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Now That’s Cold

I spent my senior year of college abroad in Scotland. Between the fall and spring semesters I went on a ski trip to Austria, and in usual Val fashion did something klutzy out of enthusiasm. I was racing down a slalom course in a snow storm and was so excited to have finished without missing a wicket that I looked up at some bystanders to give them a thumb’s up and I tripped on a clump of snow and fell down. Unfortunately my binding didn’t release and I ripped some ligaments off my knee. I heard them pop too. It was quite gross.

Anyway, I was shipped back to Canada for a complex ACL repair procedure by the Olympic Ski Team’s surgeon (I was NOT Olympic material in case any of you had the slightest doubt – I was just in the right hospital at the right time). What followed my fine surgery was a not so fine follow up – in fact I didn’t get any physical therapy whatsoever, and had no idea about how to make my knee functional again. All I knew is that it hurt like heck and I didn’t want to move it. And I pretty much didn’t. Not for a month or so.

Now the healthcare professionals in the audience just winced at that. Not moving a limb for a month is highly inadvisable. My knee became contracted so that I couldn’t straighten it at all. I could barely bear weight on it and I relied almost solely on crutches. I didn’t know how long knees were supposed to take to heal so I figured everyone went through this crutch phase for months.

I returned to Scotland for my spring semester, and I can tell you that traveling alone with one functional leg, a pair of crutches, winter gear and two suitcases is no piece of cake. But the most memorable part of this whole debacle was when I received my new dorm room assignment: the room was on the 5th floor – no elevators. I pleaded with the dorm warden (a humorless, underweight Scottish man with extraordinarily greasy hair and snaggle teeth) to have pity on me and reassign me to a room on the first floor or maybe the second. He handed me the 5th floor room keys unflinchingly.

So it took me about an hour to drag myself and all my stuff up to the 5th floor. I was really in a lot of pain, and totally exhausted from the multi-stop flight overseas – hadn’t slept in about 36 hours. Of course the room was the last one at the end of the hall and no other students had checked in yet – the whole place was deserted because I’d come back early to see if I could get a more conveniently located room (thinking ahead).

When I got to my room I was nearly overwhelmed by the smell of vomit. Apparently the winter session kids had been using my dorm room for drunken partying and had puked on the mattress. I was so tired all I wanted to do was go to sleep but the options were the cement floor or the pukey mattress so I called down to the front desk. The warden picked up – I really couldn’t understand much of what he said in his thick brogue. I explained to him that I’d made it to my room but that the mattress was covered in vomit and I wondered if (now) I might be eligible for a different room. He said he’d come up to check on the mattress.

It took him about 40 minutes to show up. He made no eye contact with me as I limped after him into the room to show him the vomit. He looked at the mattress, smiled wryly, dragged it to the edge of the bed frame and flipped it over. Then he walked out of the room and went back down the stairs to retake his post at the front desk at the entrance to the building.

Now that’s cold.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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