Monday, April 25, 2011

The Season Ender

A little over two weeks ago I was getting pysched to head over to Spokane to ski with some friends at 49 Degrees North a small mountain just North of Spokane. It was closing weekend for the mountain and they were offering free lift tickets. We crashed at my buddies place in Cheney and woke with an "alpine start" the next morning (more like sleeping in till 9 am).

We made our way to the mountain with a few stops along the way for provisions and another buddy. Eventually we got to the resort and suited up for the big day of shredding, around 11 am.

Nick, Retan, and I rode our first run from the top down some steep mogul dominated run with very unconsolidated snow (think heavy mash potatoes). From that run I knew we were going to have to stick to the groomers for the rest of the day, or just get worked from poor quality snow conditions.

Midway through the 3rd run of the day, the trail converged with the terrain park. I was not accustomed to this since my home mountain, Stevens Pass has a completely separated park that requires a pass and has a single entrance at the top of the park. The reason I mention this is that the way Steven Pass has set up it's park, it limits the riders to only those interested in hitting the features and not the general riders from the mountain. This prevents additional traffic and confusion near the take off and landings of the features.

Anyways, I dropped in and headed for the smaller of the two jumps on the right, a jump that was 3-4 feet in height. As I approached the jump two skiers crossed into my line. Typically prior to hitting the jump I speed check a couple of times to insure that my initial jump off a new feature is controlled and that I don't over shoot the landing. Well with the skiers now in my way I just straight lined for the jump to avoid hitting them. I hit the jump with full speed.

As I soared through the air (only a few seconds passing) my legs slowly rotated beneath me. I cleared the landing zone and proceeded to land directly on my back way past the landing zone in the flat, ~10-15 feet from the lip of the jump. This all happened so fast I had no time to react and counter the rotating motion. A few seconds after impact I came to, I don't believe that I blacked out, more like browned out. I was in total shock on the ground, barely able to take a full breath and realized I could not feel my arms or legs.

The loss of feeling in my arms and legs made my stomach churn, because I realized I could potentially be paralyzed. As I accessed my other injuries I could feel that from the impact I drove my skis into my right side, causing extreme pain in my ribs/abdomen. My left knee had contacted my left eye causing immediate bruising. My buddy Nick Gaddy quickly rushed to me and a couple other skiers were at my side, so Gaddy then rushed to gather the Ski Patrol.

The Ski Patrol loaded me onto a toboggan and I got to enjoy a bumpy ride down to the Patrol hut. Once inside the hut they accessed my injuries and thought it was necessary to call an air evac. They apologized that they had to call the chopper (later I found out why: $15,000 for a 10 min ride to the ER).

I was loaded onto the Heli and took the short trip to Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, WA. I was bummed that I couldn't see out the window, as it was my first ever trip in a helicopter (maybe next time I can fly in one when its not an emergency!).

Upon arrival at the hospital I was transported to the ER, and taking to get X-Rays and CT scans. They determined that I had fractured my T9 vertebrae and fractures in my T8 and T10 vertebrae as well, with potential transient paresis (means potential paralysis non-medical terms). I was set then for surgery the next day, Sunday.

My Mom and sister who were in Pullman at the time were able to come visit me that night in the ICU which was so nice to have comforting faces. The next day surgery was postponed till Tuesday and I spent the following days in a half trance like state drugged to the gills with morphine and kept company by my Pops (I was sooo stoked that he drove all the way from Seattle to be with me when I went into surgery). Every three hours a new nurse would ask me to squeeze their hands and push on their hands with my feet, as well as continually placing new IVs all over my arms. Each new nurse was confused why there were so many random new IVs in my arms. In addition to the continual interaction with a new nurse my bed would shift into a new position automatically to insure that I would not get bed sores, the only problem being that it would keep you awake all hours of the day.

Finally after two surgery postponements I finally went into surgery on the 13th of April. Right before surgery the Doctor had me sign a release wavier that released him from being accountable for the potential weakness in my legs when they rolled me over onto my stomach for surgery. My Pop was confused by this term "weakness in the legs", it was then better defined by the Doc as paralysis in plain English. Not having a choice I signed the form and went under the knife for the next 4 hours. They placed two rods and multiple screws in my back to stabilize it.

I then spent the next two days recovering back in my room, and slowly walking the day after surgery. My Pops felt it was important to get me back home ASAP so that I could escape the clutches of the 3 hour wake up calls of the nurses and psycho occupational therapist.

Finally after 7 days in the hospital my Dad loaded me into the car and we made the long 5 hour drive back to Seattle. Ever since I have been on the mend safe at home with the parents, getting stronger everyday. I am walking more and moving less robotically each day, or at least trying to move as normal as one can with a plastic brace around my back and chest.

Overall this experience has been extremely eye opening. I could never have imagined that such a small choice like jumping off a small feature in the terrain park could have had such a huge impact on my life. I could have been paralyzed by this and I am grateful everyday that I wake up and I am able to wiggle my toes. I also am blown away by the amazing friends and family that I have. Everyone in my life has been so supportive and generous in the past couple of weeks I am overwhelmed by the people I call my friend. I want to thank each and everyone that has sent me a little note, card, care package, or sent healing thoughts for my family and me. I still have many weeks of recovery and reflecting to do on this accident, but I know that I will walk away with a new sense of appreciation for life and the people that I get to share it with. Thanks again everyone and remember life is short so send it big in every way possible each and everyday!