Saturday, January 16, 2021

January 1971


Fifty years ago today, I broke my leg in a giant slalom ski race. Called a boot-top transverse fracture of the lower tib-fib, the break is not a good one. (Are any?) Such injuries happened frequently before modern bindings. Why? Back in the day, ski racers cranked up their bindings as tight as possible and wore long-thong straps to keep their skis attached to their boots. The leather straps were about 3- to 4-feet in length and in my case during this "fall," the straps worked exceedingly well. 

Three-quarters of the way down the course, I traversed the slope and cut back hard across the fall line. I was wearing 207cm K2 Comp skis that I now realize were too long for a light-weight like me. The two bones in my lower right leg broke across the top of my leather boots--thing is, I had not fallen. You're probably wondering how my bones broke without a fall? The straps kept my boots in place and the torque in the turn... well, something had to give and that something were my leg-bones. 

Immediately, my lower leg went numb. I leaned into the slope, dropped onto my hip and shoulder, and skidded to a stop. It sounds like I did this intentionally, but to be honest, I just did what came natural.  The fall was not a wild crash. People along the race course thought I'd just lost my edge, slipped, and fell. Fortunately, the ski patrol knew better. 

I don't remember pain until later on in the hospital when the spinal anesthesia wore off and the pain seared through my leg up through my body. 

That "spinal," as it was called, is also known as an epidural or spinal block. A local anesthetic is injected near the spinal cord and nerve roots. It blocks pain from the entire lower region. It was then that the fun took place. The doctor asked me to reach up and hold onto the top of the operating table while he (and maybe a nurse) yanked on my foot to bring the two bones back into alignment. Don't worry, I didn't feel a thing. But I have for the past 50 years.  

The doctor got 80% retraction and that would look something like this: 

After six months in different casts, the leg built up calcium deposits around the jagged edges. Here's what the healed leg looked like in the 1980s in an X-Ray taken by my personal physician at the time time, my brother Fred. No, I didn't have health insurance. Thank goodness for the good care at the Countryside Animal Hospital!  

Guess which one was broken? 

I don't remember the figures exactly, but my lower right leg has an 8+- degree bend in it. I have worn orthopedic inserts in my shoes for over 20 years to keep my legs balanced. When I finally purchased alpine ski boots again as a ski coach for Rumford HS, I had them fitted for the bulging bones of my lower leg. On my skis, the Ski Rack technician named Charley, added plastic lifts known as a cant. Those plastic wedges kept my skis flat on the snow. Eventually, I did the same for my cross-country skis, and they were especially helpful for the skating technique. Nowadays, my knee gets tweaked if I walk without the orthotics, and I'm always careful with my shoes or boots to make sure they fit properly. My every-day shoes (hiking shoes) usually last 6 months. 

Having a minor physical issue like a crooked leg, which could have been a major problem if I didn't keep hiking and exercising, has kept me in-tuned with my body for the past 50 years. I used to have a road biking partner who was also an orthopedic surgeon. In the 1980s, he'd be drafting off me on some long ride out to Andover or thereabouts, and would periodically remark, "Some day you're going to have a problem with that knee."  So far, I have not. Time to gear up and go for a hike. 

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