“Are you Mr. Stockdale? We need you to come with us.” These probably weren’t the first words that my stepfather wanted to hear, especially from a ski patrol official, whose job it is to drag injured snow-sporters off of the ski hill. I was a half-hour late in meeting him to go home, so it couldn’t be good.
At the time, I was on my high school’s ski team, an eager freshman. After practice, I decided to take a couple of extra runs with my teammate, Luke. The first and second runs were uneventful, but rather fun. However, with five minutes to go, we crammed in one more. Unfortunately, when things go wrong, it always seems to be on the last one of the day.
We zipped down the hill, and for whatever reason thought it was a fantastic idea to take a closed area for the last stretch. The minds of teenage boys are infallible. Even better, my equipment was bought heavily used. My bindings, which held my boots to the skis, had seen better days. The trail itself would have been doable, though, had they been in decent shape.
As we continued onto the trail, there were a myriad of ice chunks strewn across the hill, for it had not yet been groomed. For the invincible teens that we were, nothing could go wrong. How could it? It was just one run. Roughly halfway down the hill, a rather large chunk of ice escaped my attention, and, as I hit it, there was that oddly serene lucidity that occurs as you can only stare at the quickly approaching ground.
As I fell, I noticed that my skis had separated themselves from my feet, which meant a solid tumble was ahead. I hit the ground soon thereafter, and regained my senses a short distance from the fall. Oddly enough, the first thing I noticed was my season pass plus its strap, which was wound around my leg, a few feet up the hill. Luke grabbed it and brought it down to me, questioning me even before he reached me.
What happened to you? Are you okay, man? Should we get someone?
Honestly, I had no idea. In the moments after falling, what had lasted an eternity in the air now was a blur. The best I could give him was a noncommittal shrug as I gathered my senses.
I grabbed the pass from him, and found that the pass card itself was sheared cleanly in two. It was an oddity for sure. I stuffed it into my pocket in preparation to continue down the hill. Luke then pointed to my leg, and drew my attention to the dark, wet spot around my knee. I couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary, so it was quite the surprise. Upon closer inspection, there was a clean slice through my snow pants, right around where my pass had been sitting. It at least explained that mystery.
I’m going to get ski patrol. You wait here, and I’ll be back.
I gave him a nod, and he pushed off the hill towards the lodge.
He did not return within a few minutes, and, in the meantime, I sat and surveyed the damage. I couldn’t properly see anything with shredded snow pants in the way, but I did notice a glint of red upon the edge of my right ski. It turns out that sharpening them that afternoon, which gives the advantage on the race course, did not play out in my favor that day.
I at least had a pretty good idea of what had happened, but I also noticed that the patch of red upon my pants had grown much larger. Luke had still not yet returned, and so I stood up in preparation to go myself. Had I not ended up having nerve damage, I probably would have quickly sat down soon thereafter. It is truly a wonder what the absence of pain will do.
Once my things, which were scattered around the area, were gathered, I popped my ski back in to coast down the hill. I was in marvel at the fact that I was able to do it without any pain whatsoever. At the bottom of the hill I spotted a ski patrol officer, which led me to wonder where on earth Luke had gone. I limped over to him, and asked him to take a look at my knee, because I thought that it was hurt.
He sat me down upon the nearest bench, took one look at it up close, gazed back to me. “We need to get you to the ski patrol hut now,” he said. The man helped support my weight with one arm while calling in on his radio to get a sled. Another patrol man soon arrived on an ATV with a sled trailing behind. I was helped onto the sled and strapped in. You would think that the ride for the injured would be more smooth, but no such luck.
Thankfully, the ski patrol hut was only a few hundred feet away, and so the bumpy ride halted quickly. They carried me inside, only to slap me on a metal table in the lounge. There was at least one friendly face there, as Luke shuffled into the crowd of ski patrollers huddled around me.
I made it down here, and then they got the call on the radio saying that you were on your way. I figured I would wait here for you. How are you doing? Are you gonna be okay?
I didn’t know much more than he did, and so I couldn’t give him a straight answer. He must have been worried, though. His face wouldn’t have fooled a first-time hold-em player.
It seemed that the bleeding had gotten worse. They slapped a tourniquet on my leg after cutting the leg of my pants off just above the knee. I was quite upset about that. It was odd to fixate particularly on that, but I thought little of it at the time. The entire experience was surreal. It was hard to have a serious focus, especially after the blood I had lost.
“Do you have anyone we can contact?” said another ski patroller. I told him that my stepfather should have been waiting in the parking lot. He was in a blue hatchback Chevy Aveo. You couldn’t miss him. He hurried off through the door to try and find him. At this point, Luke had resigned to sitting in the corner as the ski patrol crowded around me, and he watched hopefully from his bench.
My stepfather arrived a couple of minutes later. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was his look that really resonated with me. It was a stern “WHAT DID YOU DO?” face that quickly morphed into the classic worried parent look as he assailed me with the same questions that Luke did earlier. I don’t blame him, though. If anything, I felt guilty about it. Who wants to find their child on a bench covered in blood? Especially so when it was due to my own carelessness.
We need to get your son to the hospital. We can’t stop the bleeding.
I was in good humor, but the notion of another bumpy ride wasn’t appealing. They already had an ambulance in the lot, in which I was brought to Huron Valley Sinai. I don’t remember anything about it. I have no idea if they drugged me up, or if I was loopy from the blood loss, but I distinctly remember getting carried into the ambulance, and then wheeled back out. At this point, the prospect of not skiing again had set in.
It was a long wait for the doctor. I don’t know how much time actually passed, but it was an eternity at the time. Once the doctor got there, I found out that the laceration was roughly four inches long, and an inch-and-a-half deep. I “was lucky that I missed my kneecap and tendons,” according to the attending doctor. He methodically stitched it up (17 stitches, to be exact), which was a process. Thanks to the nerve damage, I was unable to feel the vast majority of it. Unfortunately for me, he missed the area of skin that I could feel with anesthetic, so every stab of stitching in those points was agonizing at 13 years old.
I think, at the time, while I was worried about my skiing career ending, the gravity of the situation didn’t set in until much, much later. As I mentioned, I was the invincible teen. I could bounce back. And sure enough, I did, but it was more luck than anything. If the laceration had been even fractions of an inch to the right, I would have been lucky to ever ski again, let alone within the two months it took me to recover (at least in my definition of recover). I was back out on the ski hill as soon as I could, without a worry in the world. After all, what were the chances of something like that happening again?
Now, I am much more aware of my fortune. It still amazes me how little I worried about it at the time. While the injury itself wasn’t world-ending, it very easily could have been, and that would have been the end of my skiing career. There are some repercussions today, seven years later, to be sure, but they’re much better than they could have been. Luck is a fickle beast.