ACL/MCL Injury: Snowboarding into a Tree

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So if you follow my instagram feed you will know that I got injured.

On New Years Eve I went for a night ride in Annapuri (an area of Niseko United that is floodlit and open for skiing until 8pm).

I was snowboarding well, faster than I’m used to as I was trying to keep up with a group of skiers. I followed them into the trees on the right of the piste and it was going well for a bit but at a big mound of snow I took a different line out back to the piste. It went pretty well but I freaked a little at the end and side slipped straight as I skidded back on to the piste. I had noticed that the tracks from other people went a little to the right and came out onto the piste a little further down.

I was now completely out of sync with the skiers who were charging around, but when I went back up I decided to do the same line again but this time complete it to the end.

My heart was pumping as I got to the bit I tensed up at the previous lap, but I stuck to my guns and made it round the corner to go through the last few trees. Then I clipped the penultimate tree with my heels as I careered past it and realised I was heading straight for the last tree.

“Oh F-!”

I was already off balance and I didn’t have time to avoid it. I hit the tree in what I can only imagine looked like a vertical clothesline, my board and feet one side of the tree, and my body the other, must have wrapped around the tree somewhat and then been rebounded. The next thing I knew was searing pain in my left thigh and I was looking up at the tree canopy 20ft above me, the tree I hit (now at least 1ft away) swaying violently side to side. Tears streaming from my eyes and lamely crying, I thought I had broken my femur. I had put out my left arm to catch my fall so my head had not hit the ground but my shoulder was also now screaming at me.

As the shock subsided a little I realised that I needed medical attention as a matter of urgency, but also that there was no-one around to help me. I managed to sit up, just as two skiers zoomed past but they probably hadn’t seen me, they were further into the forest. The first task was to get my board off my feet, which was tricky with only one arm to undo the bindings. Every movement hurt. Next I needed to get help, but I was about half way between the top and the bottom of the lift, so I chose to go downhill. Although the red route would have been shorter, I was struggling to cope walking down the slope of the green run so at the junction I took the longer option. I had to take the shortest steps, as everything below the impact on my leg was a combination of searing pain and numbness, I couldn’t differentiate the different area anymore. My shoulder was hurting so bad that I had to rest my hand on top of my board, which I was carrying down with me in the other hand.

On my walk down my goggle were becoming progressively more steamed up and I often had to pause for a sob and to let the pain have a minute. My friends who had planned to get to the area later came past having loads of fun, and either didn’t realise it was me or didn’t process why I might not be riding.

When I got to the bottom I was now resolved to get the bus to the hospital. If I could make it down the mountain without ski patrol then I could make it to the hospital without an ambulance. However it turned out the hospital is not particularly near the bus route, so having spoken to ski patrol they ordered me a taxi. Being new years eve though the taxis were pretty busy and I had to wait 40 minutes before it arrived. My phone battery had just died too but I just managed to message the boyfriend and the group chat before it did. While I was waiting the others all came in to check on me and one lent me their phone so I could keep in contact with everyone, which was really helpful.

When I got to Kutchan hospital I seemed to be the only patient. They have an International Reception Desk and the guy there had good English and helped with translation while they were doing triage. The doctor had good English himself and I was promptly sent off for X-rays of my leg and shoulder.

“Good News. Not Broken”. But he was concerned about my shoulder and told me to return on the 4th for an MRI. I was sent home on a crutch and with pain relief.

It took a while for the feeling to return to my leg, but after a few days I realised that I was struggling to put weight on that leg, not because of the thigh swelling, but because I was getting excruciating pain in my knee. It felt like my knee cap was being pulled up and left my the thigh swelling, and under the knee cap swelling was developing.

When I returned to hospital on the 4th I told the doctor my knee hurt and he examined it, made me cry incredibly quickly and jabbed 3 fingers directly into my bruise which had me whipping off the towel to show him what he had just hit. He sent me back to X-ray to check my knee this time.

“Good News. Not Broken”. But he thinks I damaged my MCL and there is a risk I’ve also damaged my ACL.

“How long will it take to recover?”

“If it’s MCL, 6 weeks. If it’s ACL it might need surgery. Lets pray it is not ACL.”

He booked me an MRI for the following week and a follow up for a few days later; issued me with a brace and more pain relief and sent me home.

On the way home I was panicking. 6 weeks is most of the season, so I won’t make the improvements to my riding that I came out here for. If its surgery then does that mean I have to go home early? Will I have to go back to my old job? Will they take me back early? Can I get the surgery here? Will insurance cover it? I guess any idea I had of becoming a semi-pro adventure athlete over the course of this year have just gone up in smoke. I had hoped that I would earn enough as a snowboard instructor to break even on living costs but I’m about to miss the second peak period and I didn’t get that many lessons in the first.

I decided that there was no point in getting worked up about it when I don’t know how bad it is yet. Work were great and booked me off until after the MRI results and said they would look to see if there is anything else I could do around the place to cover rent. I was however getting easily frustrated at my lack of ability. If it were just my knee then I could sit in one place and reach around me for everything I need, but with my rotator cuff also questionable and painful, I had to move much more than ideal just to do the basics.

View this post on Instagram

Fresh tracks 😅 #injured #crutch #limpy

A post shared by Helen Read (@trektradewinds) on

I had the scans today. I hope it will be good news, but I fear the truth.

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