Quebec, Canada Tuesday 9th March, 5.25 p.m.
“DOES that hurt?” The doctor’s question was rhetorical. The sharp intake of air and tensing of the muscles made an answer unnecessary.
Felix relaxed with the release of the probing fingers. Lying on the couch in the Ski Center’s medical room, stripped to the waist, he waited for the prognosis. The past two hours had been a trial for him. A rueful expression appeared on his face as he recalled his accident. He was still astonished at making such a stupid mistake. ‘Imagine running into a tree.’
Thinking back, he remembered his father preparing him for the long trip down. To hold his ribs in place and keep them from excessive movement, John had taken off his own jersey and strapped Felix’s right arm against his chest, knotting it on his back like a giant bandage. The extra bulk under Felix’s jacket had increased the warmth and given additional security. It helped reduce the pain when he twisted his body.
John had led the way down. Five meters behind Felix had followed his father’s tracks. Often they stopped, his father calling him before he committed himself to a pathway. Stepping back up over his own tracks, John would set off in another direction, always looking for the easiest way down through the trees.
Sometimes skiing, often snowplowing, but never cranking hard or jumping turns, they had picked their way down. It had begun to snow again. The late afternoon sun had filtered through the mist and trees, giving an eerie half-light, merging trees and shadows. Ahead of him, his father had been forced to slow his path finding.
They had rested many times. His father had rallied him with words of encouragement, adjusted the woolen ‘bandage’ and cleant his goggles. The pain in his chest had eased to a throb. He knew not to twist, brake or jump. His mind went into a daze. ‘Keep moving down. But keep it gentle.’ It was awkward using only one pole and trying not to turn his upper body. He had fallen twice. Both falls had been unexpected, when a ski had caught an edge in the soft snow. The pain was excruciating. The second fall, close to the end of the run was particularly severe. He had almost blacked out. But John had been there, helped him to his feet, handed him his pole and held him steady until he relaxed and was ready to continue.
“Well Felix.” The doctor’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts, “The X-ray shows you have two cracked ribs on your right side. They are clean fractures to be precise. Nothing to worry about.” He smiled down at him. “Of course they can hurt like hell, so we’ll strap you up. You’ll have to give skiing away for the rest of the season and keep your physical movements quiet. Otherwise no problems.”
“Thanks.” Felix met the doctor’s eyes briefly. Lowering his head back onto the pillow, he shut his eyes to close out the brightness of the lights. ‘Interesting,’ he thought to himself. ‘Dad told me I had cracked two ribs. Not one but two ribs.’ Reflecting back to the scene of the accident, he tried to recall the events after the crash.
It seemed like a dream now. Lifting up his left hand, he reached up to touch his right cheek. The skin was smooth and undamaged. ‘Did I really puncture my cheek on a branch,’ he wondered.
The doctor started taping his chest. Felix lay quietly, thinking how little he knew about his father. After his parents had divorced five years ago, when he was thirteen, his mother had taken Brigitte and himself to Calgary. They had lived with Memere and Pepere in the big house overlooking Lake Louise. It had taken a long time to settle in. Making friends had taken awhile. It had been easier for his sister, being three years younger.
He sat up as the nurse helped him on with his shirt. He hadn’t seen much of his father, only on holidays, and they only lasted a few days or a week or so at the most each year. He smiled to himself, recalling the hiking, skiing and canoeing trips. And that had been only during the last three years, because John had been in Japan prior to that.
Standing up, he smiled at the nurse. She was nice. If he was staying longer . . . He went through and sat down in the waiting room. His mother had always made out that his father was so different, that he accepted Eastern culture too easily and changed too much. Anyway she didn’t like Tokyo. Too many Japs, odd manners, impossible language, not enough white people. Real people! At the time he had accepted this criticism. But now . . . now he wasn’t so sure. He didn’t really know his father. They were never close. Today, though, that was something else. His body stiffened for an instant as he recalled the adventure. ‘I suppose I was lucky,’ he thought. ‘Here I am safe and well, apart from a couple of cracked ribs. Could have been a lot worse. No more skiing for four weeks. So what, it’s the end of the season. Hey, I wonder what we’ll do until I go back.’
“Felix, I’m sorry I’m late. How are you?” His father’s inquiry woke him from his daydream.
“Fine Dad. Fine. They’ve taped me up like a mummy,” he grinned. “The X-ray showed I’ve fractured two ribs, just like you said.”
“Good. That’s good. You’re looking much better. Let’s go and have something warm to eat and drink.” John paused, looking Felix straight to his face. “We’re going to have to reorganize the remainder of your stay here I’m afraid. I’ve just received a call from the university. It looks like I’m going to New Zealand. I’m leaving tonight!”