Good Hands

While crutching at sunset last evening – my 10-minute crutch-walk around the block – I saw a runner turn the corner and gracefully stride down the street. I smiled and looked down, flashing into a dreamlike state where I felt myself again gliding over the earth like I did before and I will again, then climbing into the sky, the rock and ground disappearing beneath me like I’m living in a fairytale. It’s weird, but in those few seconds of tranquility and drifting, out of nowhere I saw my beloved old dog, Jezzebel, running toward me, ears and tongue flopping, racing at full speed to jump into my arms. Only two years into her life, a freak accident on a trail run left her paralyzed. Every day afterward I got her out, often strapped into my backpack for a bike ride so that she could once again feel the wind against her face, and she would smile and return to the world she loved and forget about her fate, if only for awhile. A month later I held her as she died, and in her final moment she looked at me with love, licked my hand, and then closed her eyes forever.

I don’t know where that came from, but it felt like another gift. I’ve never been rich but I live like a king, and when you live life you accept risks. My leg is minor. When I think of Karakoram sunrises glimpsed from a cold and sleepless bivy, the view of the pampas and lakes and icecap from the top of Cerro Torre after how we got there, of tying in and trusting dear friends in Alaska, cutting my teeth in nowhere Montana with the greatest of partners, our traveling trainwreck that somehow came out ahead in Peru, endless laughter and debauchery at campsites everywhere, living like a pagan vagrant feeling like the secrets of the universe somehow drifted through me in timeless moments high in the mountains, and just the simple times of cragging with good friends, I could break every bone in my body and I would still be ahead.

Around noon today, just before I slip into a dreamless sleep, I’ll wish for more good fortune in the hands of Dr. Bharat Desai, an extraordinary trauma surgeon who specializes in complex foot and ankle damage. Dr. Desai impressed me in person – nearly his first words to me, after all of the horrible things I’ve heard and read about my fracture, were: “This is fixable.” It’ll probably require another surgery in about a week, depending on how things look when he’s in there. He put back together my friend Wayne Crill after a nearly unthinkable accident on Mt. Evans ten years ago, and also my new friend Chris Klinga, who suffered a horrific accident in Eldo two years ago April. Both were wrecked so far beyond me that my break looks trivial. My friends Jonny Copp and Mike Pennings were first on the scene at Chris’ accident, and helped save his life. Wayne and Chris, both of whom are still climbing and fully living their lives, speak of Dr. Desai as if he walks on water, and I felt it in my chest when Chris said, “The one doctor that was the Jonny Copp of orthopedics and made it all possible was Dr. Desai.”

I’m in good hands, and I can’t wait to go to sleep.

9 thoughts on “Good Hands

  1. Vagrant pagans indeed, filters for those secrets, passing through us incrementally clearer and more pure for our existence. Songs under the stars. There is no real loss because nothing is ours for the keeping. Much love.

  2. Kelly, what an inspiration you are. Your attitude in the face of adversity, and in general, are why you have had the great fortune to live like a king. Best of luck in surgery and on a speedy recovery. -weston

  3. It is refreshing to see people who realize how rich their lives are even at a “low”point, we are all here for you my friend, my first big descent in AK this year will be all for you my friend!

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