I opened my eyes slowly, expecting the soft mountain morning rays to invigorate my irises. Instead, I was greeted with harsh florescent bulbs. My mouth was unbearably dry—I didn’t even have enough saliva to lick my lips. I felt groggy and fuzzy, a new type of hangover. Did I go out last night? The atmosphere of the Alps coaxed seasonaires and tourists alike into the snare of its nightlife. It was wild, young, and predictable. I loved it. I worked at a restaurant on Alp d’Huez, and I couldn’t be happier.
My gut told me something was wrong. Was I late for work? No, this was France; the restaurant where I waitressed didn’t open until 4pm. I had all afternoon to snowboard, if I wanted. I decided I’d rather just lie on the back deck and soak up the sun.
I started to move my neck, and that’s when it hit me. Uncontrollable, breathtaking, sheer pain. It shot through my spine like an electric pulse. The pain radiated through my body, pounding against my toes and fingertips. It took me a few seconds to realise I was screaming, and then my eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling of the Grenoble Hospital where I had undergone life-threatening surgery a few hours before.
A nurse waltzed in the room with an IV bag and lunch tray. She replaced the puffy plastic bag that ran a tube into my elbow and pushed a plastic bowl of green muck towards me. I reached a weakened arm towards a large water bottle. My throat, stomach, and bowels were aching from 56 hours without food, water, or relief since my accident. I held the bottle to my chapped lips, spilling the liquid across my bed.
The nurse looked at me and laughed. “Aidez-moi?” I croaked.
She rolled her eyes and tipped the bottle up, spilling more.
Bottle empty, thirst satisfied; I eyed my legs with growing fear as the memories rolled back. I relived every second. I was snowboarding, rushing down the mountain with the wind. I steered towards a mound of snow and jumped. I was gloriously aerial.
Until I fell.
I slammed my tailbone against the ice. It felt like concrete. I was pulled down the hill in a stretcher. Two titanium rods and four metal screws were inserted along my spine to support three broken vertebras.
I held my breath as my mind sent my toes the signal to wiggle. The blanket stirred with motion.
The nurse watched me carefully. “Vous etes chanceux,” she whispered. You’re lucky.
I spent the next two weeks in the French hospital connected to a catheter. Nurses shoved objects up my ass and ignored my cries. I didn’t feel lucky. As each day passed, the reality of my situation sunk in. I lost a part of my identity when my physiotherapist told me I would never carry a backpack again. My mom flew over to take me home on a stretcher. My six month adventure was over. I had lost the opportunity to spend a season on the Alps, all because of one swift move, one false jump, one freak fall.
I resisted—I wanted to stay. The flight home was torturous. I felt every second of turbulence in my screaming back. Shivers, sneezes, and coughs increased the pain. Every movement hurt my back, but the physical pain was nothing compared to my emotional turmoil. All I could think of was everything I lost.
Time passed. Time healed. Four months later, my best friend sat on my rented hospital bed. I was walking; baby steps. She glanced up at me through sparse strands of thin brown hair. “I’m booking a ticket,” she announced. “A one-way. To London.”
She stared at me, anticipating. Waiting.
“I’m coming,” I said. I flipped open my laptop and booked a ticket, fingers shaking, toes dancing.
I went. I walked. I smiled. I travelled.
I was never the same. I probably never will be. But still, I know, je suis chanceux. I am lucky.