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Altered State

By Alison Cerney

A tricky crux, a surprise pop, a very fast 15-foot descent. I was delighted to find myself dangling from my beloved little blue Metolius. But when doing a quick body inventory, I noted that my left foot was attempting an inward 180. Suddenly, explosively, it hurt like hell. My partner Peter quickly lowered me, winced, and suggested we call an ambulance.Outlook-162

Rescue guys were swiftly on the scene, offering me unlimited laughing gas while they tried in earnest to cut the Moccasym from my ballooning foot. Maybe we should leave it for the hospital guys, they decided. Possibly influenced by my yelling. Peter kept things light with comments like, Can I borrow your cams for the rest of the season?

That day in the Smoke Bluffs was my glorious opener to the predicted longest, driest climbing season ever in Squamish. I broke my leg/ankle/foot/whatever. Now, according to my surgeon, I'll be spending the summer learning how to walk again with the support of two stainless steel plates and 11 screws.

Since my accident, friends and, more peculiarly, strangers want to share similar stories.

My brother broke those same bones and he's still wearing a brace, three years later.

I just gave up and quit walking altogether. I've gained 50 pounds.

After the last botched surgery, my friend's uncle had his foot removed. The pain was just too much.

Whatever happened to Get well soon? I flee from these people but can't run very fast on my crutches, and they follow, haranguing me.

Last week, my surgeon, Dr. Wing, gave the nod to begin physiotherapy. I was psyched because I thought physio meant running and jumping and climbing. Then Kate, the physiotherapist, smiled and said, OK, move your toes like this. I stared at her thinking maybe she was making some kind of obscure insider physiotherapist joke, but she wasn't. What's worse is that after I rolled my eyes and made that tsking noise with my tongue, my toes actually wouldn't move.

Apparently, when a body part hasn't been used for a while its connection to the brain gets lost, and even though the brain tells the body part to do something, the body part doesn't listen. I considered asking Kate if this happens to all body parts that haven't seen any action for long periods of time.


I'm Canadian and for the past two years I'd been in a relationship with an American climber. We'd meet in Indian Creek or Bishop or Squamish and we'd climb and hang out. Just after my fall he called about our next rendezvous, slated for Smith. He seemed genuinely sorry about my injury and wished me a speedy recovery. Then I got an e-mail from him explaining why he didn't think we should continue our relationship. He wrote, It's not because of your leg, it's because of your personality. I know he's lying because I've got a fucking terrific personality. Dick.

With all my free time, I've been online a lot and the other day my computer got a virus. Pop-up windows popped up in random madness all over the screen. Now my computer is in the shop. The first question from all those I've lamented to is, What were you doing, down-loading porn? Well, you know what? That's exactly what I was doing. I was down-loading porn. I've got a broken leg. My body is deteriorating to half its size. My left calf resembles an HB pencil. Also, I'm in no position to lure men into my love nest of crutches and Polysporin. I can't even get to a bar.

I've been subjected to a lot of life-affirming cliche's since my accident, phrases like, Everything happens for a reason, and, We are supposed to learn from adversity. What I have learned is that it sucks to be injured. I get it.

My friend and climbing partner Peter has done his best to stay in touch even though I'm no longer able to climb. He calls weekly and sometimes he drops in to make sure I haven't slashed my wrists. Over the past four years our conversations have focused on: Where do you want to climb today? Trad or sport? It's your lead. I hate slab. It's not raining. It's just a sprinkle. I'm hungry. My feet hurt. My boyfriend is an idiot. Falling. Put your foot up left, no, your other left. Of course you can do it. Good one. Falling. On belay, off belay. Good effort. Take, take, take, take, take; lower.

Now it's hard for us to find things to talk about. I know Peter is struggling because he says things like, Uh, I'm going to buy toilet paper. Do you want to come? He says I should go along to the crags anyway and hang out, but I don't want to look like a loser with no life. Peter is quick to point out that I am a loser and that right now I don't have a life. Peter also says that when I'm better he's going to put me through a climbing rehab program that will make me wish I never broke my leg. I wish there were more Peters.

It's a year later. My limb has mostly healed, except that it didn't set quite right so when I walk my left foot looks like a duck foot, and when I go up an incline it looks like a penguin foot, so it's difficult to picture doing any slabs. Dr. Wing has offered to break my leg again and reset it, but I'm not jumping at his offer; suddenly I'm not so partial to slabs.

My great climbing partner Peter decided to go live in Toronto. He didn't stay to help me learn how to climb again, and I'm glad now that there aren't more Peters, because he's off climbing all over the world with new partners, not me. He was witness to when I fell and broke my life, I mean my leg, and it seems that only I can recognize the significance of that. It might just be some lingering traces of self-pity, but that's significant, isn't it?


Even though my foot is pretty good for climbing, my head is hopeless. I don't know why, maybe I'm afraid I'll fall and smash my ankle into a million little pieces against the rock again. I am as weak as a worm, and I don't know how to climb anymore. I've come full circle, starting back at the beginning.

I've had to find new partners and my resume is weak, scared, duck-footed has not brought in the cream of the crop. What kind of person would answer that kind of ad? Inexperienced, unwitting wannabe climbers, that's who. My new partners are very nice and super keen, and I have to tie their knots and lock their biners and tell them to watch me while I go up and make a 5.9 look like a 5.12. I don't know why I even tell them to watch me because they have never caught a lead fall, and some of them have never caught a toprope fall. I don't look down anymore when I climb up, I've got enough to worry about.

One of my new partners is so appreciative that I've taken him under my wing that he packs a lunch for me. One day he brought along his homemade PVC didgeridoo. I made him leave it in the trunk. Last week he took his shirt off in preparation for a strenuous second up Pixie Corner, and I noticed that he was a chest-shaver because he had stubbly hairs all over his chest. Eeewwh. But I kept it inside and then sunlight shone on the nipple ring and I couldn't help myself.

I said, Howard? Howard, is that a nipple ring?

And he said, Yes. Yes, it is, Alison.

And I glanced around furtively, fearful that old climbing buddies might see me. But then I remembered I was climbing Pixie Corner in the Smoke Bluffs in July, and none of my old friends would be there.

Alison Cerney lives in Vancouver

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