01.04
Good doctor, bad doctor

Every so often my son’s ski goggles would hit a small divot, bounce spectacularly and pick up even more speed on their thirteen hundred foot solo descent. Despite the steepness of the slope the first few seconds after they had been dropped seemed to happen in slow motion. There was nothing slow about them now as they disappeared out of sight. I imagined little fragments of tinted lens scattered over the slope.

Perched ten thousand eight hundred and thirty feet above sea level on a tiny precipice it was impossible to shake the thought that ‘if I slip, that could be me.’

I wasn’t sure whether my light-headedness was a consequence of the altitude, the painkillers, the looming terror, or all three.

This was one of those slopes where you really really didn’t want to fall. We had already had to side step carefully past the ‘Ski with caution’ sign up to our current vantage point. I could feel myself shaking involuntarily, and not from the cold. There was only way down and that was pretty much the direct route taken only moments earlier by the ski goggles.

I uttered a small prayer to request a tiny bit of divine intervention to help me avoid clipping the exposed rocks that would throw my balance and catapult me to oblivion. This was no time to stand on lofty atheist principles and question the existence of God. This was a time to believe. I would have thrown my son over the edge as a pagan sacrificial offering in return for a guaranteed safe passage down the mountain. But maybe, I reasoned, the Gods would be happy enough with a pair Carerra Kimerik ski goggles.

I then remembered my doctor’s advice.

“I’m afraid I have to advise you that you shouldn’t ski next week.”

As unpalatable as this advice was, it had come as no big surprise. I had limped into his surgery like Keyser Soze, unable to put any weight on my left leg. No doctor worth his salt is going to pass a man who can’t walk fit to ski. Certainly no doctor in America, with medical malpractice suits hanging over every piece of advice.

“How about if I don’t turn?”

The doctor looked up from the note he was writing.

“…because it’s the turns that put most pressure on the knees, isn’t it? If I cut out the turns and simply ski straight down the mountain then surely that will be okay. Won’t it?”

My doctor put down his pen and looked at me.

It was a few seconds before he said anything.

“Remind me, where are you from?”

“England”

“…because you’re talking like an Australian.”

Being mistaken for an Australian is a common occurrence for an Englishmen in America, particularly in the mid-West, although normally for the accent rather than idiocy. One of the DJ’s on my favourite Chicago radio station was recently discussing the difficulty of being on a conference call with both an Englishman and an Australian. He was arguing that the Aussie should preface everything he said with “G’day” and the Englishman with “By Jove”. It’s a good idea. I think I’ll test it out in Starbucks. “By Jove, a Grandee Cappuccino please.”

My doctor continued, “I’m going to prescribe a particularly powerful dose of Ibuprofen for you. And I must advise you not to drink any alcohol while you are taking these. I once had a glass of beer after taking one of these pills and I thought I was going to die.”

There are good doctors and bad doctors in this world. The good ones, in my experience, fix you without pain or inconvenience. Bad doctors tell you what not to do, which is no help whatsoever if you have decided that you are going to do it anyway.

This doctor had just told me that I couldn’t ski and I couldn’t drink. Such advice four days before a skiing trip suggested I might have a bad doctor on my hands.

“Well that’s my advice. It’s up to you whether you take it.”

Maybe he wasn’t such a bad doctor after all.

Some might argue that a good doctor would have detained me there and then.

He did tell me that if I skied I would seriously risk turning my muscle tear into a full-scale knee operation that would require six months rather than six weeks rehabilitation. But does anyone read, let alone act on, warnings? Everyone knows they’re only liability limitation statements. The only person who appeared to take government health warnings on cigarette packets seriously was the depressive eighty-two year old chain-smoking Kurt Vonnegut who wanted to sue the cigarette manufacturers for false advertising on account that they had failed to kill him in spite of their promise to do so. Sadly he did eventually die this month. Killed by a fall rather than tobacco. So it goes.

Forgetting for a brief moment my incapacity and already knowing that I would be ignoring his advice, I hopped down from my doctor’s couch. The pain as I hit the ground was excruciating. I crumpled in a pathetic heap at Dr Tenhunfeld’s feet. As he helped me up from the floor, he told me to be careful. I couldn’t say anything. I knew if I opened my mouth it would release a Banshee scream that would send a chill through every other patient in the building. My doctor would have been obliged to muffle me or knock me unconscious to shut me up and preserve the reputation of his practice.

At this point the prospect of the following headline might have passed through the mind Dr Tenhunfeld,

‘Multiple pile-up in Utah as the left leg of a skier, intoxicated on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, buckles under him in 70mph mountain schuss. Doctor to be investigated’

… but he seemed more concerned to stretcher me out of his practice, out of his mind and out of his responsibility.

Five days later I was staring down a black run in Utah’s Deer Valley and contemplating how to stay in my fifteen-year-old son’s slip-stream without losing too much parental face.

Fortunately we were joined in the first few days by one of my paddle tennis friends (paddle tennis, for those who don’t know, is the bastard child of an unholy tryst between tennis, ping pong and squash), an elegant and controlled skier whose presence introduced an unusual degree of restraint to my skiing.

By the end of the week though, back to just the two of us, we were hurtling down double-black diamond routes paying scant attention to the ‘cliff warning’ signs as we engaged in a father-son power struggle for supremacy of the slopes that I never had any hope of winning.

The only fall that offered any cause for concern was when Jay somehow tripped over his skis on a relatively easy slope just in front of patch of mud and rocks. He flipped over and bounced on his shoulder on soft ground before caching his back on the edge of a small rock. Apart from an impressive scar (that prompted a subsequent investment in a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Chicks dig scars’), some colourful bruising and being a little shaken up, he was fine. He was lucky that his shoulder, or head, hadn’t caught the rock. Foolishly, I shared this thought on the phone-call back home that evening.

“You are making him wear a helmet aren’t you?”

Silence. What could I say? (I guess I could have lied).

I feared we were going to be recalled there and then from our ski trip. With twenty-seven years experience in advertising, Ros is an expert in recalling faulty products. I was suitably contrite and hoped that she might assess the fault in her husband to be insufficient for recall.

A week later I found myself watching my precious ten-year old daughter being carried at high speed by a galloping horse in a ring. One of the other girls, unnerved by cornering at such speed in close proximity to two other horses let out a scream. This in turn freaked out the horse, which threw the girl over its neck and narrowly missed trampling her as she fell in its path.

Skiing a double-black diamond is a stroll in a park compared to such extreme danger.

Personally, I wouldn’t get on a horse unless I was covered from head to foot in body armour and in possession of a Colt semi-automatic pistol to kill the beast if it got nasty.

Horses are big scary things that kick your head in.

Having exhausted Deer Valley and in search of better snow at higher altitude (despite presidential denial, global warming appears to exist here as well as in the Alps), Jay and I spent our final two days at neighbouring resort called Snowbird. Contemplating life, while sharing a chairlift with a son emblazoned with the slogan, ‘Take it to the extreme. Chicks dig scars’, it struck me how odd it is that America should have chicks while England has birds.

How did this happen? Did the English start calling their women birds only for Americans to follow suit with a bit of one-upmanship to emphasise their comparative youth and vigour?

Which came first, the chick or the bird?

If it was the chick, then was the bird a retort to suggest experience and maturity? It’s difficult not to conclude from this nomenclature that the English have an unconscious preference for older women. We even call them ‘old birds’. (Although just for the record, let it be known that I have never ever referred to my wife as ‘the old bird’).

And where does the egg fit into all this?

Isn’t ‘she’s a good egg’ Australian?

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