Thursday, January 14, 2010

Flying Solo

Sledding is best left for the young! (photo by Lon Horwedel)

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you immediately wish you could turn back time and do it all over? Maybe something you said, or something you did; or something you wished you’d done differently, or not done at all?

I had one of those moments last Sunday as I prepared for takeoff on the snow ramp some kids built near the bottom of the sledding hill at Vet’s Park. Actually, the ramp and the hill weren’t so much snow as they were ice - or perhaps concrete - and if I had to venture a guess at my approximate launch speed, I’d peg it somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 mph, so I knew before I took to the friendly skies of Ann Arbor, I probably wouldn’t have a very smooth, injury-free landing.

Of course, the prospect of scattering my skeletal system, and possibly a fair amount of skin and blood, all over the bottom of Ann Arbor’s most dangerous sledding hill, paled in comparison to the life-long browbeating I surely would be getting from my wife, whom I’d promised nary an hour earlier, that neither I, nor our kids, would go near the big hill at Vet’s. To be fair, I’d kept my promise for roughly 59 minutes and 30 seconds before I let my kids talk me into leaving the smaller hill to take “just one run” down the big hill - it’s those last 30 seconds that always kill me.

Without incident, my kids made their run down the giant hill, and then it was my turn. Smooshing my middle-aged body into a plastic sled I felt a little like Anthony Hopkins in “The World’s Fastest Indian” as I stared out at the blindingly white, hard-glazed surface of the hill. Now it was my turn to make a run at a land-speed record as the “The World’s Fastest Idiot!”

To be honest, I wanted no part of the ramp at the bottom of the hill. I even made sure to start my record-setting descent from the far right edge at the top of the hill to try and avoid it. Everything was going just fine a third of the way down the hill - I was accelerating nicely, it was relatively smooth, and my path seemed to be a good one – but then trouble arrived.

Ahead of me, about 20-feet or so, a mother and her small child veered into my path and wiped out. Now they were just sitting there helpless as I barreled down on them like a freight train. The thought of possibly vaporizing the two wasn’t a good one, so I leaned hard to my left and dug my feet into the hard-packed snow behind me, hoping I might somehow steer clear of their path.

As luck would have it, the edge of my sled dug in just enough to let me skirt by the duo unscathed, but now I had bigger problems. After my abrupt change of course, the ramp I had so painstakingly tried to avoid, was now dead in my sights and I had no time to react.

I hit the ramp so perfectly, at such a high rate of speed, that I launched myself what my son later predicted was “at least 6-feet off the ground.” Time seemed to stand still as I separated from my sled and began swimming through the air. If not for my awareness of gravity, I’m sure I would have enjoyed my flight to the fullest. All around me I saw jaws of stunned children hanging open as at first I soared, and then plummeted to earth like a wounded bird.

During my five-second flight, I had plenty of time to ponder my landing choices. My head didn’t seem like such a good idea, nor did my chest, so I opted for a stunt-man-like dive and roll to try and minimize the certain structural damage I was about to endure. Unfortunately, my timing was off a bit and I landed on my right elbow instead of my shoulder. Several snap rolls later, I popped to my feet like I’d planned the whole thing.

A mixture of laughter and applause broke out amongst the pint-sized daredevils surrounding me at the bottom of the hill. My own kids didn’t even bother asking me if I was okay. Up the hill, the mother and child I’d nearly creamed gave me a confused look, unaware they’d inadvertently caused my rather impressive Evel Knievel impersonation.

Amazingly, nothing hurt – at least not too bad. And by that I mean my teeth were still in my mouth and there wasn’t a trail of blood in the snow. But then I remembered the direct landing to my elbow; surely it must have sustained some damage?

I tried to straighten my arm – no good - my wrist was a little sore too. I went to pick up the remains of my crumpled sled and realized my right hand wasn’t working all that well either. Panicked, I began windmilling my right arm in circles to see if my shoulder still worked. It seemed to be okay, but I felt an immediate depression begin to sink in when I realized my trans-Ann Arbor flight might have just cost myself a summer of golf and baseball.  But the worst was yet to come.

How, exactly, do you tell your wife you probably just broke your elbow doing the one thing she made you promise not to do? As it turns out, I didn’t have to tell her, my kids took that honor the moment we walked in the door. All I had to do was sit there and put up with the firestorm that followed … and followed … and followed.

When my wife realized that no amount of “I told you so” or “what the hell were you thinking” would fix my broken wing, she reluctantly drove me to the ER. By then, rigor mortis had basically set in and my elbow looked more like a T-square than a human joint. The x-rays that soon followed confirmed my suspicion – I had fractured the head of my radius, or, in layman terms, I’d broken my elbow.

Oddly, the type of break I sustained didn’t require a cast or even a splint. The doctor simply gave me a sling and told me to ice it for 20-minutes five times a day and take painkillers if I wanted.

“How soon can I throw a baseball?” I asked the ER doctor.

“At your age? Maybe three months if all goes well.” He answered.

That didn’t seem too horrible, so home I went, still a little depressed, but as least without a cast.

It’s hard to describe life with only one functional arm. Some things proved to be a lot easier than I thought – brushing my teeth, tying my shoes, folding laundry, and making beds for example. And some things proved a lot more difficult, like driving a stick shift, opening a jar of peanut butter, blowing my nose and wiping my … well, you get the picture.

My newfound respect for amputees lasted only a few days before the swelling in my elbow subsided to the point where I could perform my daily tasks without much bother. Of course, daily tasks aren’t throwing baseballs or playing golf, and my chiseled biceps and pecs will be a thing of the past once I’m finally healed.

In the meantime I’ll keep icing my broken elbow five times a day as I wait for the bone to mend – six or more if you count the frigid stares I keep getting from my wife!!!


  1. Man, I am such a southpaw... since I don't want to jinx myself, I will say no more.

    This reminded me of taking my girls rollerskating years ago. I used to play hockey, roller skate and all that stuff. But that was a couple of decades prior to the skate date we had.

    I was fortunate to only sprain my ankle. Haven't thought about doing THAT again!

    Oh, great story!

  2. It could have been worse, and at least your wife relented and took you to the ER. Of course, you have not heard the last of this by a long shot :o)