When you go out for a straightforward hike with your family, you don’t expect to have to be carried out on a stretcher by the local mountain rescue team, bundled into a waiting ambulance, undergo emergency surgery and then spend the rest of your holiday recovering in a hospital bed – Let’s face it – that’s not why we take holidays ! Unfortunately, however, that’s what happened to me over Easter this year.
Hobbling around the house on crutches and with my knee braced up, makes me reflect on how lucky I’ve been over the years to generally have avoided such calamities, especially in some remoter locations, where help is far away or possibly even unavailable. It also makes me aware of how luck can run out when we least expect it, when things are routine and easy. Life is precious and fragile – so just when we are taking everything for granted, we can so easily experience that unexpected “ouch” which literally brings us down to earth with a bump.
However this is no epic tale of survival against the odds – just a straightforward, rather silly case of misjudgement and lack of attention. That particular day in April had started well enough. The plan was for a simple and unambitious hike on an interesting, but straightforward path along the Finzbachklamm, an impressive gorge, tucked away in the hills near the village of Krün in the Karwendel region of Bavaria. Heading off into the woods, we followed a rough path along the bottom of the narrowing ravine, taking time to linger by some lovely and inviting aquamarine pools, where the river Finzbach flowed between rocky headlands. After that, the path wound more steeply upwards, zig-zagging up the steep side of the gorge and providing ever more impressive views of the valley, the surrounding forests and mountains. The trail then continued along the rim of the gorge, past some airy viewpoints, for another km or so before joining a larger forest track.
All this natural wonder is indeed the perfect inspiration for photos and that was my simple thought when I decided to step a bit nearer towards the edge, just to get a couple of nice snaps from an obvious lookout point; by that time my family were somewhat well out in front and I quickly weighed up the pros and cons of lingering to take in the view. That turned out to be a bad decision…
Focusing more upon the view than the easy terrain over which I was walking, proved my undoing. There were some projecting tree roots, a rough step down and a change of incline which didn’t really register. Without any warning I found myself suddenly hurtling to the ground (fortunately not over the drop which was a few metres further on). At that moment, there was a very loud and very ominous crack from my leg and I found myself literally lying in a heap on the ground; my leg pushed back and hurting like hell – a horrible cramping pain.
After the initial shock, I tried to move my leg, however it clearly wasn’t wanting to go anywhere and the pain was stabbing and unpleasant to say the least. I thought about dislocation of the knee as a possible scenario and wondered if I could push it back using the other leg, having heard urban myths about rugby players doing similar things and then getting on with the game. So in some ways this was helpful – the useless leg flopped out in front of me and the pain subsided immediately. However, unfortunately, it didn’t simply click back into place as a result of my makeshift DIY!
So Survival plan A, perhaps made some sense if being somewhat optimistic; Survival plan B, which involved trying to somehow stand and walk along the path, proved even more optimistic. Miraculously I made about 10m or so before collapsing in an unruly heap and great pain by a big pine tree and having to repeat the procedure of pushing my leg forward to ease the pain, which again provided some relief.
So it was clear I was going nowhere. Plan C was to accept unpleasant facts and to wait for help from my family, who were somewhere off in the distance in front. Surely they would notice that I wasn’t following sooner or later. After what seemed like an age, I heard the welcome sound of their distant voices up the trail; however despite my repeated calls, they then seemed to get no closer – my calls going unheard.
Eventually, just when I was giving up hope, my daughter came sauntering around the corner to check out the situation. I explained that I couldn’t walk any more and needed help to move. True to form, I received a quizzical look from Zoe and questions I hadn’t expected about why I’d decided to have a rest on the ground and put my feet up, whilst others were waiting ahead up the trail. I gave up trying to explain my predicament and bawled “Just get Mummy…!!!”.
Fortunately, this proved more successful, and a bemused “Mummy” soon appeared after she’d received the news from my daughter that I’d decided to have an Impromptu nap by the side of the trail for unknown reasons. However, this had sounded somewhat too out of character to be convincing in any way. So “Mummy” got on the phone and dialled the emergency services once we’d looked at the map to determine the location and best access – fortunately it was only 50m or so of rough path to the Jeep Track. After another half an hour or so, we heard the welcome sound of the the Krün Mountain Rescue Team vehicle approaching, to pick up the pieces and bring me back to “civilisation” (after first dragging out their own vehicle out of the mud, after it got bogged down trying to turn around).
The rescue guys were clearly pros though and carefully loaded me into a stretcher, making sure not to bend the leg. After being wheeled over the section of rough path on their patent 4X4 stretcher (which featured a bike wheel underneath for all terrain use), I was loaded unceremoniously into the rescue vehicle and then bumped and jostled down the forest track. I was then transferred to an awaiting ambulance in Krün (where a few onlookers took the chance for a gawp at the victim), which took me to the Accident and Emergency unit in Garmisch. Although it was all a bit hazy, I have to say the emergency teams were great and provided wonderful support and encouragement. At Garmisch, I was wheeled along long corridors to be assessed by various specialists in low-lit and labyrinthine underground chambers, then x-rayed and ultra-sounded to determine what happed. Eventually a white robed doctor gave me the verdict – I’d completely ripped my patella tendon (that was the loud cracking noise !). This required urgent surgery to stitch the tendon back together.
So I had my operation the next day (no time wasted here in Germany, though that’s not always the case), which was successful and then spent the rest of the holiday recuperating in the hospital ward, billeted with a young German soldier who’d had a skiing accident and a Romanian chef with an unfeasible work-related foot injury. Both the inmates and the staff were fine and decent company, not that I was feeling so sociable. In fact we were treated well by everyone, though I have to admit an extended hospital stay was not quite my idea of a holiday by any means – worst of all was the daily stomach injection against thrombosis. It’s still part of the recovery plan 😦
At least the view was great though – overlooking the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain and the ski jumps of the infamous 1936 Winter Olympics, which was opened by a propaganda hungry Adolf Hitler to showcase the alleged might of the Third Reich. Some decades later, it was here that Eddie the Eagle was to train for his epic performances in Calgary. It has to be said that I was lucky to enjoy such a fine view from a hospital bed and a work colleague even, encouragingly, sent me an article about how nice views of nature aid recovery of hospitalised patients.
Obviously, there was some truth in this. After several days I was deemed fit for release and my family duly appeared to collect me for the long drive home – they’d had to extend the holiday especially and book accommodation for an extra few nights; the kids obviously being devastated about missing school.
So now I’m recuperating at home – it’s a slow road to full recovery and I hobble around the house with crutches and a knee brace, moaning about mysterious aches and pains; expecting sympathy, but not really getting much. After all, it was my fault for being such an idiot in the first place surely (just to avoid household chores or something). Occasional trips out to visit doctors and physios livens up the routine somewhat.
All in all, I do feel very grateful though that, I have been looked after by so many kind people and to live in a “civilised” country which can provide such an infrastructure and care – We do take a lot for granted. Who knows when life can change in ways which are quite unexpected and less pleasant than our normal cosy routines – SHIT HAPPENS I guess, but at least I’m here to fight another day ! Strangely enough though, mountain hikes are not on the wish list right at this moment.
And I did enjoy the Easter holiday for a couple of days at least. Here’s a few photos of those first few blissful days.