Putting on skates not a slick idea

January 7, 2009 

HAINES -- Be careful for what you wish for. I wished for hard ice, got it, then promptly slipped and fell and hit my head ice-skating. I lost a day and a half. Luckily they weren't big days.

The six staples are out now, but at Christmas dinner, no one could tell they were there without touching my head.

The clinic nurses said I needed a CT scan in Juneau, but I protested the med-evac.

I have the Life Flight insurance, but I've done that already, and really didn't want to repeat the drama and trauma, especially for my family. So even though it was dark, and the last flight of the day was long gone, Mike from Air Excursions said he'd come back from Juneau and pick up my husband and me. Our friend Dave, who manages the airport and also has a house here, met the plane and drove us to the hospital.

The reason Dave had to give us a ride off the tarmac (or anyone else that flew in after hours) was the area where the small planes park and passengers usually walk to the terminal was being used by helicopters giving holiday light tours. I imagined the solstice-celebrating Juneau folk singer with a few candles on the windowsill, who was already working hard to make peace with the neighbor sporting the flashiest holiday lights in town, suffering through this not-so-silent night. It was like a comic holiday movie.

The surprise twist of our own melodrama was sweeter. A few days later, my husband asked me what I thought our flight cost. I said "a thousand dollars?" It was an educated guess, based on the cost of a ticket, the six seats in the plane, the rare night flight, as well as the start in Juneau. Turns out they charged us each the regular, one-way fare.

Since the airline's office shares a store front with the beauty parlor and is right next to the tanning bed, I'm not sure if my friend Nancy was tanning or getting a trim when she overheard the dispatcher arranging all of this, but she made sure the people that needed to know I'd been hurt -- like the priest -- were told.

We didn't call an ambulance either, because I was 10 miles from town and skating with my personnel EMT. My oldest daughter is on the Haines ambulance crew. She was there, in part because it was such a great day, but mostly, although no one said it out loud, because this was the first time I'd skated since getting run over by a truck three years ago. (It is OK to laugh, and honest, I'm fine now.)

I had traded my old leather figure skates for an insulated pair of recreational skates. The insulation is important because my right foot is still kind of numb from that truck incident. Also, they have the extra support I need since the knee surgery after a softball accident. (I really am not as accident-prone as this all sounds.)

The skates arrived in the mail unsharpened. There is no sharpener in Haines. I had sent them up the road to Whitehorse with a friend, but the sharpener was closed.

Meanwhile, skating reports were coming in from all over the valley. The ice at 11 Mile was clear, Rutzebeck Lake was solid, there was hockey on the reservoir, and Chilkoot Lake, the St. John the Divine Cathedral of skaters, was almost ready.

I called my daughter's friend Katie in Juneau and said I'd trade her a jar of raspberry jam and a pint of my best smoked sockeye salmon in exchange for sharp skates. All she had to do was pick them up at the airport, take them to the rink in Douglas, and bring them back to the airport.

A day later I was skating on the deep green surface of Chilkoot Lake. I was zipping along wonderfully until I tripped, corrected, and crashed, feet up.

The emergency room doctor in Juneau explained that the back of the head is the best place to whack, because the front has more epidural arteries. He recited a jumble of medical terms while I listened as hard as I could, wondering how I got to Juneau, and why he looked familiar.

Then I remembered. I had seen him many times at running, cycling, and skiing events. He is a friend of my Juneau friends. We had met in the same hospital about 19 years ago, when my son (or was it my fourth daughter?) was born. I was flat on my back then, belly up, legs apart, the baby crowning, as my regular doctor ran into the delivery room and took over. I had enough of my wits left now to blush, and really hoped his memory had dimmed since then.

Well, he did know me enough to suggest I wear a helmet "walking down the street." And order me off the ice for six weeks.

That means I only have four weeks until I can skate again.

Heather Lende lives in Haines and is the author of "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name." She can be reached at heatherlende@adn.com.

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