The funny thing about it all, it’s really not that hard to fracture you L1 vertebrae. Here’s a list of all you need:
- Friends (they come in handy after the accident).
- Snow (particularly, hard-packed snow that hundreds have sledded on already).
- A decent-sized hill.
- An idiot to carve out a nasty jump by digging into the snow.
- One thin plastic sled.
- A little too much confidence in one’s self.
- And tourists that run away at the first sign of trouble.
Yup, I had that entire list covered. And sure enough, as easy as it was, I ended up with a fractured to my number one lumbar vertebrae. I’ll explain all the medical stuff in a bit–but first, let’s take the list and turn it into a process. To do that it is probably best I tell you the story from the beginning. I’ll try and make this short since it hurts to sit up for long.
It all started on December 26, 2009, in Las Vegas, during my Christmas vacation, when a good friend of mine, Felipe Palitang, informed me that him and his friends had gone sledding recently (I think the day before–or before that–if my memory serves me correct). My jealous self could not resist the urge to ask Felipe if, we could find time the next day, maybe I could also join in the holiday fun, drive up into the snow, and go sledding as well. Felipe agreed. He thought it would be a great idea if we could get a few people together and just have some good ol’ fashioned fun in the snow.
The next morning, December 27, 2009, Felipe called me–waking me up–and confirmed he was ready and willing to head up into the mountains. I quickly texted as many people as I could to invite them up with us. By then end of the morning we confirmed our crew.
Felipe would take Timothy Mwero (my youngest brother), Branden Taylor (Tim’s best friend) and himself in his small, but rather comfy, SUV. I would take Amber Moore, Trinity Moore (Amber’s daughter and my God-Daughter), and Brandon Temple (Amber’s finance) in my rented Chevy Malibu.
Felipe and I agreed on leaving the area around 12:30pm, but by the time he stopped at Big 5 to pick up one plastic disc sled, and a plastic tobaggon, and by the time I figured out all snow gloves were taken from the stores, we left my house after 1:00pm. Felipe followed me as I headed over to Amber’s place where we picked them up. After which we headed to another Big 5 Sporting Goods–on our way out of town–where I found myself a pair of snow gloves. We were now ready and excited to go play in the snow.
As a precaution I had brought a couple of my Motorola Two-Way radios with me. I thought that, at the least, in case any one of us got lost on the way up we have a way of finding each other.
Mt. Charleston is not very far away from Las Vegas. In an hour you find yourself surrounded by thick brush, wild growth and beautiful trees. Its a landscape you would never imagine is so close to the desert.
In what seemed like no time we had made our way passed the Mt. Charleston exit, off the 95, onto highway 156, up into the mountains, and into the snow covered Lee Canyon.
Police greeted us as we entered into the park and warned us to please follow parking signs.
Felipe lead the way as he picked a place for us to get out and begin sledding down the hills.
The first spot we found seemed trecherous, but nevertheless, we all got out of the cars, made our way across a ditch and played our hearts out in the snow. Branden Taylor and Tim did their best to show off as they climbed up the steep hills and slid all the way back down on the sleds. Typical guy stuff, you know? So, of course I joined in.
Up and down. Back and forth. From one trail to another. We had close calls with a few trees, but no one seemed to care once the immediate danger was avoided. I even tried sledding down one of the hills with 4 and half year old Trinity. After losing grip on the sled and clumsily sliding behind her down half the hill, let’s just say it’ll be a while before Trinity ever truly enjoys the snow, and even more so, sledding.
Nevertheless, we were having a great time.
Trinity, now thoroughly frozen from frolicking in the snow, made the decision for us that maybe it was time to at least get warm. We all headed over to where we parked the cars and decided that instead of calling the day short we should probably find one more spot where the “boys” could play a little more.
We drove around the canyon, all the way up to the ski resort–which is the end of the road, literally–turned around, drove a bit and found ourselves parked next to the big, main play area of the canyon. What looked to me to be hundreds of people lined the entire hillside, climbing up and sledding down, and just having the time of their lives.
Amber, Brandon Temple, and Trinity all decided to stay warm in the car, so I left it running as I joined the rest of the guys already crossing the street and running for the hill.
Felipe, Branden Taylor, Timothy and I picked a spot that wasn’t so crowded, but nonetheless was surrounded by tourists. To our right, clear-cut foreigners from another country. To our left, possible tourist family. In any case, there were no challengers for the three trails available to us.
Tim and Branden went up and down each trail countless of times. I joined once and took on a trail that was over to the left. It was a modest hill and in fact, after surveying our new-found spot, I concluded the runs were much safer then our last choice.
The boys began to tire and that’s when I made my choice–the choice that I continue to regret.
I handed the sled to Felipe, insisting he take a turn. Felipe insisted I at least take another turn, since I only went down one of the three trails. I agreed and chose the bigger of the three. It looked smooth and only had one hazard at the end of the run–a big fat tree.
So far, everyone in our group who took the run came down relatively smoothly and also cleared the tree by feet. I was confident my turn would be the same. Felipe also assured me he would jump in the way and block me from hitting the tree if it came down to it.
I climbed up the hill and trudged on a little farther then everyone else had gone. When Felipe asked why I was going up further, I shouted back, “It’s my last run… I might as well make it good one, right?”
I dug the disc into the snow a bit and created a flatter start. I took a few deep breaths, sat down, picked up my feet, and watched myself hurtle down the hill.
For almost the entire run all I felt was jubilee. The cool wind rushing past my face, the snow whooshing past me, and all eyes from left to right glaring in wonder–themselves hoping to experience the joy this one man has. Everything was perfect… until I spotted a dip.
I had positioned myself a bit more upright on the sled then I usually do. This allowed me to spot obstacles a bit more clearly. And the obstacle I now spotted frightened me beyond belief.
As I neared the dip I suddenly noticed it was more of a hole rather then a dip. In a split second I thought, ‘What fool would try to dig a jump like that. It doesn’t even look like a jump!’
I braced for impact knowing this was gonna hurt. Little did I know just how much “hurt” I was in for.
Like a bullet I felt the shock of the bump on my spine. Apparently, as I was told later by Tim, as I dipped into the hole, the disc sled dug in and ejected me onto the bare snow. My body, mainly my butt, went full force into the far side of the hole, ramming into the hard-packed snow that had developed. Due to the enormous amount of speed I had built up from the top of the hill and the angle of the hole I was thrust into the air, head-up. My body rotated on two axes. The first, I was turned from a sitting position slowly into a prostrate superman position. Second, according to Felipe and Tim, I barrel-rolled 1 and half times to the right. I finally landed straight onto my back from a crest height of 5-6 feet, from which then I slid and rolled onto my knees.
The best way to describe the excruciating pain: it’s like having 20 pool table cue balls shot into your back all at the same time. Then once they are there, someone keeps jamming then in.
I screamed, rolled, and moaned and tried to find a way for me to stand on my own power. I quickly gave up and new the only way I was getting off this snow and into the car was with someone’s help.
As I screamed in pain and turned to Felipe for help I searched around to see if there would be anyone else willing to help me get back to the car. All the foreigners to our right, and the family to our left, were walking away, and now a good 100-200 feet away. Branden had already left earier to go back to the car by this point and so it was only Tim and Felipe close by.
I instructed Tim to grab all our stuff as Felipe volunteered himself to help me back to the car. Halfway back, Tim radioed Brandon Temple and informed him we needed his help. Brandon ran over from the car and met us halfway. Both Felipe and Brandon took my arms and did their best to gently help me down and up the ditch lining the side of the road.
Once we reached the road I insisted I walk under my own power. The pain was unbearable but I did it anyway. I also insisted I drive myself down off the mountain, and so we all piled up and we stared to make our way down.
In less then 15 minutes, the pain of having to sit up, control and vehicle and move my legs was more then I could bare. I pulled over screaming in pain. Brandon Temple helped me out of the car and guided me back to Felipe’s SUV where I could lay down a bit more comfortably. I laid my head my on Branden Taylor’s lap and curled the rest of my body into the back seat. Temple took over driving my rental with Amber and Trinity with him.
45 minutes later, after enduring the most painful car ride of my life–not to mention having to deal with Felipe, Tim and Branden Taylor teasing me the whole way down (all in good fun, plus they were trying to keep me conscious and distracted from the pain), we arrived at Mountain View Hospital right off the 95 on Cheyenne.
Felipe pulled up to the ER, where all the ambulances come through, and solicited the help of fire & rescue who had just finished delivering someone else. They managed to yank me out of the backseat, because by this point I couldn’t move, clamped on a neck brace, and strapped me onto a backboard.
Once inside, I was wheeled into a small ER room and wait-listed for x-rays.
My entire family came through, before and after x-rays, and so it was my brother, Fidi that was with me when I was informed that I had suffered a compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae.
Your spine is made up of 33 bones. Each part of your spine is broken up into segments. The L1 is the first–from the top–vertebrae of you lumbar region. If you look at my x-ray, you’ll see a discoloration of that vertebrae. I had to enhance the photo a little bit, but you can clearly see that the formation of the bone structure is not as solid in the L1 as it is in the L2. That is what a compression fracture looks like.
Soon after drugging me so I wasn’t in so much pain, a representative from Hanger, a prosthetics and & orthotics company, came by and fitted me with a back brace. The brace not only helps to keep my spine in alignment, but it also helps to ease the pressure on the bone and muscle in the area. It should help to speed up my recovery and add a bit of comfort while I’m in the process.
I was soon discharged with a recommendation to see a Neuro-surgeon as soon as possible to follow-up on my injury, explore recovery treatments and possibly eliminate any long-term effects. Due to the holidays, I have not seen one as of yet.
And that, my friends, is how I fractured the L1 vertebrae in my back.
On Monday, December 28, my brothers–Fidi and Tim–and I made our way to California. I had to return the rental as soon as I could since I was already incurring an extra day of fees. The brothers stayed, helping with chores and tasks, until Wednesday, December 30th.
So, now, here I am. A fractured L1, a beaten bank account, temporarily jobless (my job’s worker’s comp insurance will not allow me to work unless I have a doctors note clearing me to work… so I’m not getting paid for this time off) and a worried girlfriend making her way back to California tomorrow.
How will this all pan out? When will I get back to work? When will I recover? Will I ever fully recover?
I have no idea folks. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, what were the lessons I learned?
- You gotta know when to hold’em… and in this case, know when to fold’em. I knew it was time to leave, but instead of walking away, I took one more turn. Big mistake.
- Take a closer look at the run. The hole was close to the bottom. I should have just walked the immediate area looking for unseen obstacles and I would have easily noticed the rather larger hole and bump.
- No your limits! Why in the world did I go up as I high as I did on a run I never took before? And why would I make the last run the best one? That’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t let your ego control what you think you can do.
- Once you’re hurt, STAY DOWN. I made the pain so much worse every time I tried to get up. The funny thing is, fire and rescue were right down the road. Yes, the bill would be much higher, but I would have avoided a much more painful ride down. Just call for professional help folks.
- If you must get away or insist on getting to the hospital on your own, don’t walk on your own power. I’m not sure, but again, I think I made it worse by doing so.
- If there are people willing and able to drive. LET THEM DRIVE! I will never make that mistake again.
- Last but not least… I covered it before a bit, but I will emphasize it as it’s own point. THROW YOUR EGO OUT THE WINDOW. When you’re physical hurt, your ego should be the last thing on your mind.
I hope that helps answer the question, “What in the world did you do to yourself?” and I pray I remember the points above for the next time. Wait… next time?? Oh heck no… there better be no next time!!
By the way:
I want to thank Felipe Palitang, my long-time friend of 14 years, and brother, for helping me out of the snow, driving me to the hospital, soliciting the fire & rescue people, and teasing me in the car so I didn’t focus on my pain, but rather on how I would strangle him after I recovered (hahahahha!). That’s my friend, everybody.
I want to thank Brandon Temple for running as fast as he could to help me off the snow once he heard I was hurt, for driving the rental car so carefully down the mountain, and keeping Amber and Trinity calm and safe. I already think of you as a brother, Brandon.
I want to thank Branden Taylor and Timothy Mwero as well. Branden, although you complained the whole way down, I really appreciate you holding my head and allowing me to be as comfortable as I could be in my time of need. And also thank you for not farting while I was in the car. I know you were holding it the entire way down (hahahahahha). Tim, thank you for being very responsible and getting a hold of everyone you needed to get a hold of and helping to facilitate getting the rental car home and informing my parents. And you are also getting strangled for encouraging Branden and Felipe in their verbal abuse (hahahahha).
The unsung heroes were my younger brother, Fidi, who picked up the rental from Amber’s place and also drove me home after the hospital. My Dad for stopping by on his way to work and even made himself late just to make sure his oldest son was alright. My Mom for bringing gum when she visited me because it had been a full day since I brushed my teeth (thanks, Mother). Amber and Trinity for their prayers and good wishes. Cherisse for apparently notifying the world about my accident and soliciting so many prayers. And finally, I want to thank all of you who did and are continuing to pray for me. Thank you very much. All the facebook comments, tweets, emails and phone calls mean a lot to me, but if one more of you takes advantage of my seemingly helpless situation to throw in a verbal blow, I will be adding you onto my list.
Take care people… and play safe in the snow!