The Unexpected Fall

Vivian being carried in a litter in Vantage, WA

I started writing this post back in April, but stopped because I realized I wasn’t ready to tell this story yet. Eight months later, I’m ready now.


It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon in March when it happened. My former housemate (Ingria) and I were headed out to the Frenchman Coulee in Vantage, Washington to climb. The Frenchman Coulee is this cool, desert area in eastern Washington that is known for its deep gorge and basalt columns. It was roughly the start of the climbing season. We were stoked to finally climb outside and enjoy some sunshine after another dreary winter in the Pacific Northwest.

We got to our crag around 10am and hopped on a couple easy routes to warm up. Then, we started to climb some harder routes. We were having lots of fun and felt strong. Just two gals crushing it, enjoying a day outside on some rocks. Oh, how things quickly turned when we were on our 4th climb of the day. Ingria first led the route (name that I have forgotten). We were sport climbing, a type of climbing where you are tied into a rope and use carabiners to clip into the bolts that are already placed on the rock. It had a weird start, but after she got past it, she cruised up to the top. When she came back down, I was doubting myself if I could lead it too. Climbing is such a mental sport and sometimes, you just need a nudge from someone you trust to pass that mental barrier. So, with Ingria’s encouragement, I tied in, did all the safety checks, and started the climb.

As I started the route, I remembered thinking, “yeah this is such a weird start, but totally doable. I can do this.” I was about 10 feet up and about two moves before I could clip in. Just as I was making my next move with my right hand, my left hand slipped and I was thrown off balance. Within a split second, I fell and Ingria caught the tail end of me as my head hit the ground – don’t worry, I had my helmet on. Even within that split second of falling, I remembered thinking “Oh shit, I’m actually falling! I need to land on my feet and roll onto my spine.” Because I injured my right leg before, I subconsciously put all my weight on my left leg and my left ankle took all the weight. Once I fell, I immediately sat up (which was probably not the best thing to do), checked my head and my spine, and was relieved that I felt fine and conscious. But then I looked at my feet and there it was, my left ankle turned completely inward. I immediately knew this was bad and although I didn’t want to call 911, we had to.

I was completely calm, likely from the shock and adrenaline. After Ingria called 911, she asked two climbers we saw earlier that day to help us out while we waited for search and rescue (SAR). The SAR team came out pretty quickly and it was just mayhem from thereon. There were so many people around me and I started to feel pain in my ankle as the adrenaline was wearing off. They injected morphine in me as they wrapped and splint my ankle. Eventually, I was put in a litter, basically a big basket, to carry me out. The trail to get down was terrible as there were lots of loose rock and dirt. It was in the litter where I started crying because I was scared and realized how severe this injury was -like damn, there goes my entire year of 2021. I also looked back like every 10 seconds to see if Ingria was with me because I needed comfort knowing I wasn’t in this alone.

Once I made it to the trailhead, I was put in an ambulance and straight to Moses Lake, the closest town that had a hospital. I went to the ER where 4-5 nurses started asking me questions, changing my clothes, taking X-rays, and telling me details of the surgery. I was told that I severely dislocated my ankle and that it actually popped out and punctured the skin. I first went under as they snapped my ankle back into place. Then, I went into surgery that lasted about 2.5-3 hours. I woke up, super dazed and drugged, as they wheeled me into a room for me to stay overnight. Ingria visited me after, and I was so happy to see her. Honestly, I didn’t want her to leave, but she couldn’t stay. Instead, she slept at a sketchy hotel nearby since there weren’t many options available- true friend right there.

Before (slide right), after (slide left)

It was about 10:30pm when Ingria left. The room was quiet and it was the first time since the fall that I was completely alone. I felt exhausted. There were so many thoughts going through my head – “is this real?”, “how am I going to tell my mom? my friends?”, “when will I walk again?”, “why did I fall?”, “will I be able to do the things I used to do?”, “what will people say?”, “what am I going to do while I heal?”, “will I heal?”, “oh man, this is really really bad”, “I wish I could turn back time”- and flashbacks to the time when I had my knee surgery back in 2010 (yeah this isn’t my first rodeo). At the same time, I also felt very numb and dead inside.

I finally looked at my phone and texted some of my closest friends. Some called to express their concern and gratitude, but I didn’t have the energy to talk. An hour went by and eventually, I fell asleep. I didn’t get good sleep as I was woken up every couple of hours for the nurses to take my vitals. However, the nurses were amazing. They were very kind and I felt so loved and cared for, which meant a lot to me in a time where I felt so helpless.

The next morning, I had breakfast that was surprisingly delicious. I love me some good ole, crispy hashbrowns. After a couple hours to myself, a slew of people started coming in from Ingria to the surgeon to the PT to the head nurse. The surgeon gave me an overview of how the surgery went, what he did, and recovery time. Basically, he had to thoroughly clean the open wound and tie the ligament I tore back together. The PT went through how to use crutches and exercises to do. She was actually not very helpful and seemed lost and confused on what exercises to give me which was concerning. The head nurse told me how and when I should take my antibiotics and painkillers. After all the talks and logistics, I was so ready to go home and cry. Finally around noon, I was able to leave and after 3 hours, I made it back home.

My housemates were so great when I got back. They helped pick up my meds from the pharmacy and moved my bed from upstairs to downstairs (we lived in a two-story house). There was no way I was going up and down those stairs for the next couple of weeks.

It’s been a long healing journey, to say the least. I’m still recovering, but am almost at 100%! I’ll save how recovery has been in my next posts. Until then, stay safe out there my friends – and have health insurance (lol….). But seriously, the world is an unpredictable place.

Lastly to Ingria, thank you and I love you!

Your friend,

Vivian


3 thoughts on “The Unexpected Fall

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