It took a good half-hour for the ski patrol to arrive by ski-doo after we first sent word we’d need them. As we were waiting we heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approaching, and I groaned – no, please, not a helicopter ride!
The patrollers hopped off the machine and got to work pumping up an inflatable brace after assessing my situation. By tapping on the bottom of my foot and seeing I wasn’t writhing in agony, they were sure there was no bone breakage, but were very careful nevertheless in sliding me in, because every little movement of the leg hurt.
Many people had stopped while we were waiting to ask if they should send word, and we thanked them all kindly, but now that help had arrived, everyone just whizzed past. Unfortunately, the patrollers still needed help to hoist me into the sled once they got me on the inflatable stretcher, but they couldn’t get anyone to stop. So the
little red-haired girl got a grip on one end as the two of them took up the other, and in one lunge I was plunked down and then strapped in for the ride to the clinic.
This was all happening one sunny afternoon at 2,700 metres in Ischgl, Austria, but we were staying over the border in Samnaun, Switzerland. Ischgl and Samnaun were two separate areas until an expansion joined them up in 1987, so now you can get a lift ticket that covers both.
The ride to the Ischgl clinic was a bit of fun, actually. I now know what it feels like to have everyone stop, stare, and tell themselves: thank hell it’s not me.
At the clinic they had me walk around a bit, which I actually managed with the brace, but they told me I’d be in a hospital for a few days, offering to fly me by helicopter down the valley in Austria.
“Uhhhh… that might be a bit too much trouble,” I stammered out, not only unsure whether my insurance would cover a helicopter air ambulance at two bucks per blade rotation – low estimate! – but what about the red-haired girl? How would she make her way back to where we were staying in Switzerland? They might be joined at the mountaintop, but to reach Samnaun village from Ischgl village you first have to head down to the junction of two valleys and then go up the other. It’s a long way, and it was late in the day.
“OK,” they said, “what we can do is tell the Samnaun patrol we have a victim to pass over to them. You’ll both be taken by ski-doo up to the border and from there the Swiss will take you down to the clinic in Samnaun.”
This time I was the one in the rear passenger seat of the ski-doo and the red-haired girl riding shotgun as we revved our way back up to the pass to the Samnaun side.
A patroller was waiting on his ski-doo at the border, and before we knew it we were on our way down the other side to the top of the aerial tramway, where a man was waiting with a wheelchair. The patroller parked the machine and helped us squeeze in with all our gear among the other passengers for the tram-ride down, where at the bottom an ambulance was waiting for the short ride to the clinic in Samnaun. At every link in the chain there was someone waiting to take over.
In the Samnaun clinic they definitely diagnosed the ripped quadriceps tendon, and set me up for an ambulance ride down the valley a little less than an hour away in Scuol, Switzerland.
Cash or credit card, sir? I do hope to get some of it back….
If my first-ever serious ski injury had to happen somewhere, I was pretty lucky to land up in hospital in Scuol. From the moment of injury to the operating table barely more than six hours had elapsed, a crucial point as I’ve since learned. The earlier this injury is worked on, the better the chances of a full recovery.
I’m going to write the hospital staff a card today to thank them for everything they did. Perhaps they figure they were just doing their jobs, but I was so impressed. From the first wheel through the door to good-bye six days later, the care was excellent. The doctors were clearly professional and at the same time approachable and friendly, I was given my choice of anaesthesia by the director of the hospital himself, the morphine as I emerged from the epidural was offered and gladly taken, the nurses were often asking how I was, what they could do for me, and somehow also knew when it was time to leave me to just rest.
And to help me get through my last full day, a good friend who’d read of my plight on Facebook and who was planning a trip to Nice from Munich via Switzerland offered to drop by for a visit. He arrived on the morning of the best weather we’d had since the day of the injury, brilliant warm sunshine bearing down on the balcony. We had a chat and got some sun, and when the physiotherapist came along to give me another introductory course in competitive stair-climbing with crutches, he bade farewell.
Marty, you are the greatest.