It’s now public knowledge – the ski season is a washout! How could we have foreseen this when we booked our early bird ski pass, house-sitters for Christmas and all of January?
And it is about to turn into a catastrophe…
For four days after we arrive there are torrential downpours; the good base is washed away. Somehow I manage to bash and chip/break my toe (if only that was the disaster!).
Finally on Christmas day the sun comes out and we venture over to Goat Village for our traditional lunch. It’s just about skiable (toe notwithstanding) and not too busy.
So when Tommy arrives we see no reason not to give it another go as it’s still sunny. There has been a sprinkle of snow which gives us false cause for optimism. That’s day 2.
On Day 3, we are joined by our chum Annie for her first ski of the season. The holiday crowds are out in force and the queues are frightful. Tommy and Ross decide to brave it, but Annie and I decide the safest thing is to go straight to lunch to try and avoid the crowd. We find an almost deserted blue run, a favourite short cut, and set off gingerly down; it is soon apparent why it’s deserted: lack of snow has rendered it steeper, icy and strewn with rocks and stumps.
I’m traversing across looking for a better path when suddenly I’m somersaulting with some force – and land heavily on my right shoulder. In that split second I realise this is no ordinary fall; winded and numb, I find I can’t move. ‘Are you alright,’ calls Annie. ‘No!’ I squawk; later she says she knew it was serious as I normally bounce straight back up again, on the rare occasions I fall.
Annie is wonderful – she struggles back up the slope and hails a ski instructor to get a blood wagon. Although I’ve managed to right my skis and sit up, the pain is excruciating. Tim – the paramedic, not Annie’s husband – arrives in 10 minutes, has a quick poke under my ski jacket and radios in for help: he suspects a dislocated shoulder. Annie and I, despite the shock, have enough wit to ask for the Swiss rescue helicopter.
But first they need to get me down to the heli pad. Gently they slide me onto the stretcher (the first of many such transfers), attach my skis and poles and Tim sets off down the ice, sideslipping and kick-turning as he weaves us in and out the crowds. I concentrate hard as the pain comes in great waves, leaving me gasping and shaking: shock is also now setting in.
Waiting for the heli, the paramedic tries to put in a line for morphine but the combination of cold and shock has rendered my veins friable. I’m now screaming for pain relief so he gives it me orally. Then the bright yellow heli arrives, and with it transfer no 2 onto another stretcher, and I am manoeuvred inside. It’s a tight squeeze so no room for Annie; Ross and Tommy will meet me at the hospital.
It’s a shame I can’t admire the view as we circle out of Avoriaz and towards Villeneuve; all I can think of is snorting morphine as it’s not touching the sides of the pain.
We arrive on the roof and it’s transfer number 3. Soon I’m in the urgence and a nurse is checking me in and – thank goodness – inserting a cannula and a morphine drip. Things now move quickly – a surgeon arrives, agrees it’s dislocated but says I need an x-ray. Somehow the nurses expertly remove my layers – jacket, two fleeces and my merino, and the ski boots. Jewellery removed and bagged – Annie was given my rings and watch on the mountain to avoid potentially having to cut them off later. Transfer no 4!
After the x-ray the senior surgeon confirms the dislocation plus a fracture of the humeral head. In between waves of pain I have been angsting about a fracture and associated surgery – and the knock-on effect on our much-longed-for diving holiday at the end of March. The good news is that they want to follow the ‘conservative’ approach, which involves popping the shoulder back and mending the break by encasing me in a neoprene gilet.
Almost unconscious, he takes me through the treatment options. He intends to give me a cocktail of ketamine and morphine to put me to sleep and to eliminate the pain while he pops the shoulder back. He asks me if I’m okay with this and I reply rather elliptically that I’m most interested in experiencing ketamine as I am involved in campaigning for the legalisation of drugs. Of course the huge irony of me being operated on under ketamine and the link with Louise’s death is not lost on me. In fact, the last time I was in a Swiss hospital with my broken hip, it was she who was sitting next to me holding my hand and being sympathetic; this time it is Tommy. A real sense of déjà vu.
Before I know it I’m floating in a multi-coloured psychedelic dream world, with kaleidoscopic primary colours whizzing round and round with a void in the middle where various images appear and disappear. I am floating, relaxed, happy and really don’t want it to end. It’s the k hole – the primary objective of taking ket!
Gradually I find myself back in the room with Tommy and Ross, the surgeon asking if I’m OK, did I feel anything etcetera. I’m now burbling incoherently and of course have no recollection of the procedure which is apparently so gruesome that Ross and Tommy are told to leave the room. Likewise I have no recollection of the gilet being put on and I’m quite surprised to see my body encased in a lurid blue armour.
One more X-ray to ensure that everything is back in place then I’m being dressed and wobble out of the hospital supported by Ross and Tommy. As soon as I reach the car park the cumulative effect of the morphine and ketamine kick in and I am extremely sick since I haven’t eaten anything since fruit salad at breakfast.
Despite all this excitement the show must go on! Tommy’s wife of six months, Anna, arrives the night after my accident and we celebrate a late Christmas dinner which I would normally have cooked but I now supervise – there are some benefits to being a one-armed bandit.
The next evening is New Year’s Eve and we have our traditional party with our friends moving from house to house; It is also Diego’s birthday and we have cake, dancing and watch the fireworks that usher in the new year. It is spectacular as the fireworks from 1st August were cancelled so we have a double whammy. It’s a clear night and we can see the Dents du Midi and the stars for the first time since we’ve been here.
A week later and I’m back having CT scans and seeing the surgeon. The good news is that the shoulder is still in place so no surgery necessary. But I have to be very careful and balance getting some movement back without dislodging it again. The best news is he sees no reason why i won’t be able to dive in March – he is dive instructor and we chat about that so hard I forget to ask for a new Tramadol prescription which is essential for a reasonable night’s sleep! With Swiss efficiency the receptionist says she will email it to me (waiting like an addict as I write!).
On a serious note, after a brief flit to London, we will return not least to complete my scans and treatment which is simply fantastic. Five and a half hours from my fall to being discharged. It rekindles my anger against those intent on destroying the NHS.
PS this blog was written (mostly) using apple dictate which is a revelation!
Remembering the best of last year!