March 17, 2013

The Crash - Part 2

Loading the STARS Ship for the flight to Foothills Hospital in Calgary.

It's been one month since I crashed on the side of Lady Mac, and I now find myself hobbling around on crutches and convalescing at home. All things considered, I feel lucky to be alive and mobile.  

When I arrived at Foothills Hospital, the doctors were concerned about significant internal bleeding, but an angiogram revealed that most of the bleeding had already stopped. CT scans also confirmed that my pelvis and sacrum were smashed and badly broken. Some friends managed to make it to the hospital that evening and it was reassuring to see them. They passed on information and told me that my brother had already booked a flight out to Calgary for the following day. Eventually, all the tests were done and I was wheeled up to a spacious, private room in Trauma Ward 44. At that point, it was still uncertain whether I'd go in for surgery the following day, so I was not allowed to eat or drink. I have never been so thirsty. I was allowed to suck on a cubic, green, lollipop-like sponge that had been dipped in water, but this barely did anything to dent the thirst.

My brother Anthony arrived the following afternoon. A friend picked him up at the airport and brought him to the hospital. Another buddy lent him a vehicle for the duration of his stay and my winter employer, CMH, put him up at a hotel for his first few nights in town.  It's hard to explain how much these acts of kindness and generosity meant to me.

On February 16th, two days after the crash, I was wheeled in to the operating area. One by one, the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and operating room nurses met with me to discuss the various procedures that were about to take place. Tony accompanied me into the waiting area and listened in as the intricacies of the operation were explained. They discussed putting the pelvis together with plates and screws and I found it difficult to listen too closely. At the end of the day, all I wanted to know was that they were going to be able to put me back together. Once the meetings were done, I said goodbye to Tony and was pushed into the operating room. A mask was placed over my face and I was told to breathe deeply. The next thing I knew, the three hour operation was over and I was slowly coming to. 

The next few days were spent lying in bed. My Mom arrived from Montreal and numerous friends stopped by with gifts of food and easy-to-read magazines like the SI Swimsuit Edition. Food and water were still verboten though, and I ended up going seven days before I could eat real food or drink freely. In that time, I had an allergic reaction to some antibiotics and broke out in a rash and hives on my legs, back and stomach. This was particularly worrisome because of the chance that an infection could attack the new hardware now holding my pelvis together. In the name of sanity, I tried not to think too much about a worse case scenario. My poor Mother, on the other hand, struggled with the situation. Ultimately, the antibiotics were changed and the rash cleared up within a few days.

When I think back to those first few weeks in Foothills Hospital, the two things that come to mind are 1) the overwhelming kindness and empathy displayed by the nurses and 2) the mind boggling pain that I experienced every time I needed to be moved or rolled from one bed to another. On the first subject, I can't thank the nurses enough. Some were like mother figures and some were more like peers, and all of them played an enormous roll in my day to day recovery. On the issue of physical suffering, I came to a new understanding of 10 out of 10 pain. At certain times, when being moved on my side, I had out-of-body experiences whereby a bolt of pain would shoot through me and a barrage of expletives would fly uncontrollably from my mouth. At one point, someone in the room said that she would not attempt to move me again if I continued to swear, so I tried my best to tone it down.

The days passed in a morphine induced blur and I slowly gained mobility. At first, it was a major victory just to sit upright in bed. Then, after a very inspiring pep talk by one of the nurses - who basically told me I was going to die of pneumonia, blood clots and a host of other terrible things if I didn't suck it up and start moving -  I managed to get out of bed with the aid of many helpers and sit down in a chair. Eventually, I managed to get out of bed on my own and hobble around on a walker. This progressed to crutches, which I am currently using and which I will remain on for at least another three weeks.

After nearly one month in the hospital, I finally got out last week. Needless to say, it feels great to  be convalescing at home. So far, I feel relaxed and quite accepting of my situation. I'm taking some strong narcotics which do a good job of minimizing the pain during the day, but still leave me pretty strung out and sleep deprived at night. The nerve pain in my left leg can be quite sharp and distracting, and I'm hoping that this will minimize over time - especially once I get the green light to put weight on it. The thought of living the rest of my life with this sort of daily pain is not pleasant. I know that I made a really bad decision to launch that day and I understand that this is the price to pay for bad decision-making in the mountains. 

One thing that's helped a lot is speaking to friends and strangers about their experiences with crippling trauma. It's good to hear how others have coped and dealt with this sort of situation. I often think back to a friend who, five years ago, was caught in a slide and swept over numerous cliffs, and raked through trees, in Kananaskis Country. He required five surgeries and sustained numerous injuries that were as bad and worse than mine, and when you look at him today, it's as though he was never out of the game. Still, I like to tell him that whenever I think my situation is bad, I look back to his accident and feel better about my predicament. 

Another wild story that someone recently sent my way can be found  here. Basically, the pilot went down while flying X-Country in Pakistan and ended up with an unstable pelvis fracture (like mine) and a broken ankle. The difference between our scenarios though, is that while I was a two minute helicopter ride from definitive care, he did not reach adequate care for nearly one week.

A lot of people ask me now if I'm going to fly again. For a while, I wasn't sure. The accident and the wild rodeo ride I experienced in the air before crashing was so vivid that it was hard to imagine putting myself back in that situation. But as time passes and I gain clarity on the crash, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't looking forward to launching again. Plus, when I watch videos like this, it's all I can do not to hobble out of the house right now and put myself in the air.

Here's an article I came across lately entitled: In Defense of Taking Risks. I know it might be hard for some to understand this - particularly parents - but I think it's important to at least try to understand. In sports like climbing and skiing, the dangers are obvious and one would be remiss to think that they could never get hurt. Say you spend fifteen years of your life climbing and then one day you're involved in a big wreck. Are you going to give up and never climb again? Or are you going to rest, recover and try to get back on the horse as soon as possible? I like to think that I would be a better climber going forward because I learned something from the accident. And I think the same thing goes for flying.

So for now, all I care about is getting better - which means lots of rest and gentle movement. I'm lucky that I have wage loss insurance through work because it lets me focus on the healing process instead of stressing the bank account. I definitely recommend this type of insurance to anyone who engages in these activities (and I can't believe that the ACMG gave this up!). At this point, it's hard to say when I'll be able to get out and be active again, but I think I'll have a much better idea in three weeks when I head back to Foothills for some X-Rays and a meeting with the Doctors.

Lastly, thanks again to everyone who's helped me through this: friends, family, CMH, Kananaskis Rescue, the Canmore Hospital, STARS, and the Trauma Ward at Foothills Hospital. 


Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew,
I have had a man crush on you ever since I found your blog and really enjoyed watching you learn to fly. I promise that I will still love you now that you are busted up bit but you have to keep writing. You will have some tough times ahead but consider it training for marriage and children. Good luck with all this and use us out here to feed off of if you need the energy at times.

the_absconder said...

Keep it fresh man. Thanks for sharing all the details so we can all learn. AK is still out here for you. Keep up the writing!

PB said...

I bashed my femur through my pelvis/hip socket (bike crash), and went through some of the same hospital experiences as you. I am more active than ever today, though admittedly not at your level! I didn't waste any time getting moving once I was on crutches, and then onto a bike post-crutches - I think this helped me from losing any range of motion - and since then I've been riding and skiing over mountains more than ever. Good luck with the recovery!

Anonymous said...

We haven't forgot about you. How is the rehab going?