Showing posts with label Sarah Watson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sarah Watson. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Close Call

Please Read This!!

About two weeks ago I went out to Eldorado Canyon for a mid-December day of mellow cragging. Starting out on a few easy climbs, the fresh air filled in my lungs, and the sun warmed my back. What a perfect day for climbing. I led up another easy route, and lowered down a harder climb to the right that I wanted to check out. With an 'R' rating, i wanted to make sure I could place enough gear that I wouldn't get hurt. (I smashed up my knee pretty fierce last year and cant afford a bad fall on it). Satisfied and psyched, i told my partner to dirt me. I settled into the rope as he began to lower me. Suddenly i was dropping faster than I would like, thinking the rope was just slipping through the grigri too fast. I expected to be caught at any second. Horror set in as i realized that i wasn't stopping, but rather gaining speed, falling faster and faster. I hit the ground full force. Pain shot through my pelvis and low spine as I screamed out in pain. I still had no idea what happened.

People ran from all directions. The pain blinded me, searing through the core of my being. A rescue team was called in, and before I knew what was happening, i was being taken down the side of the mountain in a litter. The ride down was not as comfortable as I was told. The 'bean bag' cushion that they tried to pump up with air and place under me had a hole in it. I felt every bump and jolt, and by the time we reached the ambulance my entire body was numb with pain.

After reaching the ER and having a few rounds of X-rays, I was cleared to stand up and walk out on my own accord. I could fight through the pain, at least knowing i wouldn't end up paralyzed in a wheelchair.

I am incredibly lucky that I didn't break any bones. I did spend over a week straight in bed on pain killers, wincing in pain with every move and every breath. It hurt to just lie there. I had serious whiplash and deep bone bruising of my pelvis, sacrum, and lower vertebrae, where i had landed on a rock jutting up into my back. However, i had landed in the only little 'flat' spot possible. Had i fallen a foot to the right or left, or kicked out from the wall at all while being lowered, or if I had been dropped from even a few feet higher, the outcome could have been much more critical, if not fatal. I was not wearing a helmet.

My partner and i had climbed regularly for a year and a half and I had no reason to question his ability. However, one day, one climb, one mistake is all that it takes. He had noticed that we probably would not have enough rope to lower me all the way to the ground. (I could have easily downclimbed to the ground). He had thought about tying a knot at the end of the rope a few times ... but never did. He simply let the end of the rope slip through the grigri and sent me plummeting into the unknown.

Please, take my experience as a cautionary tale. No matter how long you have climbed. No matter how much experience you have, always remember that your partner's life and safety is in your hands. All it takes is one bad decision, one skipped safeguard .... and things could end in tragedy.

I'm am still quite sore and stiff. I am sure it will take awhile for all that to work out of my body. However, I feel so blessed to be walking and starting to climb again. I wanted to share my story as a reminder to everyone to take this sport that we do seriously. A level of comfort is definitely a good thing, but always double-check yourself and your partner.

Also, in the future, I will be much more ready to wear a cumbersome, dorky-looking helmet to protect my noggin, because you really never know what might happen.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Escape

Green Bay, WI ...

The wind howls through naked tree branches and whips down desolate grey streets. The cold seeps through cracks as the sound of a lone automobile fades into the distance. Am I on another planet? In another world? Has time stopped altogether? Grey days and cold windy nights blend together in this ethereal vortex. I feel as though life has stopped around me, or has slowed to the degree that movement is barely noticeable. Motivation comes slowly and inspiration is lost in the dreary grey skies.

The dampening pressure of this place was closing in around me. Instead of using each day to write or paint, I became apathetic and felt myself sinking into a state of depression. I needed people, warmth and sunshine. Escape became necessary ... I had to protect my sanity.

A friend told me about his planned Spring Break trip to the Red River Gorge. I immediately felt a pang of jealousy. I longed to go somewhere warm and sunny, to sit at the base of a crag, adn to be in the presence of the climbing world. The gears in my head started turning as I thought back to previous hikes I had done in the RRG. I somehow convinced myself that even in my present state, I could still hobble around on the trails ... as long as I was extra cautious. As Mike told me his plans, I had already formulated some of my own. I was broke and crippled ... but I was going to Kentucky, too! I grabbed a credit card, my dog, and a change of clothes, hopped in the van, and told the folks I was going to visit some friends. I didn't tell them exactly where I was going, because I knew that they would seriously disapprove.

Let me clarify an important aspect of my situation. When I got to town, I did not have health insurance. Only by the generosity and goodwill of others did I receive surgery and top-notch medical treatment. I CANNOT re-injure my knee. There is not a question in the matter. My one 'job' in the world right now is to protect my knee at all cost.

Only five weeks out from surgery and still on crutches, I was ready to take full responsibility for anything that happened. Even if I simply sat parked at Miguel's for a few days, I needed to feel as if Charlie and I were on the road again. As we drove off, Charlie resumed her rightful place on my lap, as though it as only yesterday that we had arrived in Green Bay in the same manner. The engine roared to life, coughing up the residue from months of inactivity. I felt a rush of adrenaline flow through my body as I felt the wheel at my fingertips. It had been too long.

Hours down the road, I opened the windows to warm fresh air ... this was a good decision. After stopping at my cousin's house in Milwaukee, we continued to pull over at almost every rest stop along the way. I hobbled around the parking lots, letting my baby girl run circles around me off-leash. It felt amazing. Recently, her fear of my crutches and my immobile state caused her to grow quite fond of my parents. I was definitely a little jealous, but I was excited that she was my little partner-in-crime again. It took us almost two days to drive the ten hours it takes to get to the Red.

You always THINK you know what you want, but sometimes life knows better. I wanted people ... I wanted the climbing world ... and boy did I get it. Spring break at the Red? Cars were double and triple parked in the lot at Miguel's. The tables were jam-packed, crowded with enthusiastic faces. It was amazing to see so many people psyched on climbing ... especially after spending the past few months in seclusion at my parents' house. However, because I was used to days alone on the couch nursing my swollen knee ... I soon became overhwelmed and faced a major system overload. Eventually, I retreated to the van to cuddle with Charlie and recoup overnight.

The next day, I hiked to two crags and top-roped two routes ... it was exhausting. I was unprepared for the huge amount of energy it would take out of me. My leg muscles had atrophied to the point of being non-existent, and due to recent rainfall, the trails were muddy, sloppy and slippery. I was horrified that I would slip and hurt myself. At the end of the day, I returned to the van, crashed, and had to rest the following day. Pathetic, right? I guess it will just take time for me to get back into shape. Time and a lot of pain. I was sore everywhere, and my knee had swelled to twice its normal size. Luckily a day of reading and playing chess was enough to get me out to the crag again the next day.

Unfortunately my friends chose a crag with a slightly more involved hike. Not to back down from the challenge, I went along. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I got to TR a few more climbs. I even got to watch a friend send his first thirteen! However, hiking back made me realize that I had gotten in a little over my head. I was not quite ready to be out and about yet. I was thoroughly convinced that if I stayed any longer, something really bad would happen.  I started craving the safety of home.

Charlie and I took two more days to get back, during which I contemplated the risks and rewards of my trip. There is no question in my mind that I made the right decision. The week out of the house was exactly what I needed. I feel bad keeping the truth of where I was from my parents, but I know that I will tell them about it sooner or later (after all of my medical bills are worked out). It is not that I dont want them to know, I just don't want them to feel as if I dont respect them. I took a huge risk, and luckily everything worked out. I got out of the funk I was in and got to watch Charlie bury her head in piles of leaves, hunting for small critters. We both spent hours in the sun and returned home refreshed, renewed, and psyched to spend this last month at home with my folks. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Three weeks and counting ...

I am entering the fourth week of rehab after a climbing fall left me with one good leg and a  torn ACL and meniscus in the other. The force of the impact shredded the cartilage on the end of my femur, and life as I knew it came to an immediate screeching halt. I am only 25, but bare bone is creating friction in my right knee joint as we speak. I know this, because i have seen pictures and I can feel it. To combat the immediate onset of arthritis, I have been sentenced to eight weeks on crutches at my parents house in Wisconsin.

Bam ... Splat ... CRUNCH ...  I knew my ACL was gone at the moment of impact. My knees have always been weaker than the rest of me. My three reconstructive knee surgeries will attest to that. However, my ONE goal for this climbing trip was to stay healthy and unhurt. This short jaunt to Mexico was only meant to bide some time until my real project could be attempted with the first warm days of spring. I was so close to sending that it hurts me now to think about it.

Penoles, Mexico is a beautiful area. Relatively pristine and undeveloped, there are miles of untouched highball boulders. Not exactly my area of excellence. I prefer a nice soft catch on a rope and trad gear, but here I was in Mexico for a week. If nothing else, I was at least going to soak up some sun!

All went well until our last day there. One bad fall, one misplaced pad ... and everything changed ...

I tried to see a doctor in Boulder, CO. Unfortunately, with no insurance, I would have to wait two weeks to even have a financial aid appointment. After that, I could schedule a visit with a doctor, who could then refer me to an orthopedic surgeon. I knew what was wrong with me and who I needed to see, but the process was going to take forever.

Patience is not one of my virtues. I would like to think that it is, but it is not.
So instead, the dreaded call to my father ...

I waited until I had exhausted all other options. However, things were looking grim.
As the chief Medical Officer at a hospital in Green Bay, my dad has connections with all of the doctors in the area. Maybe he could help me out. Even if I left town with a $20,000 hospital bill, at least I would be on the road to recovery. I knew I needed surgery, and I wanted to have it as soon as possible. I am not one to ask for help from anyone, especially my parents, so this was a very difficult decision.

It took two days to get to Boulder, where I quickly packed up the van and started the trek across the great Plains. Incredibly strong crosswinds and a nasty Nebraska blizzard made the gling slow. I crashed at a random gas station in the middle of nowhere ... hugging Charlie (my puppy) tightly to stay warm. The next (my fourth) consecutive day on the road was a test of will power. The swelling in my knee had become crippling. Without its elevation, I could feel the blood pooling in my bad leg. There was only so much pain I could take.

However, two days later, I was in my dad's office in the top floor hospital administration suite. I was about to meet with one of the top knee surgeons in the country. Talk about quick service... after four days in a car, I was glad to just be at home again. It had been two years since I set foot in Wisconsin. 

Because of the extent of damage to my knee, I have been left to motor around on crutches. No weight bearing activities are allowed. Even this, however, doesn't guarantee a full recovery. Cartilage unfortunately does not grow back.

Immediately after surgery it was easy to stay off the leg. The pain and swelling kept me pretty immobile. But now, after three weeks, it is becoming increasingly hard to rely on them. I can bear weight without pain (yes, i've been a bad patient) ... and it kills me that my dog is terrified of the 'big bad sticks' that keep trying to take her out. 

My parents have been incredible through all of this. They have helped out as much as they can, but at the same time, have left me to be an adult and take care of myself. For now, I am just waiting ... waiting to heal, waiting to get back out west, waiting for something to change ... I have become a prisoner in a cell without bars. Along with the challenge of waiting, comes the challenge of learning to accept help from my folks. It took a huge swallowing of pride to come home.

Life, things, people ... they just seem to move slower here ... maybe due to the below-freezing temperatures. I am used to living in the van, running free, doing whatever i want, whenever I want to do it. But it has been a treasure for me to come back home at 25 yrs. old and have the opportunity to just hang out with my parents like i never have before. I love having a beer with my dad when he gets home from work in the evening... and the three of us have formed a nightly ritual of exchanging back scratches while watching bad TV. My only complaint is the local news which they insist on watching every day, even though the topics of discussion never seem to change. I swear that the newscasters never talk about anything other than the Packers, the weather, or the recession!

All in all, i am content. The closest I get to climbing these days is the pull-up bar in the basement and the hangboard that my father so graciously hung in my bedroom. But i know that someday soon I will be back at it, so I plan to treasure this time that i have at home, as boring as it might be. Friends have come out of the woodwork to let me know they are thinking of me, and it is always good to take some time off and explore other facets of life. Check out the last painting i finished!