Defensive Safety

STOP Cutting Corners

STOP Cutting Corners!

There are times when the prevention of an injury may lie in someone else’s hands. Protecting yourself from these types of injuries is similar to defensive driving in that you always have to pay attention for other situations around you. This was common practice for me as a motorcyclist and then as a cyclist knowing that I was more succeptable to danger than the people in any of the vehicles that surrounded me.

To illustrate defensive safety I want to tell you about my daughter, Kylie, and her skiing injury when she was seven years old. We were at our favorite mountain destination, Panorama, enjoying a great day of skiing in -27 degree Celsius (-17 degrees Fahrenheit). Yeah, that’s cold. Temperature like that chills you right to the bone. As we came down from our ski run we decided to go into the Chalet to scrape off the frost and thaw out a little. I knew my wife, Nathalie, had some hot chocolate waiting. I was with both of the kids when we stopped at the ski rack and began taking off our skis. Suddenly, Kylie’s pain filled scream pierced the air! She was right behind me, what happened? I turned around to see a Japanese man in his mid-thirties picking himself up off my daughter.

Kylie was screaming as loud as she could “He broke my leg, he broke my leg!”
I implored him, “What did you do?” which was simply followed by a look of confusion.
Apparently he was vacationing from Japan and could not speak any English.
It occurred to me later that screaming sounds very similar in a multitude of languages.

After working through our language barrier I determined that he was snowboarding and ended up going out of control and wiped out on top of Kylie as she had her leg extended to take her ski off. I decided that Kylie was my main concern and I took her skis off as carefully as I could. Breaking a cardinal rule of injury treatment, I asked her if she could walk on her leg. She put a little pressure on it and winced in pain. Realizing I had just committed a gigantic error, I carried her to the Chalet. At this point I’d never seen a broken leg and really didn’t know how serious her injury was, but she kept saying how much it hurt and that her leg was broken. As we got inside the Chalet I saw Nathalie and said “I think Kylie’s leg might be broken”. I came up to a table and simply pushed everything off the table as I gently set Kylie down. I proceeded to take her boot off as gently as I could. All the while she was enduring significant pain. Once I got her boots off I removed her sock and could instantly see a large bulge on her leg. I told Nathalie to get a medic and realized Kylie was probably right … her leg was broken. I then asked the obvious question “Why do you think your leg is broken?” She said “Because I heard it snap at the same time I felt it break!”

The medic came and took over my role, confirming that her leg was broken. In some ways we felt we were fortunate that it happened on the last day of our ski trip, in fact we already had the van loaded. I carried Kylie into the van then we all took off down to the hospital in Invermere, British Columbia where they confirmed she had what they call a “Boot fracture”. Both the tibia and fibula were broken, in fact, they snapped in half over the top of her ski boot as the snowboarder landed on top of her. We were relieved it was not a compound or spiral fracture. Her x-ray depicts her injury quite clearly (feel free to zoom in). The injury was a harsh ending to a great trip … followed by a long painful twelve hour drive home.

Was this injury preventable? Was there anything Kylie could’ve done? Well, it is now our practice to remove our skis on the other side of the ski rack away from any impending danger. The injury was preventable, but the biggest prevention would be for the snowboarder to ensure he is in control which is the first rule in the Alpine Responsibility Code. If you’re downhill skiing this winter please familiarize yourself with the Alpine Code to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

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