A hard lesson learned … twice | AspenTimes.com

A hard lesson learned … twice

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The week before Thanksgiving 2008, it was almost delightful, taking a hand-in-hand stroll through the forest with a good-looking girl, but the fantasy suddenly changed. Things got black and then I was in total disarray, pain in my chest and a wretched sensation in my head. At first I didn’t know where I was, but as I slowly unwrapped myself from around the base of a dead evergreen, there was an oddly comforting thought coursing through my mind: “At least it’s not as bad as last time.”

The “last time” was around 1994 on Naked Lady, a mildly intermediate run, and I had gone up late, just to get a couple of runs in while waiting for my daughter to get out of ski club. Six or eight inches of weightless fluff covered the terrain, and as I made a relaxed left turn, my downhill ski popped off and I clearly remember thinking, “This’ll be a slider.”

I opened my eyes to glimpse someone leaning over my face, and then as unconsciousness began to smother me again, believed a stranger was bleeding on me. Reawakening for another gander at the world, I remember how miserable it was to not know my location, although a group of aspen trees on a far horizon led me to believe I might be hurt in a Woody Creek horse accident, but unsure of my injuries. Out again, and then conscious wonderment as to why anyone would be asking me such odd questions: “What is your name? Move your fingers, can you feel that, is there feeling in your legs?” A portion of my EMT training kicked in and I realized I was being examined for a compromised spinal chord, specifically a broken neck.

“Geezus, why do you people think I’m hurt, anyway. Just help me up and leave me alone.” Slowly, I recognized ski patrolman Larry Rameil doing the exam and my spirits lifted. Surely he’ll understand that I’m not injured and he’ll tell me where we are and then maybe this mess will straighten itself out. “No, no, don’t unload that injured skier from the toboggan just to get my groggy self off the hill ” I’m OK,” I said.

I was lucky, if you think in that weird way ” fortunate that it wasn’t worse, I suppose, but unlucky that it happened. A brain concussion and a couple of cracked ribs. It took about an hour to remember that my daughter would be waiting for me, and to this day I cannot recall being driven home, although my cousin John Vagneur has relived it for me several times.

Back to 2008 and, “Yeah, not as bad this time,” but not very good either. My dog was looking at me quizzically, as though he might like the new game, but could I please explain the rules a little better. I painfully crawled up the hill, back onto the icy hiking trail, relieved to find my hat and sunglasses lying in a pool of drying blood. The sound of human voices put me in a panic, “Got to get out of here before someone tries to help me, like calling 911.” My face and gloved hands were covered in blood, but somehow I thought the approaching women wouldn’t notice my predicament. From about 20 yards, the looks on their faces told the tale.

Once at the emergency room, the result was a concussion and a couple of broken ribs (consistency), and I’m not gonna tell you how I managed another serious concussion only three weeks later (or how I completely mangled the wounded ribs at the same time), but I will say that my primary care physician was unimpressed with my ski bum explanation.

Many thanks to a very good friend who taught me that slowing down on early season terrain isn’t all bad during recovery and that white-outs should be respected. Hard lessons learned, I reckon, and hopefully remembered.


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