hardest to lift, sagging down like an old army cot. So much for grace, and my hopes of dancing with the stars wasn’t looking up.
Sally Franz 2007