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A Bad Fall near Fitzroy - Part 2

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Those of you that haven’t read the previous article should click here. However, if you couldn’t be bothered, it finished off with me taking a massive 12-meter fall off a new route in Fitzroy National Park, Argentina. I’m sitting at the base of climb unable to walk, knowing I’ve done some damage to both my ankles but not knowing the extent of it.


Five minutes later I tried standing again and this time, with the help of burly shoulders, I managed to take a couple of steps before pain forced me to sit down. Dave, mending broken collarbone and all, piggybacked me to level ground where everyone was keen to help but there was little they could do. Things didn’t seem too bad - one ankle was feeling much better than the other, just badly bruised, and I still had a good deal of movement in the other one.

Luckily Clyde, the truck’s physio, was climbing nearby and after a couple of hours he arrived to examine me. He inspected my ankle, doing the normal physio routine of “Does this hurt? What about here?” and I gave the mandatory answers of “No, no, yes, yes Arrrh yes that bloody hurts”. Once the prodding and twisting was over he said that he didn’t think it was fractured but we should treat it as if it were until the possibility could be eliminated. I wasn’t sure if he was telling me the truth or just trying to reassure me.

Two hours later the crutches finally arrived. I tried to hobble a few steps but pain quickly stopped me – this just wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to be carried the half hour’s walk back to camp. Dave offered to piggyback me and I looked at him in amazement. “Are you mad?” I said, “I weigh about 70 kilos and you broke your collar bone just two months ago”. “It’s no problem, just keep your weight off my right shoulder.” And it was no problem. Dave easily heaved me onto his back and set off at a pace that had the others working hard to follow. Fifteen minutes later I had tired but Dave was still going strong. Luckily Sarah arranged a lift the rest of the way saving me the humiliation of being paraded through town on Dave back like some bizarre Halloween float.

The question of just where home was started to raise its ugly head. Given that I couldn’t get more than a step or two, even on crutches, I simply wouldn’t be able to navigate the campsite. A movement in my bowels reminded me of the campsite facilities: four rough plywood walls with no roof surrounded a cesspit, who knew how deep, within which lurked unspeakable horribleness. The impossibility of squatting over it and my discomfort at getting Barbara to bring a bucket into the tent and then disposing of my effluent crystallised my decision - I was checking into the town’s hostel. At least I’d be able to crawl on my hands and knees to a toilet, retaining a shred of dignity.

We had been living out of a tent for the last two weeks using non-existent or primitive facilities and the luxury of an en-suite room should have been a delight. But shuffling around on my ass I would have given it all up just to be able to turn on the water for my shower myself. Clyde and Dave brought me dinner and set about making a splint out of cardboard, gaffer tape and some metal the truck had acquired during its travels in Petra. Despite the crude materials it was an impressive affair and certainly did a good job at immobilizing my foot.

Clyde left me with a strict set of instructions and for probably the first time in my life I followed medical advice to the letter. I kept my leg elevated, stayed in bed and applied ice every half an hour for ten minutes.

Luckily and to our amazement we found out that the local surgery had x-ray facilities, saving me an 8-hour round trip to the nearest town of note. The following day my entourage and I entered the surgery and given the state most of us were in we must have looked like cowboys bringing in their injured. Barbara was there to manage the administration of the case, Clyde as manager of my physical recovery and Sarah to handle international relations. The doctor met us at the entrance, took one look at us and said, “I am a paediatrician and a gynaecologist by specialisation, I can give you my opinion and take x-rays but you must understand it is not my specialisation.”

The doctor was great, not only was the exposure of the x-rays better than some radiologists can manage, but he was sympathetic, modest and helpful. After much poring over the x-ray, Clyde and the doctor pronounced that I most likely didn’t have a fracture. Despite their reservations I was jubilant. A fracture would have meant at least 40 days in a cast, if it was just soft tissue damage then I might be back climbing in a fortnight. The doctor still thought I should see a specialist just in case there was something he couldn’t spot.

Over the next few days my ankle slowly got better and by the fourth, on my way back to the hospital for my daily intramuscular anti-inflammatory injection, I was even able to get into and out of a taxi unassisted. Everyone was being super helpful, the Hot Rock crew would deliver my diner every night, Clyde made daily house calls and when I couldn’t get a taxi back from the hospital the doctor called the police and got them to bring me home. All in all, thanks to support from all around I was in good spirits and looking forward to a speedy recovery.

The truck left the next day and we went with them. After 3 days of travel, largely over unpaved roads, and two nights of rough camping we arrived at Bariloche, an oasis of scenery in Patagonia’s bleakness. I was tired, dirty and depressed. Over the last few days my ankle hadn’t improved at the rate it should have if it was just soft tissue damage. I decided it was time to see a specialist.

The specialist took one look at the x-rays and immediately pronounced that I had fractured my anterior talus, but I should be thankful that there was no displacement and he wouldn’t have to operate. The full enormity of it all didn’t really hit until he started to put a fibreglass cast around my ankle - I was nearly in tears. 40 days, it was going to be in a cast for 40 days! I couldn’t believe it; my world was collapsing around me. Ten minutes later I left, somewhat composed but all I could only give Barbara a faint smile. As I hobbled out into the rain looking for a taxi I avoided conversation and hoped the lump in my throat would fade before I had to talk to any Hot Rockers.

Pictures - click to enlarge
Picutre of the makeshift splint, Chalten Fitzroy Argentina Travelogues
Photograph of Caelen in the hotel room splint, Chalten Fitzroy Argentina Travelogues
The splint

Icing the ankle in our luxurious hostel

Picture of Caelen on his crutches - Argentina travelogues
Picture of Caelen on his crutches - Argentina travelogues
Caelen on crutches
Cobbles - the perfect surface for crutches

Picture of Geoff and his gear splint, Chalten Fitzroy Argentina Travelogues
Photograph of Caz getting ready to climb splint, Chalten Fitzroy Argentina Travelogues
Meanwhile ...
...some people were actually climbing