Vagneur: We’re used to beating up our bodies
October 4, 2014
We've heard a lot of talk lately about how violent some sports are, especially football, which leads us to believe that maybe only professional athletes participate in such brutal activities. We listen to this gobbledygook with distracted amusement, reliving our own broken bones, severe concussions, torn ligaments, shredded muscles and bashed-in shoulders, thinking that at least pro athletes get paid for taking such abuse. If not catastrophic, we schedule our injury-repair surgeries so that we miss the least amount of time returning to whatever sport it was that damn near killed us in the first place.
In the Aspen area, it's not hard to recall the number of friends one has who haven't been debilitated by some sports injury at one time or another. For me, it started in the fourth grade with a broken leg suffered while "straight-lining" Spar Gulch, although in those days we were more creative and called it "schussing," after our European forefathers. Add a ruptured kidney received on Lower Corkscrew, a couple of bad concussions (pre-helmet days), a broken neck and a plethora of lesser injuries, and you might think skiing to be a violent sport, although who would ever admit it?
We abuse our bodies with regularity, although in this climate of trendy outdoor sports, we prefer to call it exercise or participating in outdoor activities. If injured, few of us back off and take a complete rest; rather we indulge in "relative rest," which means slowing down a bit until the pain or swelling gets better. Some of us aren't even smart enough to do that. We just drag our injured parts behind us, lecturing them on how they'd better keep up with the rest of our body.
Unlike the old days, you can get a lot of chronic ailments fixed by the much-experienced (and well-educated) sawbones between here and Vail. Some of the first words kids learn to say in Aspen are "orthopedic" and "surgeon." Some people who could only dream about hiking through the Himalayas in the offseason, figuring it would never happen, now debate knee- or hip-replacement surgeries, knowing they'll eventually make the trek.
Getting off the gondola, it is not unusual to see one or two skiers warming up their new hips or, as I say, doing their preflight checks. And they're mostly middle-aged guys, not the old codgers many people associate with joint replacement. If you talk to these folks, you'll get comments like the 30-year-plus ski instructor who admits that before hip-replacement surgery, pain limited him to stopping on only one side. His students never knew, but he sure did. Or my buddy Ed, whose hip was injured in a childhood farm accident, and who didn't know how much better skiing could be until "new hip" enlightenment in his 50s. And hardly anyone could keep up with him before the surgery, anyway.
But don't think it's all about men. My friend Wendy, who got a new hip a couple of years ago, tagged me for a run at the end of the day. When I commented on how great she was doing, she replied, "Yeah, for a while I took it easy, afraid I'd wear it out, but now I'm starting to really enjoy myself." Maddy, with a new knee, skis like she never has had a bad day. My good friend Margaret, with a torn calf muscle and fractured metatarsal, has been hiking steep terrain almost every day, coaxing it all back with love of the outdoors and relative rest.
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My ski buddy Bob, who has a high tolerance for pain, finally got a new knee this spring. He was going to grimace it out the rest of his life, it seemed, until the doctor told him he'd crumple his hip if he kept screwing around with the bum knee. It cost him a few days on the golf course, but in anticipation of an upcoming pain-free ski season, Bob was up and walking almost before the anesthetic had worn off. Easy, big boy — you'll be fine.
The best all-time remark about an injury came from Dr. Robert Oden, top orthopedic surgeon in the middle hospital, when my classmate Jeffrey came in for the second or third time with a compounded fracture of the same leg: "Jeff, if you break that son of a bitch again, don't come back here — just go see a good welder."
As Oden indicated, good luck with surgery only goes so far. Revision of the first job is tricky, and you may get the advice my friend Dan got after his second shoulder surgery (same side): "If you crunch that shoulder again, you're going to have to live with it. There's not much left to work with."
And on that good note, take a few chances next time you're out!
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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