(Last Updated On: February 9, 2020)
On January 21st, I had an appointment with Dr. Elfenbein, an orthopedic surgeon in Crested Butte who has graciously allowed me to do my follow up post-trauma care with since my the surgeons who worked on my femur and my spine were both out of network for my insurance. All has been well with the femur for quite some time. But the neck is the crux, and the x-rays showed that it was fusing well.
At the end of the appointment, the doctor sat me down and said, “Let’s talk about skiing.” In my head I said, “I thought you’d never ask!” But, I refrained.
He asked, “Do you even want to ski this year?” I nodded my head in silent response, but inside I was screaming, “Oh hell yeah!” Then he asked, “Do you have a seasons pass?” I nodded my head again and mumbled something about buying it before the accident and just keeping it because I thought I’d be skiing in spring for sure, and could go to Breckenridge at the end of the season at the very least. Then he said, “I think you should get out and ski. I think it will help you mentally.” Yep, this doc knows me, or at least knows my type. Of course, there was the whole spiel about starting out slow, on groomers only, etc. But, I already knew this. It’s not like I haven’t been through 3 ACL surgeries before.
So, what did I do? Well, the next day I went skiing.
To be honest, I was sick. I had a cold that knocked me out that week. I wanted to curl up in bed for days, but I had to work, I had to keep going on my physical therapy, I had my appointment with Dr. Elfenbien, and I definitely had to ski. I wasn’t going to let this cold rob me of my first day back on skis, despite the fact that when the alarm when off early in the morning, I wanted to throw it out the window.
The day couldn’t have been more beautiful. Clouds that had left a couple of inches of fresh snow overnight still lingered low in the sky, yet the sun shone through them, creating a magical scene. The morning was crisp. I headed out my door with Frank and skied over to the West Wall chair. I only had an hour to ski, and I didn’t want to go far in case things went awry. So, I would lap the West Wall chair for as many times as an hour would allow.
And the first turns were certainly momentous. The “Texas Pow” (a couple of inches on top of freshly groomed) was inspiring. And I gained confidence with every turn.
The leg – well I thought I would feel that rod in my femur while skiing, but I didn’t feel it much. Not anymore than I feel it while hiking or cross-country skiing. The neck was a different story. Skiing didn’t hurt it. But my neck felt…. unstable. Throughout my recovery, I have basically experienced various stages of what I call “Bobblehead Syndrome”. In other words, I’m like a baby whose learning to hold her head up. First it was hard to hold it up in the brace. When the brace was removed, it was hard to hold it up while walking. Then, it was hard to hold it up while walking when I was tired, which I experienced during the first couple of months that I started hiking again. And now, I realized that it was hard to hold my head up while skiing. The extra g-forces and helmet were putting more strain on those stabilizing muscles, which are still weaker than normal.
I mean, it’s not like my head just falls down or something. But, when I go over a bump, it sort of… bobbles. I don’t have full control over it. It ‘s just a little unstable. I am doing all kinds of jumps and plyometrics in the gym and my head does not bobble. So, really, the only way to get it stronger for skiing is to just keep skiing. But, until I overcome “Bobblehead Syndrome”, I’ll be sticking to the groomers.
But, I’m quick to admit – I don’t think groomers ever felt so good. With every turn I make and every day I ski, I realize how lucky I am. I am lucky to be able to talk, to walk, and especially to ski. And skiing just over 6 months after such a major life-changing accident is more than anyone could ask for. It is the definition of Unlucky Lucky. But, I worked for it. I earned it. I remained dedicated to my recovery for 6+ months, and now I can reap the rewards.
And my recovery is far from over. I still go to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and massage therapy. I still spend hours doing physical therapy exercises at home and at the gym. Before I go to bed, I have a stretching & mobility routine for my neck/back and whole body, which also involves some meditation. This routine lasts 45 minutes to an hour every night. You’d think that, after six months, the time I dedicate to healing should have waned. But, I have found it quite the opposite. I spend 5 hours on average per day dedicated to my healing. Healing is my job.
After a handful of days building my confidence on groomers, I finally felt assured that skinning would be fine. So, I woke up early and headed out to the resort long before the lifts began spinning with skins on the bottom of my skis. The crisp morning air, the crunch of the corduroy, the flip of the touring binding… It all felt good. Life is starting to be normal again. And I can’t wait until I finally feel confident enough to venture into the steeps and the backcountry. But, I also know I need to not rush those things before I am ready. So, I remain focused on getting stronger and better, and ready for more challenges. Because, apparently, I need more challenges in my life 🙂