There was a recent post about broken bones, what we broke, and what happened. I've broken a few bones, but most of them were pretty uneventful, except for one. I was 30 years old, and it was my last trip to Keystone in Colorado. I powdered my knee….apparently that's a colloquial term for it used by … ortho surgeons? Ski patrol people? Honestly, I'm not sure, but that's what the guy said…
I'd been a skier most of my life. By this point, I didn't even fall much anymore, and when I did, I'd bounce and get back up. Never really had an issue. Well, a small thumb injury once, but it was more of a PITA (pain in the ass) than a scary injury.
This time was different.
It was the last run of the last day. It was a green trail since my fiancé wasn't a skier and we were all going down together, her, me, and my best friend. I was following my buddy and we were trying to find little bumps/jumps, just to make it interesting. We hit one off to the left, and right after he did he tried to wave me off, but it was too late. On the back side of the bump was a sheet of ice, and I think a rock or stick was sticking up. I slid, the protrusion stopped the tail of my left ski but my momentum continued forward. My leg twisted as I went down and .. my binding didn't release. I hadn't had my skis tuned that year, and I hadn't fallen one time that entire trip! Until this one…
My buddy came over to me laughing, asking if I was okay. I wasn't in pain, but I knew something was wrong – things were bent like they shouldn't be bent. I just said “No” … and waited.
Ski patrol had to take me down the mountain on a sled. In that same first aid building from 10 years earlier, I was laid on an exam table, my leg was bent about 70 degrees. I must have been in shock… there was a massive bump below my knee, the doctor poked and prodded it, I felt nothing. “Has this lump always been there?” “I … don’t think so …” An x-ray was taken. Soon the pain began. I asked for drugs. Morphine was provided, and I was happy. My fiancé was shown the x-ray.
”Well, it used to be a knee…”
Avulsion of the tibial plateau (top of the tibia), torn ACL, torn meniscus.
Got an ambulance ride to Vail Valley Medical Center in a snowstorm through the mountains. A very long surgery the next day, I got two metal plates and 15 pins and screws for souvenirs. 12 days ago in a wonderful hospital - apparently it was a popular destination for professional athletes who also needed orthopedic surgery! If you ever plan on destroying your knee, definitely do it in Vail!
Besides, I had a great room. It was a double, but the guy who was also there when I arrived left after a couple days, and I had it to myself the rest of the time. It had a beautiful view of the slopes where I could see people who didn't have powdered knees enjoying their vacation on the mountain. Sigh.
So… What happened in Vail where they reconstructed my knee?
I only have a few brief recollections of the first 3 days, as I was on so much morphine that my memory was pretty much gone during that time. I was still on the morphine for a while after that, but it was a lower dose and I don't remember it doing much except keeping me out of pain.
For the next week and a half, I mostly laid around and recovered, except that I had a fever that wouldn't come down. As we all know, fever means infection. And an infection in a bone is a particularly difficult infection to fight. As a result, they kept me on IV antibiotics, the strongest they had at the time (this was January 2001), Vancomycin. The problem with Vanco is that it's terribly caustic on the veins, so they had to keep relocating the IV because the vein would eventually collapse (temporarily) and couldn't be used anymore.
Now, I guess it was a lot of sticks, but I really didn't mind those. Still, I remember one afternoon that a new nurse came in to change it for me. I don't know why – I don't recall complaining about it. Perhaps they thought I was just being stoic and was suffering on the inside… Or those big bad NBA player patients of theirs complain if they get stuck too many times. Maybe it was a policy that after some number of IV changes they bring in the “big guns”. Probably they were just running out of veins? I honestly don't recall.
This nurse was a surgical nurse, I was told, and was good at being extra gentle with IVs. I recall she turned down the overhead florescent lights and turned on an incandescent reading lamp, making the room much more relaxing and less institutional. She placed a warm compress on my arm as she made her preparations. Before she inserted the iv she used a tiny syringe with an anesthetic and raised a wheal where she planned to do the IV. I think this must have been an insulin syringe, the needle was so short and tiny and I honestly didn't even feel it at all. Then she inserted the IV painlessly and voila.
Even with all the Vancomycin that fever never broke.
One day my surgeon came in with strange apparatus saying he needed to test for “compartment syndrome”. He was worried about the fever, and thought this might be an explanation. I had no idea what that was, and it's not really my area of interest, so I still don't know a whole lot. Rather than give you vague, misleading info, here's a little video explaining it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXp0EtKtlF8
Basically, it seemed to involve sticking a very large, long needle into parts of my lower leg where the surgery had been done. The doctor was very apologetic about it, but honestly, I was fine. I have no idea why – this probably should have hurt a great deal, he seemed to think it would as well – but I just kind of watched him do his thing wondering when he'd be done. I wish I had more to say about this, but due to my … shock? … nerve damage? … it didn't really make much of an impact!
Eventually my doctor threw up a white flag and brought in an infectious disease specialist. He did more blood tests, came in to check on me periodically, but never found any smoking guns as far as I can recall. I do remember one day he came in wearing a full snowsuit…apparently it was his day off and he was enjoying the fresh snow and thought he'd pop in to
make me feel jealous and rub in the fact that my skiing days were done for a while check on me.
Ultimately, after 12 days it was decided that I can lay around with a fever getting IV antibiotics at home instead of in an expensive hospital bed, and so home I went…
There isn't much more to the medical side of this. I had a home nurse come in periodically to check on the IV or run a new one when needed. I had a refrigerator full of bags of Vancomycin that I had to feed myself through the IV tubing a couple times a day. I had to give myself these injections in the stomach, too … I can't quite recall what it was or why, but they were pre-packaged syringes. I didn't enjoy it. I might today, but … mostly I remember my abdomen getting sore from all the sticks and the medicine, and honestly – when your body has been through that much trauma – it's hard to appreciate the fetish side of things, you know?
Anyway, today I still have the metal in my leg. I can walk fine, mostly. A bit of a limp because my knee still doesn't straighten out as far as my other one. I can't jog or run, but I still don't know if that's because of muscles that never got fully rehabilitated or because of the hardware in my leg.
I got married 7 months after this. Although I was told (well, my fiancé was told, I was too drugged out to recall) I may never walk again, I did walk down the aisle!
Got divorced 16 years later, but hey – at least the wedding went well! 😉