Friday, March 20, 2009

There but for the Grace of God Go I

The tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson from head injuries incurred from a skiing accident is an unsettling reminder of the tenuousness of life. She is not the first celebrity to die in a skiing accident. Entertainer and politician Sonny Bono and one of the sons of the late Robert F. Kennedy died in similar fashion.

I, myself, almost met the same fate.

It was February 22, 1990 and I was skiing at Blue Mountain ski resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Since 1984 I had gradually learned how to ski and had some very lovely experiences skiing mainly at the Big Two: Jack Frost and Big Boulders resorts in the Poconos. My visit to Blue Mountain was my first…and my last.

The conditions on the slopes that day were poor. There was little snow and a lot of ice. I didn’t know it but I was over my head. Had I been skiing at the Big Two I probably wouldn’t have had what I would later call the Accident.

I was going down the slope at Blue Mountain and I hit the ice and my skis went out from under me, I was sliding out of control when I impacted into a metal post (lined with rubber) which was holding up the safety nets which lined the run. Hitting those nets proved to be a mixed blessing. My impacting into those nets resulted in me breaking my left humerus; had those nets not been there I would have fallen to my death off that mountain. Also breaking my left humerus was another mixed blessing. Had I impacted into that post with my head, I would have died for sure.

Even as I type this blog entry my head is swirling with the memories of that moment. My left arm is also twitching uncontrollably as well. (It always does when I recall that accident).

The end result was that the ski patrol had to come and get me and put me on a stretcher and then take me down the slope to a waiting ambulance. I was taken to the E.R. where I was stripped naked (save for my shorts) while they wrapped a splint around my left arm and then given morphine for the pain. Only time in my life I’ve been taken to an E.R.

That was a strange situation. I was laying there naked while the doctors and nurses gawped at me. My left arm was wrapped in bandages and my lower back was aching terribly (I had suffered severe muscle pulls in my lower back which would cause me lower back pain for several weeks). While I was laying there I experienced a unique sensation. I don’t mean to sound blasphemous but I had a subtle understanding of what Christ felt when he was nailed to the cross: the feeling of naked, exposed helplessness while the body is wracked with enormous pain; the disinterested looks of bystanders while you are enduring your personal agony; the feeling of separation and abandonment. Unlike Jesus, however, I was given morphine for the pain. Christ had no anodyne for his torment.

I was three days in hospital. My left arm was never put into a cast. I kept my bandage for six weeks. When they removed the splint, I had a hematoma on the underside of my left arms for weeks. The musculature of my left arm had atrophied and I didn’t regain full range of motion in my left arm until months later. It took me 2-3 years until I could build up the muscles in my left arm again. Even today I can still feel the notch of bone where the fracture took place.

Luckily for me I am right-handed.

(It’s ironic to note that all three fractures I’ve suffered in my life all happened on my left side. I’ve broken my left wrist, my left pinkie, and my left humerus in my lifetime).

The physical scars healed rather quickly but the emotional scars endure even to this day. I seldom if ever discuss the accident. When I do it gives me the woolies. I love watching alpine skiing during the Winter Olympics but whenever a skier wipes out I turn my head away. I remember Hermann Maier’s enormous wipe-out in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. I never saw it but whenever I heard the boom from his impact on the countless replays, my mind would snap.

Needless to say I never skied again after the Accident. Simply put: I lost my nerve. I’ve never donned skis again.

Also there have been moments in my life, especially during the early 1990s when I was suffering from a severe depression when I wished that I had died that day at Blue Mountain. That’s not melodrama. That really happened. I remember one time when I was having a nervous breakdown where I cried to my father that I had wished that I had died on that ski slope.

So when I contemplate Natasha Richardson’s death (she was born the same year as me) my thoughts are there but for the grace of God go I.

Rest in Peace.

More Life.

Amen.

1 comment:

Pensions said...

My brother had a very similar experience a few months ago. He chose to skateboard without a helmet and at the same time, videotape himself: Obviously a poor combination. Needless to say he crashed his longboard and hit his head. When he went back to his friend's house he complained that he felt extremely tired and wanted to lie down on the couch. His friend's mother, a former nurse, recognized that he might have a concussion and immediately took him to the emergency room. It turns out that he had indeed cracked his skull; his brain had swelled up and they needed to cut into his skull to relieve the pressure. I often dread what would have happened had he actually laid down on the couch at his friend's house.