Friday, January 23, 2009

Destroying my knee snowboarding

22 January 2009
By: Joe Casale

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball.

I destroyed my knee this weekend snowboarding. We went to Roccaraso (in Italy) for our first snowboarding trip in Europe. And on my second run, I hit a tree pretty hard. I was along the right side of the trail weaving in and out of the trees, looking for good powder between the moguls and the edge of the trail, and I hit a patch of crusty snow as I was transitioning from toe side to heal side (i.e., I was turning to the left). The board slipped out from under me, and I slammed the left side of my left leg knee into a tree. My last thought before I hit the tree was, "I'm going to break my leg."

My left leg below the knee bent about 20 deg to the left and the kneecap rolled to the right. So, I screamed and looked at my now bent to the side leg. It looked really bad, so I immediately pushed the left calf with my left hand, and on the "side" of my knee with my right hand and everything popped back into place. It hurt like a bitch.

People on the lift saw and called ski patrol, and I was able to take off my board and start to slide down the rest of the hill on my butt. Ski patrol launched a helo to come find me, and when I got to the bottom ski patrol was waiting for me. I got a ride back to the main lodge on the back of a snowmobile where Melissa was waiting for me.

So, I injured myself at about 10AM, these are the events that took place as best as I can remember. The Italian ski patrol was a trip, none of them spoke any English and they wore police uniforms, they were supposed to be EMT trained also, but as far as I could tell not a single one of them knew anything about first aid. The medical clinic was closed and unmanned and I waited there without treatment for an Italian ambulance to take me to the local hospital. I had to prompt the ski patrol to give me a bag of ice. Melissa seemed to be the person with the most first aid training in the area. Since no treatment was available at the mountain, and I thought that my leg might be broken we thought the best plan was to let the Italians take me to the hospital. Melissa stayed at the mountain to inform the people that we were on the trip with and, get our gear back on the bus, and because they wouldn't take her in the ambulance. I wasn’t sure why they wouldn’t take Melissa on the ambulance, but as we were heading to the hospital we had to pick up someone else with a broken arm.

The ambulance was a meat wagon, I’m not sure that the EMT’s in the ambulance had any training, and they were just there to pick up bodies. They didn’t even strap me to the gurney or take off my snowboarding boot. I just lay there, unsecured, as the ambulance bounced down the road and my knee flexed up and down between by butt and the top of my boot. Once I was at the hospital I laid on a gurney in the hallway entrance of the ER for about 2 hours before anyone spoke to me. I was the only person there that spoke any English, my Italian is bad, and I was by myself with no cell phone. Melissa was the only person that knew that I went to the hospital and then had to figure out how to get me back, and eventually back to the base in Naples.

So after 2 hours a real Italian doc saw me, poked at my knee and ordered some x-rays. After they wheeled me to the dimly lit X-Ray room, they wheeled me into a waiting room with an old woman that was clearly about to die. About a half hour after this, Melissa finally showed up with an American dude that was also stationed at the base, but drove up there in his own car, and they drove us back to the Navy Base.

While I was in the hospital, Melissa was able to contact the MWR (Moral Welfare and Recreation) people that put the trip together, the quarterdeck, the hospital, and got the emergency number to the Battle Watch, but no one was really able to help her out. She also spoke to the medical liaison, who is supposed to translate Italian to English if you end up in an Italian hospital, but she wasn’t very helpful. The bottom line from all of these people was that we would have to find our own way back to Naples. The medical liaison suggested that we take a cab back to the base. But, we did finally manage to make it back.

So, now I'm in a full immbolizer and I am unable to put any weight on the left leg at all. The doctors and have done x-rays and a CT and the leg is not broken, but I don't have an MRI and my appointment with Ortho scheduled until next week. The ER doc that did the exam on my knee says that the problem appears to be with my MCL (on the interior of my knee). I'm concerned that the MCL or several tendons are torn (based on how far my leg bent around that tree). But I also hear stories about how some people have this injury and they are able to recover quickly because the tendons aren’t even completely torn. I’m hoping for the best.

So, it looks like I am done snowboarding for the season.

A note on skiing in Italy: The mountain was only about 2 hours away and looked like a great ski resort with lots of varied terrain, and what appears to be the potential to have good snow conditions. I’m looking forward to getting back on the slopes next year.

Until next time.


  1. oops, forgot to sign- DUMBSHIT!
    -- Whitener

  2. Gives a new meaning to "tree-hugger!" Sorry you busted your knee, Joe, that SUCKS...but your attitude about it is awesome! Hope the prognosis is back-in-action really soon :)