A short story of a season gone
The spring has been hectic, wonderful, beautiful and promising.
Jeff and I were working on the third ascent of Lifeline.
Jeff and I at the belay at the start of the crux pitch
Its a beautiful line gracing the Alpinist (Volume 33, 2011 page 80) when John Burcham photographed Matt, when he and I were working on its second ascent.
Matt on the second ascent of Lifeline (5.13b/c)
By late April , the first pitch still felt as crappy as expected (bizarre sandbagged 5.11d). On a late April day, I take the rope, working through the squeeze filled with guano. Placing a green camalot at the start of the tight hands I rest before casting out. The next piece of gear will be 15ft above requirng off balance climbing where yiou never feel secure, and a mistake will be an ankle breaking fall onto the ledge. A few minutes of jamming and liebacking leads to a foothold where I can stop and place gear. The climbing is steep at this point, for every three feet you ascend the route overhangs a foot.
just how steep it is, note the line hanging down which is 18ft long
I place the red camalot and cast off into the ringlock section. Although not hard, it still continues to sap my strength since its so overhanging. I get to the flared fingers. I miscalculate in where to place my foot and I am out of the crack. The crack is so steep that the fall is a joy.
Later that day I get to the tips section and fall again. I know it will come, I know I can get through the overhanging tips section, forming the third crux of the route with a pulling up on a pinky tip jam to place a foot where my shoulder had been. On the route the sting in the tail I still have my doubts, the 5.13b/c boulder finish after the 80ft of 5.12d/.13a climbing is a low probability section for me. I lower on my last attempt on the route for the day. I am content with what I have done. I see the promise.
Later I do a short ride on my mountain bike. The track is easy and its one I have done so many timews before. My mind wonders for a moment, I take a corner high and my handle bars hit a tree branch. The handlebars spin and in a blur I find myself falling head first into the ground. I slowly stand up. My right arm is useless, the arm is numb and the scapula is on fire. Damn, this isn't good. I walk my bike back to the car, and load it inside the back of my Subaru. Its a painful drive to the emergency room.
Getting there I text a picture of the emergency room sign, with a message oif the hope of a broken arm and not a torn rotator cuff compartment. Once in ER a neck brace is fitted. x-rays and CAT scans are taken and the wait begins.
a broken neck
The news is back that something is seriously wrong and I may need surgery in the evening. The doctor makes thye call to my girlfriend that no one wants to hear. She makes arrangement for my ex-wife to watch the girls since I won't be able to. My friends,l Jeff and Ashley arrive just as the doctor tells me the news. My arms are ok, but its my neck. In the cervical region, C4 and C5 have significant damage with fracture lines. The problem is really C7. The facets have shattered and there are two fracture lines in the body of the vertebtral body. Its noted that with the quick gatorade I drank and the powerbar I ate before going toi the hoispital, surgery needs to be delayed. There appears to be some stability in the region with the Miami J collar. The decision is to wait on surgery.
modelling the latest in fashion
Its been 8 days. My trip to attempt to work on free climbing the Salathe in Yosemite is delayed until fall. I am on day 3 of working out on the stationary bike, with a one hour work out. The neural pain is significant. I'll be back to Lifeline. I'll go to Salathe.; I hope to regain my strength working on routes in Zion with the aid of a 200m static line.
The season is over as I heal and get stronger, the year and the fight have only begun. The pain is significant, but with the support of a girl friend and my climbing partners, it just reminds me how lucky that I actually was. I can walk, and I know I will climb.
The injury and the first few days is often tghe easy part but the aftermath the difficult part.
The neural damage caused significant pain. Pain that would only be controlled with heavy doses of oxycodene and oxycontin. The right arm was numb and didn't have much in motor control. Unfortunately my surgeon was an expert witness but wanted to do surgery when he got back. The follow-up pre-op appointment was scheduled for May13th. I do aerobic work. The guy on the local radio station complains that some crazy guy with a broken neck is working out at 6am and is happy about it. By the night of May 11th, nothing would touch the pain. I took enough oxycodene and oxycontin that I could without risking killing myself. With th pain still untolerable, I go to the emergency room and get hit up with two shots of morphine and 2 shots of demerol. The pain was still there but tolerable.
On the 13th I hoped for surgery since this wasn't a way to live. As I started the functional x-rays I immediately had a seizure. The fracture was extremely unstable. I am wheeled into surgery. My mom flew in and Kristina hold my hand as I am prepped for surgery, which was only 4 hours long. The first night was aweful. I wondered if I had made a mistake. By the second day things were good and I already started to have use of my arms. I could greatly reduce the amount of my pain medicines. My mom and Kristina were always there. after 5 days in the hospital it w time to go home. Eating was difficult since they had to displace my trachea to place the hard wear in my spine. The displacement caused my trachea to have spasms so soup is about all I get down without choking. Home is good, and I a chance to be there with my kids. I am back to work half time, am going to the gym, to work on my cardiovascular fitness. With the injury I have a 10lb weight limit, and am out hiking the mountains of Flagstaff.
Post Op rehab
By June 1 I feel that I can l;eave the pain medicine aside, so I stop them cold turkey. The nausea, and diarrhea prevent me from eating well. My weight drops below 140lbs. The first 5 days were aweful, but the next 5 days it started to get better. By the middle of June it became a bad memory. July 5 marked my surgical followup. The doctor was pleased with my progress and lets me start physical therapy, weight training and climbing, but only on top rope. I joke with a friend who had compound fractured his leg in a bouldering fall and crawled out 1.5miles, that when we talk about recovery and rehab, people may get the wrong idea. It started a long process of regaining my strength. The neurological deficit and the weight loss meant my strength was shot. The first day I barely did one pullup, in contrast to my normal workout of 5 pullups every minute for 20 minutes with 45-90lb weights. Andy and Pete bring me climbing, and let me follow the routes they are doing. Things slowly return. By August I am starting to follow 5.12 cracks that I had done in the past.
Its mid-August, and my doctor has told me that by mid-October/early November I am allowed to start to lead climb and easy mountain biking. I hope to be ready for Indian Creek and Zion season. I've come a long way, but have so much further to go. I am grateful though, my climbing partners cousin in mid-July hits a pickup parked in a bike lane in Jackson Hole. Nearly the exact injury as mine,. except after 8 hours of surgery and he is still a quadrapalegic. Radiologist and radiology techs who know my story and seen my x-rays say I should be dead or a quadrapalegic. I have much to be thankful, especially for my Mom and Kristina who cared for me and my daughters a better part of a month. I also have to thank Andy (Grieder) and Pete (Traylor) who have been instrumental in getting back onto the rock, and Jeff (Snyder) and Ashley (Marion) who were there helping me out the day of the accident. I have learned to be thankful for those around me, and to accept help, which is new to me:
One of two people who took care of me the first month
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