I went in hurt, and I knew it. That’s the drag about getting older and having a perfectly capable body fail you when it used to hold itself together—even in the most trying of times. Even when you pushed the limits of sense and fell off three-wheelers without a helmet or jumped out of trees without a sprain or slid down the stairs at Restaurant August in New Orleans because of your heels, with nothing bruised but your pride. (But, dang, that was embarrassing.) Those were the good ol’ days.
The new normal involves a high-maintenance knee that wimped out on my ski trip on the first run of the first day, in a blizzard, and forced me to nestle at the bottom of the mountain drinking toddies and wearing a hip-to-ankle brace like a champ. But I was one of the lucky ones. Have you ever been in the urgent care center at the bottom of the mountain during a snowstorm? It’s a happening place.
I limped into the center, sure that I had simply strained my knee and expecting to get back on the slopes soon. That’s right, I went in the front door. I prided myself on that, because for the next few hours, the back door—where the emergency teams bring in the maimed—was the main source of entry. These injured skiers came down the mountain in body bags. I haven’t ever been in one, but I’m sure that there is some relief coupled with trepidation in being zipped up. Because (must I point this out?) you are in a body bag.
Fun fact: there is a ski run in Crested Butte named Body Bag. It’s one of the most dangerous runs in the world. Don’t do that.
The urgent care center was set up much like a scene from M.A.S.H., with long white panels of fabric separating the beds from one another. A man across from me dislocated his shoulder. A woman next to him shattered her knee and was going to need immediate surgery. And another woman ripped her face open on a T-Bar at the top of the mountain, had it taped together at a medic station up there, then skied all the way down to get stitches.
This is not a war zone. We paid good money to be here.
“You’ve torn your ACL,” said the doctor, after moving my leg in several different ways and asking what hurt. That diagnosis seemed dramatic.
“I don’t think so,” I responded. I pulled my knee up to my chest. “See how great I can move it?”
“You can move it so well because your ligament is torn,” replied the doctor. The physical therapist who followed also moved my leg around and determined that I’d torn my ACL and maybe my meniscus, too.
“You’re out for the season,” she said. I mentioned that the upcoming week was my only season. I lived in the South. “So come back next year.”
My father-in-law tried to satiate my disappointment by noting that now I had fodder for my next column. (Case in point.) The man in the bed to my left, separated by a panel, said “inRegister magazine? The one in Baton Rouge? I read that magazine.”
That’s right. The man getting his arm X-rayed for a break next to me at the base of the mountain in Breckenridge was also from our fair city. I returned home after a week in a leg brace and an MRI, to learn that I had not torn my ACL after all. It was a bone contusion and an MCL sprain—no surgery needed. And the man, whose face I never saw, next to me was diagnosed with a shoulder sprain, no cast needed.
Sometimes it takes a lot of miles and a lot of wasted money to bring locals together in far-flung locales. If you are reading this, fellow urgent care invalid, I hope you weren’t out for the season.