I originally published this post is April. Since then, I’ve gathered a few more followers, so I thought I’d repost so my readers can understand the origin story for the name of my blog:
What’s with the name of my blog? Falling Upstairs. When I fell upstairs, I’ll explain the circumstances momentarily, my life changed. The injury that resulted caused a couple shock wave that have defined me. Let me explain.
For the past decade, probably about as long as I’ve wanted to blog, I’ve been klutzy. Grace was never my middle name. I’ve tipped over in lift lines, tripped on sidewalk cracks, and yes, fallen upstairs.
I love winter; I’m an avid skier. Before I go further, I need to let you know why I ski so much. For those who don’t know me, my husband and I run a seasonal business, The Ride & Ski Card. Our customers buy the card and it gives them discounts on their lift tickets at our participating mountains for the entire ski season. The component of the card that allows us to ski is that we host a weekend tour. Every Saturday of the season, my husband and I visit a mountain, host an après ski party to promote our business, and to raise money for a local children’s hospital we support. It’s great fun, and we’ve met a ton of wonderful friends over the 19 years we’ve had the business.
Back to being klutzy. As much as I love winter, that time of year recently became a bit more challenging. Once I was on the mountain skiing, I felt in my element. Walking to the mountain, through frozen parking lots, littered with frozen mounds of snow disguised as innocent tufts of blowy snow, but when unsuspectingly kicked rolled an ankle, was treacherous.
Besides the walking element, I had another issue. If you ski, you know that 90% of mountain lodges are designed all wrong. The masses enter on the main level, but for some reason only known to God himself, bathrooms are not on the main level where skiers and riders boot up. So, if you inadvertently boot up and then realize you have to pee, you just want to cry because you either have to hike upstairs or descend down to find a restroom.
Most skiers find this a nuisance, but for me it was a problem because it was becoming difficult. I was noticing how hard it was to get my right leg to rise to the occasion when walking upstairs in my ski boots. Thought it was age though, time to work out more. In reality, it was the tumor pressing down on the motor cortex in my brain that governed the right side of my body.
Anyway, back to the name of my blog. My friends know I dislike Burke Mountain in Vermont. I tried with this mountain; I really did. Most skiers know there are mountains that you just never click with. It could be terrain; it could be the vibe; it could be the lifts, or aging facilities. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just don’t like a mountain. For me, that mountain was Burke. My husband and I have been going there for years on tour. Over the years we’ve encountered apocalyptic cold, tropical downpours – one year so bad that when we got to the mountain we saw a waterfall coming down one of runs – or my personal favorite, people I know got hurt there. One of our friends hit a tree one year and got a black eye, my daughter was hurt, and finally, I was hurt there, falling upstairs.
In February 2013 we made our stop at Burke. I was going to give the mountain another chance. Foolishly, like that girl who keeps taking back that toxic boyfriend, I welcomed Burke back into my life. Our group actually did have a nice time that weekend. We were with our friends John, Michelle, and their daughter Sara. Saturday, the conditions were firm but fast. Just the way I like them. It wasn’t icy, you could get an edge, and I had a great time. I unbooted that day and thought, “Maybe Burke isn’t so bad. What a fun day.”
The next day, Sunday, we woke to find about 6 inches of fresh snow. Score! What a great morning we had skiing. We did laps all morning and quit around noon because we had to drive home. There was so much snow, we skied back to the car, loaded our gear and went to the lodge to unboot and pack up.
John, Michelle, and I walked up the stairs to the mid-Burke lodge. As we ascended, we chatted about what a great weekend we had. When I reached the middle landing of the stairs, I caught the top clip on my right boot and slammed down on my left knee. I mean, slammed!!! Like, I was so surprised, I didn’t get my hands down to break the fall; my kneecap took the full force. I picked myself up and was able to walk under my own weight to the lodge.
Looking back now, I know it was the tumor that contributed to my fall upstirs. My leg was weak; I was tired from skiing all morning, and I already had diminished mobility on that side. Remember how I hated going up and down stairs in my ski boots? This incident was the impetus of that dislike. My right leg was already getting weak from the tumor, but I didn’t know it yet. Despite the fact that I have a legitimate reason for the fall, it happened at Burke, and it only reinforced my dislike for the mountain. That was the last time I visited.
My knee swelled during my ride home, and by the time I got home it was painful, hot, and swollen. Michelle has connections and put me touch with her ortho. Within a week, I had an MRI. I met with the doctor a couple days after the MRI and we talked.
“The good news is, I don’t see any tear to the tendons.” She examined my knee and noticed it didn’t track right. “Your kneecap not tracking can make the injury worse. Try ice and rest and see how it progresses.”
“I have a trip to Jay Peak this weekend and then I have a trip to Banff in a couple weeks.”
She looked incredulous at me, “I don’t see any structural damage. I won’t tell you it’s ok to ski, but if you think you can, then it’s up to you to decide. You can make it worse, though.”
“I’m going to take that chance.” I thanked her, left, and set a follow up for when I got back from Banff in April.
That weekend we went to Jay Peak. I was able to ski half-days. After that I took the following week off to rest and was able to ski in Banff, albeit abbreviated days, but it was fun. After Banff, I went back to the ortho. Because I didn’t fully rest, she wasn’t surprised it wasn’t fully healed. She prescribed physical therapy to address the tracking problem. I did that for a few months, but since there wasn’t a marked improvement and I still had pain, I had surgery in July.
When I woke from surgery, my doctor said she found a giant plica in my knee. I’m still not sure what that was. She explained it was something that was there when I was born. Essentially, it was a fibrous growth spanning from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock on the medial side of my kneecap. She removed the entire thing, adding that it was angry, swollen, and that the fall had irritated it. Because it was so swollen, it was rubbing on my kneecap and causing the pain. It would never have healed on its own, so it needed to be removed. I had to be on crutches for a few days, and then I would go back to physical therapy.
All was well until about three days after my surgery, and I felt a pain in my calf. I had developed a blood clot, which resulted in post-thrombosis syndrome. This caused my entire lower leg, from the knee down to swell, and it never stopped. I was in physical therapy for months trying to alleviate the swelling and increase my mobility and comfort. It was grueling. It took me weeks to be able to ride a stationary bike, my leg unable to make a full rotation. I couldn’t straighten my leg when I stood. I was sad and miserable and always in pain.
My mobility was taxed too. There’s nothing worse than not being able to walk normal. When I walked anywhere, I felt like I was walking through a fun-house. I felt unsteady all the time and when I hit an irregularity on the ground I’d almost topple over. My knee didn’t work right, so it couldn’t bend to absorb changes in terrain.
I went to therapy twice a week for two months before I regained any sort of mobility. My doctor was absolutely stumped as to why my body was behaving the way it was. It had been such a long time since my surgery, my knee technically was healed from the surgery.
By September, she suspected I had something called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (R.S.D.). It happens to some people after an injury that drags on, like mine. It’s kind of like phantom limb syndrome, you know, when you lose a limb but still feel it. In the case of RSD, my body thought it was still injured. My knee kept telling my brain that it was hurt, although it was healed. Because my brain thought my knee was still hurt, it kept causing it to swell, and I kept feeling pain even though I was better. Also, my calf was still mysteriously swollen. Looking back, I think the tumor was probably what was causing the erroneous signals to be sent to my knee. I’ll never know, but I contend that was partly to blame for the RSD developing. Although the tumor weakened the right side of my body, my brain had a tumor in it and the signals were already being crossed up there. Regardless of why this was happening, I was riding the struggle bus. Because it was early fall, I was afraid I would not be healed for ski season.
After that visit in September when my doc suspected I had RSD, she prescribed antidepressants; the idea being that the medication would stop the erroneous messages my brain and knee were sending back and forth to each other. It worked. In a matter of weeks, I started responding to therapy. I was still uncomfortable, and my calf was still swollen, but it was wasn’t as bad as it had been. I had more weeks of therapy but I was on the mend and I was able to ski January.
Now you know the story behind the title of my blog, falling upstairs caused one of the worst chapters in my life, although I’ve had other more heroic times since then. Also, now you know why Burke Mountain and I are no longer friends. Ski season is too short each year to risk having another unsavory encounter with a hostile ex. I will not be returning to that mountain ever again.
To this day my left calf is still a bit bigger than my right one, and my knee can be sore for no reason, but that’s it. I could be so much worse but I’m not and I’m thankful. Since my brain surgery, my klutziness is mitigated. I’m not 100% balanced and may never be and besties still worry for my safety because I will probably never be Lady Grace. But thus far, I have survived 100% of my worst days, and I’m grateful for that.
Before the RSD diagnosis, I was looking online to find out why my body was behaving as it was. Was it an autoimmune disorder? I Goggled all sorts of things, and I found out that a gluten allergy can cause havoc with the body. I immediately adopted a gluten free lifestyle. I’m not sure it helped my knee recovery, but it helped my never-ending heartburn and reflux.