Altitude Sickness
May 3, 2017

186 days on snow and counting, plus my tuba epiphany

As of the submission of this article, I have skied 186 days this year at Killington, already more than my previous very respectable year where I skied nearly every operating day (and we haven’t even hit May yet).

They did a spectacular job of snowmaking this year, putting down the last of the pad in March (I hope that they keep doing that), covering the World Cupfive-foot-deep block of ice with a nice layer to keep it cold until (fingers crossed) well into June.  I have never seen this big a pile at the end of April.

I have said this to so many people that I am unsure of whether or not I have said it in an article, but with the right combination of spring weather, the World Cup ice pack, and the late snowmaking, we could, have the makings for skiable hiking in early July!!!

This is very wishful thinking, and would mean a cool spring without serious heat waves, but it would crown my obsessive ski-every-day life, and I might even be able to settle down and start taking some days off next year. Or maybe not. Let’s be real.

I have to be honest. While it is somewhat functional, my back is not getting better (in fact the only time it doesn’t hurt is when I am skiing or lying down). I can walk three miles, but it is an uncomfortable three miles, and some days I can barely walk a mile. In a few weeks (we haven’t set the date yet), I will be heading over to New Hampshire for a foraminotomy.  While this sounds like a word made up by Doctor Bob from the Muppets, it is a real thing, and the least invasive option for my back.

The surgeon would really prefer to fuse it, but at this point the vertebral joint actually works, and I am not sure I want to mess with that. The gap through which my nerve passes is too narrow, however. A foraminotomy is the widening of this gap (be that chewing off the tattered remains of a flattened disc impinging on the nerve, or gnawing away a bit of bone to make a wider opening, or both). This should take care of my stenosis (nerve restriction and associated pain), and put me back into action in ways that I haven’t been in decades, because this nerve has been restricted for nearly 30 years. I am hopeful.

Also, we figured out what caused the original injury. The tuba. I was a Sousaphone player from the sixth through 12th grade, and when I started playing that instrument (an hour a day sitting in a chair, plus marching practices, parades, concerts) it weighed more than half my body weight, and I would stomp around carrying it on a two mile parade route. The really special part was that the shoulder it rested on was on the side where my leg  is longer than the other, so it was egregiously compressing the left side of my disc, causing a chronic scoliotic condition.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I was an under-muscled string bean, but I decided to pick up the heaviest thing in the room to carry it around. Oddly enough, when I came home and told my parents that I started playing the tuba (I had been playing saxophone and flute), my fathers response was “I played tuba too.” Must be genetic.

When I went away to boarding school and joined the cross-country team, my heel strike running style and uneven legs made quick work of the disc, rupturing it and pushing it out onto the nerve.

It is interesting how little decisions like playing tuba or joining the cross-county team can affect your life permanently. Opiates, alcohol, other drugs, even my ex-wife, these things all had a smaller effect on my life than that simple choice to play the tuba.

Admittedly, having one leg longer than the other had me set up for this problem, and maybe it would have happened anyhow. The biggest surprise of all of it is that it took me 30 years to realize the cause. Once I remembered that I was a tuba player, it became so obvious that it felt like a shovel hitting me in the face.

I hope this surgery helps. I’m tired of not being able to go for a walk comfortably. I am lucky to have a minimally invasive solution available for this.

Casella

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