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The Skiing Accident that led me to Mindfulness: A Life-Altering Journey

People often ask me how I got into this line of work and what prompted me to pursue a career, and life, centred around mindfulness. Well, it all started 16 years ago when I was doing a ski season in Meribel, France, and the following account is taken from my book entitled Timinology.

One Saturday in February I got up early with a seasonnaire friend, Ewan, and embarked on a day of full-on skiing. I hadn’t really been drinking for the previous week due to some generic plague or other and, having recovered from this, I was fresh and ready for an exhilarating day on the mountain. The snow had been pretty sparse for the majority of the season but the previous night had seen a massive fall of fresh snow. Even more surprisingly, owing to the night’s apparent storm, we were blessed with a beautiful, clear and sunny morning.

What happened next changed my life completely and is the catalyst for eventually coming to write this book. I remember very little about this day, so I will be using Ewan’s first-hand account to paint you as clear a picture as possible.

What I do remember is getting a chair-lift up the side of the mountain and then climbing up the final incline before skiing down. As unnecessary as it may seem for me to be writing this down, it is the only vivid memory I have of that day, where I remember [before stepping into my skis] relieving myself from my morning hydration and turning the beautiful white snow at my feet yellow. From then on, it’s all up to Ewan to describe the day’s events. At this particular point we were also skiing with another friend, Ryan.

Ryan says that he saw Timmy set off for his position, he then dropped down towards me. As Ryan came past the rocks I heard a shout (Ryan said that he was aware of something behind him and shouted ‘Timmy’.) I looked up to see Timmy slide over the rocks on his back, head first. He must have fallen twenty feet or so. I did not see how he landed as the contour of the hill hid him from my position. Ryan immediately headed across to him and I took my board off and ran up to them, calling to Ryan to find out how Timmy was. In the twenty seconds it took me to get to them, Ryan had found Timmy at the foot of the rocks and shouted that he was blue.

Timmy was lying on his side facing into the hill, perhaps fifteen feet from the base of the rocks. There was blood on the snow by his head. I threw my gloves off and took a position kneeling behind Timmy’s shoulders. I opened his airway, calling his name. Timmy was snoring loudly, so I knew he was breathing regularly. I opened his jacket at the neck, and his face was showing signs of circulation (he was not blue when I reached him). I was supporting his head with my hands using his hood as a compress, my knees were behind his shoulders and he was more or less in the recovery position with a clear airway.

I got Ryan to shout for help; we were about 100m to the piste above a small stream and level with the small hut at the bottom of the park. Ryan was strapping on his board to go when a couple stopped below us on a different section and Ryan was able to tell them that we needed immediate medical help. I tried to call 112 as I knew that they would have an English speaker, but was not able to get reception. With help on its way [from the couple below] I shouted for Ryan to come back and help me. We took off our jackets, covering Timmy, and I had Ryan take my position while I checked Timmy’s body for deformities. There was no obvious out of shape bits and no blood from his torso and limbs. I returned to Timmy’s head which had a bruise above his left eye, a small cut on his crown, and a ghastly wound at the back of his head.

I tried phoning again, this time to the office while Ryan set up our boards and Timmy’s ski into a cross to make us more obvious. The visibility closed in [around] us so Ryan started shouting and whistling to guide the rescue teams to us. I made contact with Michael in the office and explained what had happened, and our location. Karen (our boss) used the other phone to contact the rescue services and tell them where to find us. I continued trying to [communicate] with Timmy but he did not respond to voice or touch.

The accident happened about 15:50 and by 16:08 Timmy was trying to move his legs and arm as if trying to rouse. I was talking to him telling him that he had had a fall, that he was with Ewan and Ryan and that help was on its way. I told him to lie still and not to try and move. Because he was moving his legs I had to shout Ryan to come back from where he was hollering to support Timmy’s legs and stop his movement.

We heard a snowmobile below us and continued to whistle but the sound [moved] away from us. The visibility cleared once more around 1630 and we were able to stop lots of people on the piste below us with our yells and whistles. It took an age before someone started returning our signals and we knew that there was a spotter below and the rescuers must surely be close. The first guy to us arrived roughly 1645, and I hung up with the office.

I explained to the guy who Timmy was, how long ago the accident had happened and that he was unconscious but breathing regularly. This was in French but the guy was keen that I continue a dialogue with Timmy. This first guy checked over Timmy, feeling for breaks as I had done. He returned to me at Timmy’s head and we moved his hood back as carefully as we could. The injury to the back of Timmy’s head was horrific, the guy was trying to get gloves on but I told him just to pass the compresses to me and I used six between my hand and the back of Timmy’s head. He wanted to remove Timmy’s bag and was trying to tug it off but I made him get a knife and we just cut it away. Sorry about that Timmy.

A second rescuer joined us and it was unnerving the way they were sliding about in their ski boots as we tried to keep Timmy absolutely still. They gave me a large wound dressing and bandage to replace the dressings, and directed Ryan to scoop out a flat area just below Timmy. I again told them as many details as I could; Timmy had been unconscious for over an hour by this time. They said that they had been directed to the park first, which explains the snowmobile we [had] heard.

More rescuers arrived and we were able to get oxygen to Timmy, who was continuing to snore and trying to move his limbs, as though stirring. They were saying that he was O.K. and I kept talking to Timmy non-stop, telling him where he was, what had happened and that he was going to be fine. An inflatable bed and blood wagon had arrived and we lifted Timmy between us, inflating the bed and strapping him to it. We slid this down and on to the blood wagon.

Ryan and I then tried to grab ours and Timmy’s stuff. I found Timmy’s hat and goggles at the foot of the rocks. Ryan said that he had seen them fly off about half way down. One of his skis and his poles were there too. I grabbed his bag and ski and set off, catching up with the blood wagon. As we moved down I kept talking to Timmy. One of the guys with the wagon started to tell Timmy that he was O.K. and that the medical centre was twenty minutes away. I could not see Timmy’s face, so I dropped round the other side of them, but he was still unresponsive as far as I could tell.

It must have been roughly an hour and a half from Timmy’s fall to our arrival at Mottaret medical centre. We were met there by the pompiers and the doctors and nurses. We transferred Timmy to a gurney and took him inside. We removed his jacket, boots and trousers and cut away his T-shirt. They changed the dressing on his head and were able to get a drip in his arm. Timmy’s eyes were open but I think that they had opened them his pupils were rolled back but of even size.

The doctor asked if Timmy could understand me as I was constantly talking to him telling him what was going on and reassuring him. He was not responding to my voice but was trying to draw his knees up, and moving his arms. He managed to spoil the IV in his left arm, so the doctor tried to get one into his right. He was moving his arm in response to the needle so we held him still and I kept telling him that he would be fine, not to try and move. I was holding his hands and he was squeezing my hands, so I squeezed back.

I was able to go into the room with Timmy once more. I saw them testing Timmy’s soles for reaction, and his left toes not curling. I held his hand and talked to him as they prepared him for the journey to Grenoble. I was asked to leave the room, and met Karen as she arrived. Karen spoke to the doctors, and we ascertained that Timmy was stable enough to be moved down the hill. We collected his things and left shortly behind the pompier van. Unfortunately it was snowing so the roads were slow.

I have spoken with Mark and Lisa (who we had been skiing with earlier in the day) to get their views on the day and how everyone was skiing. They said that Timmy was skiing great, full of confidence and had said to everyone that he was having his best day skiing. We were not taking risks and [were] skiing within everyone’s ability in a mutually supportive group. Returning to the area and skiing the same line, it seems like such an innocuous route. There is no obvious explanation but I can only guess that Timmy caught an edge and fell in the one place with such terrible consequences.

I ended up breaking my neck and my back, snapping my cruciate ligament, shattering my left ankle and hitting my head so hard that I was put into an induced coma for three weeks. Not your everyday sort of injury, but then again, not the worst injury ever endured. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, because I genuinely believed I was the unluckiest person on earth, my injuries could have been significantly worse and I easily could have died. Which brings me to the age-old adage, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. It was very hard for me to see at the time but I now view the accident as a blessing in an extraordinary disguise, and something that has led me to a place I probably would never have reached had it not occurred.

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