Injury is worthy of thanksgiving: Five Lessons from a Life Outdoors
An edited version was first published on www.dirtbagdreams.com under the title Coping with an Injury: Five Lessons from a Life Outdoors
I love early season skiing in the backcountry, there is a stoke and uncertainty that accompanies it, and as always, a single moment can change everything. One minute I am flying through waist deep Berthoud Pass powder, the next I am staring uphill at my ski-less leg and by the angle of my foot I know it is broken.
The video plays in my mind, I sort through anecdotes gleaning relevant information. I remember arriving at the bottom of a classic Welsh ice climb as a climber plummets. I think I may have heard the snap of bone but the blood pooling in the boot tells us all we need to know. We patch bandage as we can and use his ice tools to further splint the injury. After experiments we opt to split coil a rope and put him on my back. It feels like a long mile downhill, I know it is a lot longer for Ken. I recall a window of opportunity of lucidity and the pain coming in increasing waves as time moves on.
I am ordering John around, “get my ski!” “Give me your snowboard!” He must think I am a complete wanker but I know what will happen when I start to get cold. Weight bearing is not an option on the leg and I want to maintain alignment, so I sit on his board and slowly scoot down to a snow covered service road. John helps me negotiate a ditch and then heads off to the parking lot to meet the ambulance. I keep on creeping along on the board, it helps me stay warm and quells the pain.
Later I am shown the x-rays; it is a boot top, spiral fracture. It is not compound (thank you!) I know it is going to require a rod and most of my ski season is over. It’s time to make a decision. Am I going to be consumed by self-pity?
Lesson 1: How we feel about any situation is a choice. For instance I cannot control the weather, I can though decide to enjoy it. One of my more memorable climbs was on the sea cliffs of Gogarth. Not long after starting up Big Groove it started to rain and the water ran down my sleeves and into my rock shoes. There was only one way out and an exciting fight for the top ensued. The fact that I smile when I think about it speaks volumes. There is no doubt that it was the choice to surrender and enjoy the experience that helped me to execute something I would have found difficult in dry weather.
Lesson 2: Choosing to think about what you are grateful for makes everything easier. While climbing in Nepal I ventured to a monastery to see a Mani Rimdu festival. On the last day all my climbing equipment was stolen. I remember being thankful for this spiritual test and even more so for the very light backpack as I trekked into Solu Khumbu. The following week I managed to top out on 3 peaks all while having amoebic dysentery. Gratitude is a force to be reckoned with.
Lesson 3: There is always someone worse off than you. Find them and use your condition to bring empathy into their world. If you are going to be stuck in bed FaceBook is wonderful, my broken leg is nothing compared to a friend who recently compressed his spine during a fall in Morocco. The fact he waited to go home to Switzerland for surgery makes my ambulance ride to Granby pale into insignificance.
Lesson 4: Use the down time to start something new / do something you do not always have the time to do. Lying in a tent listening to the rain bouncing off the fabric and the wind howl means you get to sleep, read and play cards. How often do I do this? Knowing I have a month without work is allowing me to get a blog up and running.
Lesson 5: Every experience teaches you something. Life is not always easy. As outdoor people we are often drawn to a challenge; I learned more about efficient paddling from the final hours of a 100 mile weekend than I did in the years of practice up to that point. Tragedy can often shape you in positive ways, it also sometimes takes decades to figure out how.
What I know is that sitting here with my boot cast on and leg throbbing, I am thankful. I am thankful for all the years of skiing without an injury. I am thankful for the countless days spent out in the mountains or on the ocean or rivers. I am thankful for the experiences I have shared and the people I have shared them with. I am thankful for the sights, the smells and the sounds. I am thankful for the rushes of emotion. While I am grateful I feel the warmth in my leg and I know I am healing.