Thunder Down Under: Part I
WARNING: The following is graphic, at times disturbing, and true with plenty of TMI to go around. Part I doesn’t include anything too disturbing, simply the events leading up. If you’re squeamish, easily disturbed or simply aren’t interested in the details of a serious medical fiasco, I recommend not reading beyond Part I. This entry covers the details of the past several days, starting around 2 PM Monday afternoon when I first experienced an inguinal hernia rupture while working as a ski instructor.
“Big toe! Left Foot!” I yell, sliding quickly about five feet behind him. My hands stretch in front of me, hoping to catch the eight year old quickly speeding out of control.
Suddenly, his left ski catches and shoots him to the right. His right ski spins outward, hooking it’s inside edge. It pops awkwardly off his foot, sending him pirouetting to the ground in a small puff of snow.
“Dude…” I say, carving to a halt just below him and quickly snapping his remaining ski off. I see him blink a few times off at the horizon as I remove my skis. With a sniffle, the tears start.
I flop into the snow next to him, my hip and elbow propping my upper body at a comfortable angle. “Are you alright, Nick?”
The question is rhetorical. He twisted his knee slightly, but not enough to do any damage. It’s going to be slightly sore, but certainly doesn’t hurt as much as his pride. The odds are good that after a minute of rest he’ll be back up and standing. Whether he gets back on skis and keeps going is a purely mental block, and given that his two older brothers have driven him to keep going all day despite setback after setback, I doubt that will be an issue either.
“How’s the knee feel?” I ask.
“Fine,” he replies. He doesn’t meet my eyes. He hasn’t all day. “Where’s George?”
“He’s going up again with Warren,” I explain, referencing the junior instructor in training who’s been helping with my class this afternoon. Having Warren there has been a godsend. Eight out of nine of my kids are safely doing solid turns, and given how busy the slopes are, his presence has given me the leeway to send those eight off with him while I work with Nick.
Nick and his two brothers were the final additions to my class. From the start, they were trouble. They were more interested in playing in the snow, rough housing, and messing with each other than learning to ski. Nick, rather than watching or listening to me, only watched his older brother George. The middle brother, Tony, preferred to just go, flopping in the snow, ignoring me, and acting the class clown. I can’t really hold it against them, as I was the same way at their age, but grabbing their attention and making sure they’re safe has been the day’s biggest challenge. The three of them ice skate, according to George, which is why their abilities have come so quickly and strongly. All three were put in boots at least a size too large, given them less control of their skis, though I fixed that at lunch. Ultimately, Tony has enough natural talent to get by without much coaching. George will listen every once in a while and every tip I offer seemed to pay solid dividends. Nick, on the other hand, only wants to ski with George and will barely give me the time of day despite the one on one attention. A moment ago, he had solid turns with my hand held out before him. As soon as I removed that hand, though, his eyes went seeking his brother and the world came crashing down around him.
“You need to remember to keep those tips together,” I explain fruitlessly. “If you don’t, you’ll keep having your legs get all twisted up, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Where’s George?” he asks again, as if he couldn’t even hear my answer from before.
“He’s up with Warren. Do you want to get up and keep going or does your knee hurt enough we should call ski patrol?”
“I want to keep going.”
I sigh with relief. We may be making slow progress, but we’re making progress. “Alright,” I say, pulling myself to my feet and straightening his skis, “hop up.” I offer him my hand as I stand up and help pull his floundering legs to his feet. As we rise, I feel a sharp pain in my stomach. It’s minor and quickly reduces to a dull throb. My first instinct is to call it indigestion.
Nick fumbles with his skis, never bothering to look where he’s sticking his feet. I overhear another instructor say that it’s nearly 2:20, giving us time for 1 or two more runs if we’re fast enough. Bending over to help clip him in, the dull throb in my abdomen doesn’t feel so bad. I clip into my own skis, my left hand on my knee, my right wrapped in Nick’s flimsy grip as we begin to slide toward the base of the big magic carpet, the larger conveyor lift that runs the height of the bunny slope.
I can see members of my class struggling in line, so I pull Nick along with me, the pain getting sharper as we approach. I position myself at the base of the lift, offering my hand a pull to several of my students. Warren is up ahead on the carpet already, though it’s starting and stopping as kids are blown over by sharp gusts of wind. Finally, I slide on, the tailing member of my class, Nick positioned three people in front of me.
About forty feet up, the wind kicks in and I watch helplessly as Nick and Avery, my smallest student, tumble over sideways. I begin my normal routine of screaming and yelling, waving my arms over my head. Every clench of my abdominal muscles sends sharp shooting agony through my body. After each yell, my hands drop to my knees and I hold myself up from doubling over.
The magic carpet jerks to a halt, the lift operators finally spotting my downed students. I take five steps forward, hoisting Avery back to her feet. “Put your hands on your knees if you think you’re going to fall over,” I tell her through clenched teeth. I don’t wait for her to acknowledge the instruction as I step off the carpet and begin to skate uphill, the pain unrelenting. I begin to worry I might have food poisoning. I arrive another twenty feet up to find Nick with one ski off floundering on the arrested carpet.
We arrange his skis and I pull him to his feet and snap him in. “Put your hands on your knees if you think you’re going to fall over,” I tell him as I step on the carpet in front of him and give a half-hearted thumbs up to the lifties.
“I’m not going to fall over,” he replies.
“You just did.”
“I’m not going to.”
I roll my eyes and shake my head, concentrating on the sharp pain in my gut and waiting for whatever gaseous concoction might be flowing through my bowels to pass. “Alright,” I say, “but you’ve been warned.”
The magic carpet spins up as thoughts of possibly undercooked dino nuggets dance in my head. I don’t touch the mac and cheese anymore, given my lactose intolerance. I hadn’t had a dino nugget yet this year, but at lunch, I was hungry. After polishing off the pair of apples which make up my standard fare, I had a half-dozen dino nuggets to keep me going. Now, along with the memories, I have regret.
I watch helplessly as another gust of wind ratchets up, trailing whirling snow devils as it approaches. I turn my head, bracing myself and watching as Nick keels over sideways once more. In my head, I’m saying “told you so,” but it doesn’t make me happy. The girl whom I had helped first stands strong, her hands clutched to her knees. At least some of them listen.
Another bout of painful yelling and waving brings the carpet to a halt. I grab Nick below the arms and yank him off the carpet onto the snow. “We’re getting off here,” I tell him, grimacing and holding my knees as I wait for him to get his lost ski on.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because you’re not listening and we don’t have time to keep stopping the magic carpet for you,” I explain matter-of-factly. “We’ll ski down from here and meet at the bottom.”
I offer him my right hand, staying between him and the innocent skiers and riders on the carpet as we weave our way down. He’s clearly starting to get it, his turns getting stronger, but his wedge remains almost non-existent. As we pull into the bottom and I begin directing my class toward the bus stop, he collapses in the snow.
“I want to keep going,” he whines.
“I’m sorry, Nick,” I say, pausing to take a breath before finishing the sentence, “but we don’t have the time.” I drop to my knees, excruciating pain in my stomach. It feels like someone kicked me in the nuts really hard. I can’t tell how loud I am as I yell over the wind, directing my students one by one down to the bus stop.
“Don’t just leave your skis there!” I chide one. “Put them together. Bring them with you.” Every breath is an effort.
I see Warren standing on the other side of the fence, his eyes scanning the hill. “Hey Warren,” I call gently.
“Oh, there you are. I was looking for you.”
“I’m right here. The kids are collecting down by the bus stop. I might need some help. I’m in severe pain. I don’t know if I can get up right now.”
“We have an injury,” he tells me. I barely register it for a moment before the words sink in. I grab my skis, using them like a walking stick and slowly climb my way to my feet. I stumble toward the fence, letting my skis hold most of my weight. I push the pain out of my mind. My student is my top priority.
“What’s wrong with Nick,” asks George as he slides around and begins to take of his skis.
“He’s upset,” I explain quickly. “He was just getting his turns down and we have to stop.”
“Oh,” he says, sitting down next to his brother and beginning to coax him back up.
Warren steps around the fence, revealing Avery being lifted up by a man I don’t recognize. He carries her gently as he approaches.
“What happened?” I ask.
“She twisted her knee,” he tells me.
“Did you see it?” I ask Warren.
“She was using her wedge and was almost stopped,” the man explains, “and then she just fell.”
Avery’s big challenge today was keep her legs stronger and straighter and not ending up a-framing, which is the easiest way to hurt a knee. After the little magic carpet, she had looked really good, but new habits are hard to create. “Did she push her knees together?” I ask the man.
“Yeah,” he says, surprised I knew this without seeing it. “We can take her to ski patrol and get her checked out.”
“Are you her father?” I ask, noting the concern in his eyes.
“Yes, I’m her dad.”
Relief floods through me. I appreciate the kindness of strangers, but having random men helping my students can be a little creepy. Along with relief, the pain comes flooding back.
“I have good news and bad news,” I tell him. “We’re about to take the bus back and call it day anyway. The bus goes right by Fast Action Response, where ski patrol is, so we can stop off there directly. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I think I may have food poisoning and I’m going to come with you, but I won’t be much help.” He looks at me, Avery’s skis clutched in my left hand, my weight resting on my skis in my right. “Warren,” I say, turning to address my assistant, “let’s get everyone on the bus. I need you to go with the rest of the class and turn them over to their parents. Please let Pam know that one of my students is in FAR and that I am too. She’ll need to get someone else to take down Sunkid today, ok?”
“Ok,” he replies.
We begin a head count as the bus rolls up. Tony is off to one side rolling down a hill, throwing our count off for a moment. Everyone makes it on the bus. I can’t tuck my knees into the seat, waves of pain shooting through me when I try. Instead, my feet dangle in the aisle. My condition isn’t unapparent to others on the crowded bus.
“What’s wrong with you?” asks Shannon, the bus driver.
“I ate the dino nuggets.” She laughs, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense to me right now.
Continued in Thunder Down Under: Part II