Right before my body slammed on to the formerly frozen
ground, I heard a scraping sound. I hadn't skied in 12 years and, when I did, it
had always been in the freezing temperatures of the Northeast. So I wasn't
prepared for the twigs and tree roots jutting through the snow in the 50-degree
weather of the Eastern Sierras. Hence, the
scraping noise and crash. It's not like I was going 40 miles
an hour, or even 20. The problem wasn't so much impact as the fact that I
never let go of the pole.
"Skiier's thumb" is what the perky paramedic called it the
next morning, when I clunked up the stairs in my skiboots to their office to
find out why my thumb had swollen to the size of a chicken leg.
"Happened to me last year. Took a long time to heal," the young woman said, smiling. I was
fighting the urge to cry, because how much crying can a woman on vacation with
her husband and two healthy children get away with? But the thought of being in
pain, or having to wear any kind of splint that would immobilize my thumb for
months, was making me choke on my breath.
How would I hit the space bar?
Visions of faulty dictation software danced through my head. And what about endless trips
to specialists, then mounting medical bills, bankruptcy and, finally,
paralyzing depression? A more seasoned medic walked up, interrupting my
catastrophic daydream. He was a rugged, ruddy-faced man with twinkly blue eyes. He seemed happy in the specific way of people who have figured out how
to do what they love and get paid for it. I instantly wanted to be
him. He took my finger in his hand.
"Sometimes you need surgery for that, so keep an eye on it,"
he said, also smiling. "Okay," I said, blinking quickly. Sensing my panic
he added, "But who knows? You could feel better by tomorrow." They sent
me off with a metal splint and a heartfelt, "Good luck!"
I did not feel better the next day.
I hadn't really thought through the "what if something happens to me," possibility. It frankly never even entered my mind.
I did, however,
figure out that I could take a couple of Advil and ski without poles and not
make it any worse. Since very few people were interested in paying for
the thrill of warm weather skiing with not much snow, we had the mountain to ourselves at sunset on the last day. The four of us skiing down the
hill, two of whom I birthed, is a striking memory that, along with my thumb
brace, I will have forever.
The question remains, of course, was it a mistake to hit the
slopes after a 12-year break on a week-long ski trip just to create some very
cool memories with my family? I know accidents can happen getting out of the
bathtub or unintentionally lighting a potholder on fire in the kitchen. But to
willingly put your body under unnecessary stress, as a parent of small
children, is this the responsible thing to do? Certainly one of my friends
would say no. She told me point blank that she gave up skiing after children
for fear of exactly this kind of thing happening — or worse.
I thought about this when I met with the hand surgeon after
we returned to Los Angeles. He ran some tests and was blatantly
disappointed that I wouldn't be needing his services.
"But even without
surgery, it's going to take months to heal, you know, because we're not 7," he
joked and turned on his heels and walked out of the room.
I hadn't really
thought through the "what if something happens to me," possibility. It frankly
never even entered my mind. Despite hitting mid-life, I seem to still
function from an adolescent perspective of invincibility. Plus, I don't
really believe in accidents. I prefer to torture myself with the belief
that somewhere I must have wanted a wrecked thumb. To confirm this
suspicion, I checked in with Louise Hay, the original "There are no accidents"
guru, who calls herself a "medical intuitive" and is the bestselling author of
"You Can Heal Your Life." I Googled her at 2 a.m. after the mishap, when I couldn't sleep obsessing
about my future without the use of a key digit. According to Hay,
accidents that affect the thumb have to do with intellect and worry. If
she's right, I'm surprised I've had functioning thumbs at all since I became
pregnant with my oldest. Seeing the experience from Hays' perspective, I
should be dancing a jig that I've been able to keep my thumbs in tact as long
as I have.
So, I say: go ahead and do your "thing."
Maybe it wasn't an accident, (although I'm pretty sure it
was). Maybe going on a ski trip wasn't the safest choice at an age when my
body takes a lot longer to heal than it did a few decades ago. But what is the
alternative? To become the Mom who packs the lunches and sits on the sidelines
as the kids and my husband do all the fun stuff? And, not to get all feminist
on everyone, but if you do make that choice as a mother, what are you modeling
to your children about what women do?
So, I say: go ahead and do your "thing." Go skating,
surfing, biking, mountain climbing, if that's your pleasure. Think it
through a little bit, sure Don't be reckless. Check in with your body and be humble
enough to accept your limitations if you get in to trouble.
And if you do
go skiing? Lose the poles, you don't need them. Just ask my 7-year-old.