Since it snowed for approximately 30 seconds last week, it’s officially winter. To celebrate this glorious season, I will share the five most cringe-worthy injuries I learned to treat during my one-year tenure as a ski patroller at Trollhaugen ski area in Wisconsin.
Most Midwest ski patrollers are registered EMT-Bs, which means I went through the same training as an EMT, without the clearance to stick anyone with a needle or prescribe any kinds of drugs or painkillers. If anyone was hurt enough to need a hospital and real EMTs, our job was to get them off the hill and into an ambulance without their condition worsening.
Although I spent most of my shifts handing out Band-Aids and directing people towards the restroom, here are the best injuries I was theoretically trained to treat.
- We were equipped with doughnut-shaped gauze pads for eyeball injuries. If someone gouges their eyeball out with a ski pole or tree branch, we would place the doughnut around the displaced eyeball and cover BOTH eyes with gauze. Eyeballs naturally rotate in the same direction when a person is looking around, which puts obvious strain on a displaced eyeball.
- If you arrive at an accident and the injured person appears to have uneven leg lengths, they may have a femur fracture. The muscles in your thigh are so strong and tight — especially in skiers — that when the femur breaks, the thigh muscles will pull the broken bone pieces back towards each other in a criss-cross pattern. It hurts and requires immediate hospitalization. We had a full-length leg brace that would attach at the hip and knee to physically pull the femur bones back apart and hold them there until they get to the hospital.
- If you’ve impaled yourself with a ski pole, fence post or tree branch, don’t pull it out. Leave it in. We had small saws to hack off the ends of an impaled object for easier transport.
- Trollhaugen has busloads of squirrelly high-school students shipped in every weekend. This lesson was not so much cringe-worthy as eye-roll-worthy. One weekend, we kept getting calls for kids with concussion symptoms, but none of them had hit their heads. Turns out the kids were passing around the Ambien, and then hitting the slopes. Drugs are bad, kids.
- Finally, any potential neck or back injury is treated with the utmost care in all cases. Whoever is the first on-scene to a possible neck/back injury is instructed to hold the victim’s head in your hands to keep it steady until help arrives with a backboard and neck brace. Then and only then can you remove your hands from the victim’s head. Sometimes this takes two minutes, sometimes it takes 20 minutes. Fun fact: I have personal experience as the victim in this circumstance, which is the reason I became a patroller.
Very important: This information is outdated and is not legitimate medical advice. Please consult a real professional if you find yourself with a gouged-out eyeball. In fact, if you’re reading this blog during any kind of emergency, call 911 immediately and conduct some serious self-reflection on your priorities.
Ski Patrol: We freeze ours to save yours. Wait, the toilet paper is out in the chalet? Yeah, I’ll go change it.