Friday, October 16, 2009

How I broke my knee in Peru

OK, here's what happened to my knee, more or less.

It was my second day at Machu Picchu, and I had gotten to the top of the mountain early, in time for the sunrise. It was a beautiful day, and I was looking forward to wandering around the ruins some more.

After a few hours, I found myself in a lovely little spot, quiet and free of people. I was coming down some stone steps, at the bottom was a two or three foot drop to the ground. The final steps were in the shade, still damp from the morning mist. When I put my foot on the last one, it slipped out from under me and straight to the ground. All my weight on one foot. My knee buckled and I went down. I knew immediately that my knee was fucked.

The pain made me dizzy.  After a few minutes I tried to walk.  Not happening.  My knee buckled, pop pop pop!  So I sat there, half crazed on endorphins and adrenaline, thinking if I sat there and rubbed it for a while, I'd be able to drag myself back to the entrance, where there was a first aid station.  So I sat there, massaging my knee and taking in the view.  I even took a couple of pictures.

Eventually, I realized I wasn't making it back to the entrance without help.  Irony of ironies!  I spent all day trying to get as far away from the crowds of people as I could, and now I desperately needed someone, anyone, to walk by, or at least come within shouting distance.  After what seemed like forever, I saw some people and yelled for them to send some help.

So I had to be carried back to the entrance by four Peruvian men, which is really not a bad way to get off a mountainside.  There was a fifth young man named Angel (I'm not kidding) whose job was to hold my hand and keep me from freaking out.  Keep in mind, I had just fallen on a wet rock.  What was to stop THEM from falling on a wet rock?   I was a little nervous.

At the entrance, they couldn't do much but give me an ace bandage, a pain pill, and arrange to get me back to Cusco and into a hospital.

I had to take a bus to the bottom of the mountain, about a half hour ride.  My luggage was being stored at the hostel.  I couldn't walk, and there were no crutches.  Anywhere.  What the fuck?  If, as the doctor said, this sort of thing happens all the time, how could they NOT have a pair of crutches?!?!  And I was traveling alone.  So, the doctor carried my luggage, and the dude from the hostel carried ME, three blocks uphill to the train station.  After a two hour train ride, where Rosa (the doctor) and I had plenty of time to bond, we arrived in Ollantaytambo and this was waiting for me...


Another two hour ride, all the way to Cusco, where Rosa and I had even more time to bond.  This is Rosa.


In Cusco, I had some X-rays and was brought to a hospital room.  Before leaving, Rosa brought lunch, a chocolate rose with a get well card, and her MOTHER in to meet me!  I love Rosa.  Her and I still stay in touch, through email.

This all happened on Saturday.  I was scheduled to leave Peru Monday morning.  My diagnosis was a broken knee that needed surgery.  For reasons I'll get into in a later post, I chose to fly back to San Francisco on Monday as planned and have the surgery there.

All in all the hospital stay wasn't bad.  They kept me comfortable and out of pain as best as they could.  My room was huge, and had a beautiful view!

Flying home was a fun adventure.  Three different flights, Cusco to Lima, Lima to San Salvador, San Salvador to SF.  All with a broken knee.  And a handful of Peruvian pain pills.  Mostly I slept.  Otherwise I was in a daze.

The emergency room in SF had the same diagnosis, tibial plateau fracture, need surgery to fix it.  They gave me morphine.  Everyone loves morphine!  Sent me home, had surgery that Friday.  Been at home ever since, more or less.  I still get out to play now and then.  I can't sit still for long.

Coming soon, more stories about the ups and downs of Peruvian medical care!

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