Fractured Fibula while skiing Upper Enchantment Forest at Copper Mountain - DARN!

On March 1st, 2015, I unfortunately fractured my left fibula while skiing Upper Enchantment Forest - here's the "blow-by-blow" ;-)

Leg X-Ray taken the next day ... yep, that's a fractured fibula - darn!

X-Ray of Fractured Fibula while skiing Upper Enchantment Forest at Copper Mountain
March 2nd, 2015: I sent the following (lengthy) Email:

TL;DR - fractured my fibula skiing! :-(
So we went skiing this weekend at Copper - stayed at Wendy's company house in Frisco - nice! It wasn't a major pow-pow fest, but they have gotten a couple of inches of snow every day for the week, so getting decent.

They got another 3" after the lifts closed on Saturday ... plus we wanted to beat the I-70 traffic home, so I said lets get there when the lifts open ... and at 8:30, we were on the 7th chair up Super Bee ... and zipped over to Resolution - pretty awesome being the first people down a slope with untracked pow-pow. After several runs there, I said lets go check out the Enchanted Forest. We had done Lower Enchanted yesterday and it had the best pow-pow ... but to access Upper Enchantment, you have to take the T-Bar lift which sometimes has long lines.

So we get over there and it's the best pow-pow of the weekend ... plenty of 6-8" untouched stashes and NOBODY over there. So I'm bombing down the slopes through some untracked powder and decide to shoot through a couple of trees. Probably a 4' opening - done stuff like this a million times ... and hit it dead center ... but as I go through, I feel like someone hit the side of my left shin with a baseball bat ... HARD!

I don't release but came to a stop and just laid down in the snow. I didn't feel woozy or anything - just felt like the wind knocked out of me even though it was my leg - MAN, that HURT. I yelled at Wendy and Kyle "Don't come that way" and then just rested. They came over and asked how I was doing. Said I was OK, but give me a few minutes. Eventually I got back up (still wanted a few more minutes) and then said let me test this. Leg still hurt, but I felt fairly stable. Wendy asked if they should call Ski Patrol (I have the direct numbers in the phone - you should too - better than getting patched through a 911 operator) but I said I can ski down.

Terrain was pretty gnarly (but pretty fun to ski) but I took it easy. Halfway down, I had Wendy look at my leg - there were some lacerations on the front part of the shin, but nothing looked too amiss. I did NOT hit the two trees ... best I can figure there was a hidden branch/tree trunk that I whacked ... and I was going at a fairly good clip.

So we skied to the bottom and I said OK, lets go back up - thought it might feel better after being on the leg rest of the chair. We got to the top of Super Bee and I said to myself "nope, this feels worse" ... and if I take the T-Bar back into Upper Enchantment, that's hard to get down. So I told those guys to keep skiing and I'd get down. I ended up taking a run called "Easy Road" ... and good thing I did as it got harder to ski. Needless to say, a LOT of swelling was going on as I was about to find out.

Since those guys were skiing, I figured I might as well go into Ski Patrol and have them look at it. Once I unbuckled the boot, the severity of the swelling was very obvious - there was actually an imprint where the boot had held it in. Ski Patroller/EMT Matt Brooks (first year - he did a fine job) said it did not appear to be broken, but an X-Ray would be needed to tell - they have a Clinic nearby. I didn't see any compelling reason to get this done right away ... and said I can still walk (although it was getting harder to do so) and after doing misc. paperwork, hobbled over to the bus stop back the Alpine Lot where I met Wendy and Kyle who were calling it quits after taking several more runs.

BTW, one of the questions they ask you is "how could this have been avoided?" - I first joked you need more snow ... but then just said be more careful ... but again, I've done stuff like this a bazillion times so I didn't feel it was a dumb accident ... and I've done dumb things. I'm actually curious to ski over there next year and look at those trees (pretty sure I can find the spot) and see exactly what is there.

Uneventful drive back to Boulder, but getting out of the car was difficult. LOT of swelling now ... so knee wasn't as flexible, etc. At that point, I finally had to agree with Wendy that I should go see a doctor. Didn't see any reason to do an emergency room visit, but called the Bone Doctor (same guy who saw my broken pinky finger from rafting) and to make an already too long story shorter, found out Monday that I fractured the Fibula.

Since this is the "secondary" bone, you can still walk. Doctor said wasn't a very "bad" one so no surgery/cast needed ... but I need to wear a boot for the next couple of months ... and needless to say, ski season is over for me.

I can still hobble around (when Wendy isn't barking at me to let her get everything for me!) ... and fortunately, this is the left foot since if it was the right foot, there would be an issue with driving. Wendy and Kyle have been great taking care of me - been using the "ice machine" to chill it and the swelling is already down quite a bit. It doesn't hurt when I'm not moving, but pretty painful to walk and I'm very very very slow.

In hindsight, probably not a good idea to take the lift back up after the injury as I could have possibly fractured the bone more. Plus the swelling after the injury rapidly decreased my mobility on skies and walking. And yes, it is possible to "break your leg" (the Fibula is not weight bearing - the Tibia does that) and still be able to walk. I'm just glad that branch didn't hit my knee as that would have been bad mojo.

Sunday night swelling of left leg - had actually done down due to application of ice

Fractured Fibula Swelling

March 8th, 2015: A week after the accident, there is still quite a bit of swelling that reduces my mobility even more ... plus I'm wearing some new glamorous footwear as seen in the picture below. And yes, I even sleep with the boot on (great for your sex life! ;-) but at least I can take it off for showers - sure glad I'm not in a cast. I also take it off to apply ice - this feels pretty good as there is a low-grade pain/dullness to the leg. I can hobble around (including stairs), but have to walk gently and am annoyingly slow ... plus I get tired quickly. The lacerations are scabbing up just fine and some colorful bruising is starting to emerge, although less than I thought as I bruise very easily and have had some real doozies in the past. The leg is still sensitive to touch/pressure, so the boot will push against the leg (even slightly so when sleeping) so this causes a bit of discomfort. My wife Wendy (and kids) have been great at taking care of everything for me, but I'm a bit frustrated at not being able to move and help out more. Having nothing much to do, I'm getting caught up in my reading but haven't started watching Cat Videos on the Internet yet! We have a family ski trip planned this weekend, but I'll (of course) won't be skiing but just make meals, etc. I suspect (hope!) the leg is healing just fine - just takes time ... hopefully the calcium pills I'm taking daily now are helping! Overall, a real drag ... but in the big scheme of things, this is pretty minor, so no sense in getting depressed, angry, or whatever as it is what it is.

After a week, still swelling from the foot to the knee ... plus my glamorous footwear! ;-)

Fractured Fibula Swelling one week later

March 15th, 2015: Two weeks after the accident, the swelling has gone down in the leg - it no longer feels "tight" nor as warm/hot to the touch. The foot is actually more swollen - there was no trauma there (that I'm aware of) so I believe this is from "bruised blood/fluids" pooling down there. It feels pretty good to take the boot off when I'm sitting/laying for a while and I have no problem flexing the ankle/foot. I've stopped applying ice (figure let the body heal itself naturally) and the pain subsides each day ... although continues to be quite annoying.

Sleeping is still a bit of a challenge. For the first time in my life, I'm able to sleep on my back ... with the legs propped up by a pillow. I switch between that and on my side with the foot part of the boot angled off the edge of the bed. When I get up to pee in the middle of the night, there's a sharp pain in my knee as I stand. This worried me initially ... but it goes away in a few minutes so I'm pretty sure it is just fluids shifting as I rotate from horizontal to vertical. This pain is less sharp each day, but still present. Wendy says I haven't been waking her up at night ... so either she fibbing so I don't feel bad or my attempt at being quiet is working.

My wife and kids had a great time skiing this weekend, but weren't able to find the "accident scene" at Copper Mountain ... so I'll have to go looking for it next year - still very curious what I hit. I stayed "busy" (as much as I can!) making nachos, chili, and guacamole. I can hobble around pretty good, but still get tired fast. I'm not going to mince words - it's a real drag ... but rather than get angry/depressed, I try to accept it for what it is. Realistically, this is a fairly minor medical injury, although it's a bit frustrating not to heal faster.

Quite a bit of swelling due to blood pooling in the lower leg & foot - also discolorations on a couple of toes

Fractured Fibula swollen foot and leg

Scary looking foot - it didn't have any trauma so the discoloration should just be from bruising above

Fractured Fibula swollen foot

April 3rd, 2015: A month after fracturing the left fibula snow skiing at Copper Mountain, it looks a lot better, although there is still some residual swelling and discoloration, mostly in the foot rather than the leg. It's no longer painful to light touch, but some discomfort if pressure is applied. The knee will now bend much further, so I can walking is easier, even while wearing the boot. I had stopped wearing the boot while in bed a week earlier - made for much better sleep. Every day I feel a bit stronger ... but if I push it, I feel weak at the end of the day. I do try to take it easy ... don't want over-confidence to delay the healing and/or crack it open again.

I saw the Bone Doctor and he said it's healing ... slowly. He was a bit concerned about it still being sensitive to touch - sign of possible blood clots. He asked if I had been taking aspirin - after taking Tylenol the first few weeks, I had stopped pain meds ... but in this case, it would be for blood thinning. I replied that I certainly would have if advised (!) ... and would start right away. He still felt an Ultrasound was indicated to make sure no blood clots - if so, then Warfarin (originally used for rat poison!) would be prescribed. I really did NOT want to take that ... and fortunately, no clots were seen.

I (jokingly) asked the doctor if I could go skiing with my family this weekend - not a chance - I'm done for the season. Maybe start running in a couple of months - I asked about biking and maybe gently on level ground in a couple of weeks. He said I would switch from the boot to the ankle support in a couple of weeks - here's a good article that talks about fibula fractures and how they are often caused by rolled ankles. Didn't mention a follow-up date to see my next, but I'll probably go in at the 3 month point to (hopefully) get a clean bill of health.

As mentioned before, this injury is a real drag ... but rather than get angry/depressed, I try to accept it for what it is. I've heard from several folks who had similar injuries and long recovery times. Plus this is nothing compared to blowing out an ACL or other types of major knee surgery as has happened to a couple of friends. Realistically, this is a fairly minor medical injury, although it's a bit frustrating not to heal faster. I did get another X-ray of my left pinky finger (see comparison from 9 months earlier) that I broke while rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho in June/2014.

Still some residual swelling and discoloration in the foot - lot better than picture above!

broken leg foot 1

broken leg foot 2

From outside appearances, the (broken) left leg doesn't look much different

Fractured Fibula not so swollen foot

In a couple of weeks, I can switch from the sexy boot to the styling Aircast A60 Ankle Support Brace

aircast a60 ankle support brace

Here's the one-month X-Ray with closeup compared to initial X-Ray

fractured fibula after one month

June 2nd, 2015: So three months after fracturing the left fibula snow skiing at Copper Mountain, you would hardly know from looking at the leg externally except for the abrasions that I'm surprised are still slightly visible. I feel fine/strong/restless to run on the leg, although I get tired/sore sooner, which I attribute to atrophy ... and putting on 10 pounds! The X-Rays look pretty encouraging ... and Dr. Stoll said I could "ease into" running/frisbee in the next month ... and no reason for me to come back unless something "pops" - my pun intended ;-)

P.S. Looking at the insurance bills for the "boot" and the Aircast A60 ankle bracelet, they were billed at $339 and $90 respectively.
Cigna's discount knocks that down to $211 and $61. But on Amazon, they are $35 and $35 - D'OH! ;-)

Here's the three-month X-Ray's - note the leg was rotated compared to the previous ones

fractured fibula after three months months

fractured fibula after three months months

While this was a bummer (and not a lot of fun hobbling around for a few months), it was a minor accident/bump on the road of life.
I feel pretty fortunate to have been snow skiing for almost four decades and this is the worst thing that has happened.

I was able to ski the following year ... and had some fun in December/2016 doing a Chinese Downhill back at Copper Mountain ... ;-)

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