Pacific Northwest Ski blog (and a few other places!)

Lots or reports from skiing around the Pacific Northwest, with some East Coast excursions thrown in for good measure

Surviving a ski season with a herniated disk Part 2:the slow ascent to normality

(first part here)

I only decided to embark on the trip to Revelstoke the morning we left. The steroids had noticeably reduced the pain in my lower back. It still wasn’t great, but I could sit relatively painlessly. Vicodin supported, of course. Hope sprang eternal of a slow road to recovery, and sinking in the abundant pow of the Kooteneys.

This optimism survived to just north of the Canadian border. 4 hours later we pulled into Revelstoke on a dark snowy night and I was pretty much totally incapacitated. It was a long, sleepless night on the hotel floor, and depression finally set in totally when two 4WD loads of my friends headed up to the ski hill Saturday morning. The next 3 days were torture, as I crawled around the hotel, walked like an 80 year old along the snowy sidewalks into town, and did my best to enjoy evenings with my friends who were crazily shredding the hill every day. This was really the pits.

Tuesday was our transition day to Kicking Horse. I was left alone in the morning, with my only aim for the day to drive our truck up to the hill at 3pm to meet everyone after skiing. As I showered and had breakfast, the pain was more approachable than previous days, and I decided to try life Vicodin-free for an hour. Amazingly it got no worse. Carpe diem, I’ve always said. I got dressed in my ski gear, strapped on my lower back brace (optimistically purchased pre-trip), checked out of the hotel, and at 11am was carefully loading the gondola at the newly finished base area at Revie. It was ski or die time.

From the top of the gondola, I slid down the cat track to the chair that went to the top. So far so good. It didn’t feel great, but wasn’t grim either. A nice gentle blue groomer would’ve been a good test next, but no such luxuries are available from the top of the Stoke chair. Luckily the visibility was good and it was easy to follow the remains of the groomer tracks and down the smooth Snow Rodeo black run. Gentle turns at first, targeting non-bumpy terrain and carving wide slow arcs, and nothing hurt. I was amazed. It felt better than walking. 10 minutes later I walked into the lodge to the amazement of my lunching friends. They couldn’t have been as amazed as me.

I stuck to Revie’s wonderful long groomers for rest of the day, and felt great. Getting on the lifts wasn’t the best experience ever. But given this was all Vicodin free (I vowed not to ski on that – far too mind-alteringly dangerous!), I was more than happy to suffer a little discomfort.

Even more amazing, I skied 4 of the next 5 days, only taking a day off in the middle when a power failure brought Kicking Horse’s gondola to standstill. There was the odd grim hour, once even forcing me to declare I was heading in at lunchtime to recover. But by the time I had gone top-to-bottom at Kicking Horse, something had miraculously moved my disk herniation into a pain-free spot, and I ended up skipping lunch completely and skiing through until the lifts closed. Crazy, but while the going is good … the back brace was certainly a blessing.

Unfortunately the journey back home brought me back to a Vicodin obscured reality. This made it pretty clear that life wasn’t going to improve fast. So it was back to the docs for stage 2 treatment, an epidural cortisone injection directly into my spine. If this didn’t work, the flight to Austria in 10 days and 2.5 week ski trip was really going to suck.

The procedure itself wasn’t my favorite, but no worse than a good going over at the dentist. The pain resulting from the pressure in the spine subsided in 2 or 3 days, and a week later when we boarded the plane, I was optimistic again. And this time it was well-founded, as I skied 16 straight days, covering the normal decent amount of vertical and riding powder, bumps, slush, whatever the conditions brought on. I wasn’t normal, had a numb foot for days after one hard larding, and on occasions took it easy while a back brace adjustment did its magic. But I was walking, sitting, sleeping in a bed. And skiing. It was a superb ski vacation.

Things slowly looked up from here. It was gradual, but we skied through the best true spring season in years, finally hanging up the skis in late May at Whistler with 61 days under my belt. That was a lot more than I had ever dreamed of during those dark January days.

When you get an injury like this, people come out of the woodwork (work colleagues, friends, hairdressers, waiters) and tell you their story of similar agonizing times. From listening to these, it seems everyone recovers differently, and severity of injury doesn’t seem to be the determining factor. My specialist said I was most likely a surgery case, so maybe I was lucky.

Apart from skiing, I got back on my road bike in April, and clocked up more than 2000 miles over summer, conquering a few of the Cascades’ finest volcanoes. At first I had to be careful going over bumps and pot holes, as the impact vibrated up my spine a way that felt as good as raspberries and gravy taste. After a month or so I was fine though, and training hard for Seattle-to-Portland. It took until August and a lot of physical therapy before I could stretch my right hamstring properly. I’ve had a few slow runs with no serious ill effects since then. If I can get back to some decent running over winter, targeting soft surfaces, I’ll be ecstatic.

And skiing, of course!! Hopefully two more weeks.


3 responses to “Surviving a ski season with a herniated disk Part 2:the slow ascent to normality

  1. Carrie November 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    This is an amazing story. I am an avid skiier who has just been diagnosed with 2 bugling discs L4-L5 is the big one. Lots of pain in my left leg. I hope I can ski half what you did this winter.
    What kind of a back brace did you wear and how are you doing now?

  2. Rick December 8, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Thanks for the write-up. I recently went through severe pain caused by taking my kayak off my car, MRI showed compressed disc, steroid treatment, hydrocodon have been my friends. Now pain is vertually gone and I plan on skiing (carefully, since I’m 66 yo). I do think the skiing (exercise) will do it good as long as I’m careful. Your story is encouraging to me. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: