Sunday, 18 March 2018

Accidents Happen - But It's All Fine!

Day 5 was going to be an amazing day! The skies were the clearest they'd been yet and we had spectacular views of the Annapurna range and Machapuchare. I was looking forward to getting in the air. Although also a bit nervous as Claudio had another short XC challenge for us if conditions allowed. 

We headed up a little bit later than usual to let the first wave of tandem pilots get launched. Starting later meant we would hopefully have better conditions for our first flight. 
Lots of wings (mostly tandem) already in the air as we drove past the Sarangkot launch.

But despite arriving later, there was still a big crowd of tandems at the Toripani launch site. We patiently waited until they cleared the area.

In our group, Ronald (an experienced acro pilot and instructor) always launched first so that he could be in the LZ when Dima, a brand new pilot, was ready to land and talk him in over the radio. This day was no different. Claudio helped Dima launch and was talking him through some turns as he headed out to the LZ. Andrew launched right after and was soon getting some good lift along the ridge. I was hurrying to get ready to take off as well. While some of the launch area is fairly smooth, there are some rough patches including about a 2-foot drop off before it levels off again. In my rush, I managed to trip over a rough patch and fall face first into the ground.

I knew right away that something wasn't right but I figured that, as per usual, I'd just take a couple minutes to shake it off and be good to go again. Claudio immediately rushed over and despite my, "I'm okay. I'm okay." told me not to get up, to just take it easy for a few minutes. To his credit, he never asked if I thought I might be able to walk off because I probably would have tried it!

Meanwhile, Andrew was in the air so I asked Claudio to let him know I was okay so that he wasn't looking down at me laying on the ground and wondering what the heck was going on.

As I laid on my back, I moved my ankle up and down and could feel it sort of "click". Then I moved it side to side and it "clicked" . . . and stayed there. Ohhhh, that's not good! I managed to "click" it back into normal position and just left it there. At that point I figured it might be broken. And even admitted out loud that this was my thought.

The end of the road is about 300m from the actual launch location. At this point there's a building with a spine board hooked on the side. (As noted, it's a very busy launch site and accidents do happen!) Claudio sent someone to get the board. He asked if I wanted something under my knee to support it. "No, I'm fine," I said. Claudio ignored me and put something under my knee. This made it feel much better.

Once the spine board arrived, they carried me over to the side. Again Claudio asked if I wanted something under my knee to support it. "No, I'm fine," I said. Claudio ignored me and put something under my knee. This made it feel much better.

Our driver, Kem, had already headed down to the LZ to pick everyone up. Andrew kept his flight short, landed, and they all came back up to launch. But it's a long drive of an hour or more. And, of course, by this time, there was a whole new wave of tandems going so we waited for them to get out of the way.

To get into the shade, I was on one of the many side paths that people use to walk behind the bushes and go pee before they launch. It smelled vaguely of urine. Claudio's wife, Elena, turned many people away and sent them on another path. (And thank you to Elena for the next two photos.)

As I lay there, a fellow pilot and doctor, Tom, who we'd met the day before, came over to have a look. He asked me a few questions and felt at the side and over top of my boot (ouch!). He said, "Oh, you did quite the number there. At the very least, you've pulled some ligaments quite badly." Of course, I latched onto that and figured maybe it wasn't as bad as I first thought. I was already planning how Andrew could still fly, I'd tag along and watch and so on. I knew I wouldn't be going on the planned two-week hike but we could do other things!
Waiting on the pee path.
Once our whole group was back at launch and the tandems were out of the way, they carried me back to the vehicle on the spine board. Ronald tied the laces of my boots together to secure my foot and keep it from moving. I wasn't thrilled with this idea. In fact, in a slightly panicked voice I said, "No, no, no! Don't tie my feet together!" He ignored me. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) Despite the rough terrain and a bit of up and down, they did a great job carrying me. I was surprised that something as quick and easy as tying my boot laces together really did secure my foot well enough that it didn't hurt to be moved. 

Once back at the vehicle, I managed to hop up on one leg and into the back seat. Again, Claudio asked if I wanted something under my knee to support it. "No, I'm fine," I said. Claudio ignored me and put something under my knee. This made it feel much better.

We first went to a private clinic. Which was on the second floor of a building with no elevator so I was carried up the stairs in a wheelchair. I got x-rays done and they confirmed I broke a bone but we had to go to the local hospital to see a doctor. (All the doctors at the clinic were away at a conference.) I figured, okay, they'll put a cast on, Andrew can still fly and I'll tag along. It will all be fine!

I often live in denial like this so you can imagine how shocked I was when the doctor at the hospital (an orthopaedic surgeon), within about 30 seconds of meeting him, advised I had not one, but two!! broken bones, would require surgery and a 5-day stay in hospital. Ummmm, let me think. No!

The doctor put a half cast on (to allow for swelling) and we had time to make some decisions.

Luckily, Andrew has two radiology doctor friends and they were a tremendous asset. He emailed the x-rays to them and both confirmed the type of break (bimalleolar fracture) and that surgery (open reduction internal fixation) was required. One of them, who lives in B.C. even consulted with one of his orthopaedic surgeon friends and we were able to make well informed decisions about what to do. (Keep foot elevated, drink lots of water, and get back to Saskatoon. Surgery within a week or so would still be fine.)

Meanwhile, our travel agent, Faces of the Sea (because we'd also booked a couple weeks of scuba diving), was absolutely amazing!! Thank goodness we didn't book our own flights online! Over the course of about 6 hours as Andrew emailed back and forth with his doctor friends and we kept increasing the distance we wanted to travel to get surgery . . . Kathmandu? Hong Kong? Vancouver? Or can we get all the way back to Saskatoon? They just went with the flow, adding each leg of the flights home as we made decisions and getting us upgrades to business and first class. (We didn't know the incredible deals they got for us on these upgrades until long after we got home. Hundreds of dollars vs the thousands of dollars it would/should have cost!)

The accident happened on a Thursday; we arrived back in Saskatoon at midnight on Saturday; Royal University Hospital emergency on Sunday; surgery on Friday where there were lots of metal things involved.

At my first follow up appointment two weeks later, the surgeon was very pleased with how things were progressing. Five additional weeks of non weight bearing until I get the latest cast removed and I can start regaining some mobility . . . I'll be fine just in time for summer!

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