My season is over.
It seemed so completely innocuous. A day that started with a beautiful drive up the Sea to Sky, some wonderful carving runs down perfect corduroy under a March sun, and then a split-second decision that ended it all. One quick run through the terrain park before pausing for coffee, the same thing I’ve done a dozen times before. A good amount of speed on the inrun to catch some decent air on the jump. And then a moment’s inattention, just enough to leave my weight far too far back on takeoff. Landing right on the tails, backslapping the snow, almost bouncing back but not quite far enough. Going back down on top of my skis and into a slide, which held the skis back as I slid forward. And feeling something give way deep inside my left knee as those two opposing forces – the forward momentum of the slide and the weight of my body on top of the skis – pulled it just a little bit too far.
It wasn’t dramatic. It wasn’t a big crash, or a twisting fall, or a situation where my ski should have released but didn’t. It was just a run-of-the-mill fall at a really unlucky angle.
The first couple of minutes were bad. I couldn’t stand up; things happened so fast that they hadn’t really sunk in but that ripping sensation inside my knee was familiar enough that I feared the worst. Then the pain eased off, and I was able to stand back up on my skis. I skied out the run, but every time I tried to pressure the ski with my left leg there was nothing there. It wasn’t even that it hurt; the knee joint just wobbled and felt loose and wouldn’t do what I was asking.
I took the chair back up to the Roundhouse, and sat down for a few minutes. I could walk well enough with the skis off, which made me optimistic. I called J and told her I was taking a bit of time to see how the injury settled down. Pain came and went in waves, but it wasn’t acute; more a deep, sick, aching feel inside the joint. J and I agreed that I should find a first aider and get them to take a look before putting my skis back on, so I hobbled back to Guest Services. I was still able to take weight on the knee, but it felt strange; not painful, but really close to severe pain. I realised at this point that my GII trainer brace was likely hiding the impact of the injury, so I wrestled that off while waiting for the ski patrol. Nothing hurt badly at this point, but everything felt wrong.
A ski patroler – Dan Davis – arrived in a couple of minutes, and he was awesome. He took me to the First Aid room, got me to lie down with my knee elevated above my heart, and brought me bags of snow to ice the swelling. He suspected an ACL injury from my description, and we agreed that immediate download would be the best move. He called to make sure there’d be a car waiting for me at the gondola station in the village, then went and retrieved my skis and hot coffee for both of us before taping up my knee and carrying my gear to the gondola. We downloaded in brilliant sunshine, and it felt all wrong to be leaving the mountain.
The car arrived in Village Square just a couple of minutes after we did, and delivered me straight to the door of the Whistler Medical Clinic. (You have to love a clinic that has a ski rack in the foyer for your gear.) The service there was absolutely phenomenal – five minutes after arriving I was in a bed and wrapped in warm blankets, and the whole process – x-rays, full doctor exam and diagnosis – took less than an hour. Unfortunately, the verdict was about as bad as it possibly could have been: a ruptured ACL. The degree of laxity in the knee indicates a full tear, but it will need another exam in a week – and possibly an MRI – to be sure. If that’s the case then I’m looking at surgery; but the doctor was pretty clear that even a partial tear would take around a year to recover, and my season is over.
At this point it was around 3 hours since the injury, the pain had really kicked in, and I’d had no pain relief at all. The clinic offered me a variety of painkillers, but I wanted to stay clear-headed enough to drive myself back to Vancouver. They gave me a prescription for T3s for when I got home, and I called a cab to take me back to my car. The drive home is not something I want to dwell on; two hours on the highway with a ruptured ACL and no pain medication is one of the harder things I’ve had to do in my life. When I got back to Van I stopped at a pharmacy to get the T3s so I could at least numb the pain when I got home, only to discover that the prescription was gone. I can only assume it fell out of my pocket while I was paying the cabbie. At this point reality – and the degree of pain I was in – came crashing down. I somehow made it the last few blocks home, then with J’s help and a set of crutches struggled back out to our family doctor. By the time I eventually took my first painkiller, it was more than 7 hours since the original injury and I was pretty much incoherent.
Now I’m sitting here trying to process the fact that my season is over when the best of it was still to come. I had two weeks booked off work in April for unlimited spring; new skis; and recently I’ve been skiing better than I ever have. I’m trying to work out how I can make up the lost ground next year. I’m trying to accept a reality that I just don’t want.
This can’t be how it ends. But it is.