What Went Down...What happened? There I was living out my dream. I was skiing the intimidating Thunderbird Couloir that stands watch over the Colorado desert valley hamlet called Grand Junction. My St. Patrick's Day adventure was going great. Off the summit by noon was happening.
I felt so strong climbing more than 5,000 feet up. Skiing down I tore strong, confident turns on the icy crust coating the “T-bird.” Then the icy layer cracked open with a loud roar. I was immediately swallowed face down into a violent, swirling and stinging mass of snow. I swam to get upright as the avalanche rumbled down 500 feet of the steep northwest face of the Grand Mesa. I was miraculously spit out before the last 50-foot drop could bury me 20-feet under. A tree saved me from flopping over more rocky terrain.
I laid with legs swelling until search and rescue rappelled me to a helicopter ride to St. Mary's Hospital. My broken legs were salvaged by 21 titanium screws, full-length femur and tibia rods, two fibula plates, and two left patella fixators.
THREE MONTHS TO STANDThree months later, the pain ebbs and flows between dull reminders to sharp tinges and tweaks. My strength is gradually returning. Muscle spasms wake me out of the roaring avalanche that rips through all of my senses. My body constantly reminds me that I'm lucky to have survived the violence.
I spent a month in the hospital, mostly battling the waterproof bedding and resultant heat and waking night sweats. Two weeks of physical therapy were focused on improving range of motion; my stiff knees refused to bend back more than 70 degrees. It was assumed that part of the limitation was mental blockage. Thrashed muscles on strike, refusing to cooperate out of fear of being thrown back into harm's way. The anguish of recovering and healing from my strange avalanche disaster has been more painful than the quick and dirty deed that caused it.
Every night I rub my scraggy, knotted-up legs before I can nod off to rest. I wake to tears almost every morning to rickety-stiffness that racks every cell south of my hips — hips that I'm really lucky didn't crack, too.
Few in my medical circle want to let me in on the reality that the bones will heal, but the avalanche gave my body and specifically my leg muscles a traumatic thrashing they won't soon forget. It seems the surgery itself added burden.
TWO STEPS BACKA 24-hour bug put me back in the hospital for five days to fight a serious infection over Memorial weekend. It set me back to the point of not being able to even stand. Beyond the setback, I'm expected to take it easy for up to a year and a half, and slowly return to as close to normal as an unfinished Steve Austin (Bionic Man).
My multiple leg fractures are in “ossification”; calcifying functionally but growing irregularly outside the confines of bone structure. It's those wiry, frayed ropes and wicked knots that used to be my quads and calf muscles that pain me as much as broken and bruised bones. I didn't know bones could bruise? My literally black-and-blue joints are textbook examples of skeletal contusion (my attempt at medical jargon).
GRACEFUL FUTUREOn the bright side I'm alive. I needed to slow down and enjoy life and family anyway, and realize how fragile life can be. Life is especially fragile flying down a 500-foot cliff-studded, forested slope in a whirling mass of snow hurling over ledges at terminal avalanche speed, slamming trees, boulders and eating pine needle debris instead of air.
I fought death to swim upward and stay upright. My legs (better than my head and vitals) took the blows and now they're paying me back, with interest. Years. But I'm alive, damnit.
The sad thing is, when I look at the astro-bills that it cost to save me and make me whole, it's almost as frightening to a kid fleeing from Clifton Village North as being swallowed by that avalanche.
If I didn't have insurance, a great wife, strong family and amazing always-there friends, I might wish I weren't around. My dreams would have been flattened in the least. And yet I wake every morning, hoping and trying to make life a little better in the small ways that I can.
Thank you to all for being there with me when I needed it the most. Philosophy aside, when the boots hit the ground, beyond my own family, I live in a great and caring community and I'm ever thankful for that.