“Make sure you don’t end up on one of these,” said a man to his son, as I was wheeled past them on a stretcher.
“Don’t look don’t look,” a lady cautioned her children.
I couldn’t help but chuckle. I wanted to tell them that I was fine; that it appeared more serious than it really was.
I was wheeled down the long tunnel-like passage of the Sunneggabahn as people walked past me in the opposite direction, on their way to the slopes. Some of them stared, while others looked ahead and pretended not to notice. I don’t blame them; I would have done the same had I been in their shoes. It wasn’t a comforting sight: I was lying down, my entire person bundled up and strapped up tightly in thick blankets and a tarp-like material. I couldn’t move. My left knee was slightly bent and propped up with a foam pad. I wasn’t in pain. I felt perfectly fine, apart from the fact that I couldn’t straighten my left leg.
When we got to the entrance of the Sunneggabahn, the ambulance hadn’t arrived yet. Jean-Paul, the ski patrol guy, unstrapped the tarp covering and I was allowed to sit up. I turned slowly and carefully let both my legs down over the edge of the stretcher. I could swing my right leg freely, but my left leg remained static. After a minute or so, the ambulance arrived. I said thanks and goodbye to Jean-Paul as I was transferred onto another stretcher, lifted into the ambulance and whisked off to the nearby clinic.
At the clinic, I was brought into an examination room where a friendly medical assistant helped take off my ski boots, examined my leg, and took a couple of X-rays of my knee, which she then put up in an adjoining room. From where I was seated, I could see the X-rays, and as far as I could tell, my bones looked fine.
A few minutes later, the doctor walked into the room and introduced himself.
“So,” he said, as he sat himself in front of me, “tell me what happened.”
It was our third day in Zermatt, and our second day on the slopes. The weather was gorgeous; it wasn’t too cold, and the sun was shining in all its glory. Paolo, our ski instructor, brought us up to Rothorn, some 3,100 metres above sea level. It was relatively empty up there and the snow was much better than down in Sunnegga. We practised our turns, and Paolo taught us how to keep our skis parallel and glide down the slope. We were also taught how to stop by making sharp turns, which was less tiring than doing a snow plough. With Paolo’s guidance, we went down a mix of blue and red runs without any mishaps. It had been a good morning, and I felt we had made good progress.
By the end of our lesson, we had skied down to Sunnegga, and Paolo went off to his next appointment. It was noon, and we had to ski further down to Findeln for lunch. It was a blue run, wide and undulating. I had skied down that run several times before, and after going down steeper and more difficult runs earlier in the morning, I felt confident.
And so I set off towards Findeln. I took my time and practised my turns, trying to apply what I had learnt earlier. Maybe I was tired, or maybe I was overconfident. Whatever the reason, I felt my technique worsening with every turn, and I was losing control.
And I fell.
I’m not exactly sure how I fell; I think I sort of flipped over sideways. What I do remember is the crack I heard as I fell, and the light bump of the helmet against the back of my head as I landed on the ground.
I lay still for a few seconds, waiting for the pain to come. It didn’t. I tried to get up, but it was difficult because of the skis. The Mister, who had been behind me, came over and helped me get up. A gentleman who had been nearby came over and asked whether I was ok, and whether I needed help.
“I think I’m ok,” I told him, as I took off my skis and slowly stood up, keeping my weight on my right leg.
“Are you sure?”
I could stand without any difficulty, and without any pain.
“Yup, I’m good.” I said.
“Ok. Take it easy, and take care.”
“Thanks. I will.”
And he continued his journey down the slope.
I slowly bent my left knee, and then straightened it out again. There was some stiffness, but it still felt ok.
I tried to turn my knee in – and that was when I felt the pain. There was something wrong.
There was no way I could ski, but I thought that maybe I could
walk hobble down to the restaurant.
I took a few tentative steps.
Nope. There was no way I could walk down the snowy, icy slope in my ski boots. It was still a long way down to the chair lift, and it was steeper down there. Walking back up wasn’t an option either, as even with fully working knees it would be difficult and tiring.
We decided to call the ski patrol. We crossed our skis (like an “X”), stuck them in the snow, and waited.
We didn’t have to wait for long; the ski patrol came soon enough. I was expecting a snow mobile or something of the sort, where I could just sit down. You see, I felt fine. The only issue was my knee, nothing serious, and all I needed was to get to the bottom of the slope, where I could get onto the chair lift, get to the top of the slope, and take the train down to Zermatt village.
But the ski patroller didn’t come in a snow mobile.
He came on skis, with a toboggan trailing behind him.
I turned to The Mister, horrified.
“Oh my God. They’re gonna put me in that thing!”
“But I’m fine! I can walk!”
“No you can’t.”
“I can stand and sit down! It isn’t serious at all! Oh no this is so embarrassing!”
I turned around just as the ski patroller arrived. After I’d explained what happened, he checked my spine and the back of my neck for any injuries, and then I was wrapped up in a thick blanket and the tarp-like material, and strapped up onto the toboggan. I was wrapped up like a mummy and I couldn’t move. All I could see was the bright blue sky above me. The next thing I knew, I was trailing behind the ski patroller (whose name, I had learnt, was Jean-Paul), who was skiing down the slope. I squirmed in embarrassment as other skiers stared, and I tried to focus on the gorgeous sky instead.
When we got to the bottom of the slope, Jean-Paul and the attendant affixed a sort of rack to the back of one of the chair lifts while I waited on the toboggan. I could feel the stares of the people around me. I felt like calling out to them and telling them, “I’m ok!”, but that would have been too weird. I didn’t need to embarrass myself any further.
When the chair lift was ready, they lifted me up and strapped me onto the rack, toboggan and all. Jean-Paul sat on the chair lift and we went back up to the top of the slope. I chatted with him along the way; knee injuries, shoulder injuries, and concussions were the three most common injuries they dealt with, he told me. Hearing this lessened somewhat my embarrassment; it also left me relieved and thankful that it was my knee that snapped, and not a blood vessel in my head.
We got to the top of the slope and I was transferred onto a stretcher. I was wheeled into the train that went down to the village, where I later rode the ambulance to the clinic.
The doctor examined my knee, looked at my X-rays, and asked me to
walk limp around the examination room. It was almost certainly a torn ligament, he said. Possibly the meniscus as well.
I won’t know for sure, though, until my next doctor’s appointment.
When I do find out the extent of the damage to my knee, I hope it’s nothing too serious.
Because honestly, I feel fine.
Apart from the hobbling and limping, of course.