Photo op: The duck figurine, which upon closer inspection appears to be a chick. In front of Mad River Glen's iconic bumper sticker.
Six years ago today, I badly broke my leg in a skiing accident at Mad River Glen in Vermont. Happy anniversary to me. “A Duck, For When You’re Down on Your Luck” was originally written for a college class in Spring 2010. This is an edited, abbreviated version. Enjoy!
Mad River Glen. Sunday, February 12, 2006 – I jumped off a cliff. On skis. Yes, on purpose. What happened next was not planned. An anomaly on the surface of the snow caught the inside edge of my right ski, ripping it back over my right shoulder as the rest of my body went left. I felt a crack and some intense grinding in my leg, which continued as I hurtled down the remaining few feet of the mountain. When I finally came to a stop, I knew something was horribly wrong. Then I looked down.
The normal human leg bends at the knee and then continues on in a graceful straight line to the next joint, the ankle. When I looked at my right leg, it was as if someone had added another joint between my knee and my ankle. Right at the top of my boot, my leg jutted sideways, creating a 90-degree angle between the portion of my leg right below my knee and the part still trapped in my ski boot.
That’s when the pain registered. I threw my body to the left, felt my leg flop back over, began pounding the snow with my fist, and let out a scream for the record books. My dad was the first one to reach me. Always calm and collected in moments of chaos, he asked me happened. “I broke my leg,” I told him definitively.
Shock began setting in, slightly diminishing the pain and making my head fuzzy. I remember a flurry of people around me, including my mom. She doesn’t ski but had been in the lodge and watched a girl fall – not knowing at the time that the girl she saw was her daughter. Ski patrollers arrived with a sled.
“Where does it hurt?” one woman asked.
“I broke my leg.” I would’ve put a million dollars on it.
“Did you hear it break?”
“No.” My head had been dragging down the slope in a helmet.
“It’s probably not broken then. Probably just a strain.”
I remember thinking she was sadly, definitely mistaken. And that I probably wouldn’t be able to shower for an unfortunately long time.
Fast forward to Friday – the day of my surgery (my leg wasn’t going to heal properly in a cast). While the nurses were prepping me, they kept asking me what my pain level was. My answer was always seven or eight. They rolled me into the operating room. Billy Joel was playing on the radio. Or maybe it was Elton John. They gave me laughing gas to get the IV in and whatever the song was started whirring in my head and my vision went silver. I threw up on the table and then went out before I had even been given the anesthesia.
When I woke up back in my room a few hours later, I was screaming “TEN!” I don’t even remember telling myself to yell. It was involuntary. Almost as if I had already been screaming and the racket had woken me up. The nurses came in in a flurry and injected me with some sort of drug that put me right out. I was in the pediatric ward and the last thing I remember seeing before my eyes closed was a duck painted on the wall.
I received a lot of visitors that week. I fell asleep at some point during most of the visits, but I really did enjoy having people around to talk to. They all brought me something. I was given flowers and perfumes, Bath and Body Works supplies, stuffed animals, and candy. Memom and Dedad, my dad’s parents, brought up a big aluminum pan of spaghetti, which smelled like puke to me. Everything smelled and tasted like puke to me for the first few weeks. For some reason, all I could eat was Cheerios and pineapple. My mom’s friend brought me a beta fish, which I thought was a really weird get well present. I named him Barre (pronounced Barry) after the town Barre, Vermont where the first hospital was.
At some point during the week, Nana and Pop-Pop came over. Nana is a small and very classy lady, always dressing in nice warm sweaters and always freezing cold regardless. She has a Bronx accent, which makes some of her words that end in “a” sound like they end in “r”. My cousin Amanda’s name always comes out “Amander” when Nana says it. Pop-Pop walked slowly and talked with a Jersey City accent. He was a little hard of hearing. You could say something like, “Try some of these,” and he would say, “What? Mayonnaise?” But he was sharp as a tack and still very image conscious in his old age. His hair was naturally black into his eighties, and he loved to pat it down in his car mirror so it stayed just right.
Nana brought me something adorable, I’m sure, though I can’t remember what exactly it was at this point. It had Pop-Pop’s name on it too, but Pop-Pop always loved going out and getting something special of his own to give his kids and grandkids. When I turned 16 and received my driver’s permit, he had given me a miniature bright orange traffic cone that said “Practice Practice Practice,” on it. I was expecting nothing short of spectacular this time around.
He handed me an unwrapped yellow box. Curiously, I opened the top, pulling the three tabs up to reveal whatever treasure awaited me inside. It was packed in white Styrofoam, which I squeakily pulled out. Inside was something yellow and shiny. I reached in and grabbed the cold object and brought it into the light. I was perplexed.
It was a duck. A smiling ceramic duck standing on huge orange webbed feet. He leaned a little bit to the left and was holding a pink ceramic flower between his wings. It looked like something you could get at a Hallmark store. I thought Pop-Pop had picked it simply because it was cute and kind of odd looking – he loved things like that.
I barely had time to register what it was before Pop-Pop took it out of my hands, placed it on the glass coffee table in front of me, and hit it. Startled, I watched it wobble from side to side with that silly look on its face. I realized it was like a bobble-head doll, or one of those Hawaiian dashboard dancers. Its legs were stationary, but its round body was free to move.
Still very confused, I looked to Pop-Pop for some sort of explanation.
“Shaky at first, but if you give it some time it’ll steady out.”
He was right. All I needed was time.
Seventeen days after the accident, I finally got to take a shower.