What Happened To Me And WhyYou Should Treasure Your Health And Fitness.

As I get older, each ski season is more precious than the one before.  I’m pushing 60+ years of skiing, and early in my life, I learned never to take one for granted.  Except for being deployed overseas during Vietnam and Desert Shield and Storm, I haven’t missed a ski season in decades.

There is a rhythm to my ski year.  After the ski season, I change my conditioning routine and start ramping back up after Labor Day up so that by December, I’m ready to ski my usual 25,000+ vertical feet.  Yes, at my age I’m bragging!

On August 23rd, my routine changed thanks to a bacterial infection in my right elbow.  During the bursectomy, the surgeon found an infected ulna bone, tendons and muscles in my forearm.  Aaaaaaarrrrggggghhhh!

Samples were sent to a lab to grow cultures and find out what the bug was.  Over the next four weeks, the four drains were slowly removed.  Exercise was not possible because dirt in the sweat could lead to a staph or other type infection, and I had very limited use of my right arm.

Eleven weeks later, the culture and susceptibility tests told the doctors that the infection was a hard to kill avian acid fast bacilli.  It takes a combination of three powerful antibiotics taken daily over eight to 12 months to kill it. It gets worse because this is one of the bug that often develops immunity to antibiotics so sometimes in the middle of the treatment, one has to start over.

As luck would have it, I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic that was the most effective against the avian bacilli that sent me to the emergency room having difficulty breathing, a 102 degree fever, rashes and hives all over my body.  I was off everything other than steroids and antihistamines to get my system back to normal.

The bug and the toll the antibiotics were taking on my body sapped my stamina.  I’d work on a book for four to five hours in the morning and after lunch, I was exhausted and it was nap time.  By nine at night, I was ready for bed!

Exercise, you have to be kidding!  Go skiing?  No way.

So now in early December, two MRIs and two sets of x-rays later, I’ve started walking again and am up to about four miles every day.  By the time this is published, hopefully I’d daily sessions on an elliptical or a stationary bike.

Next major checkpoint is another MRI and x-rays in early January to see if my ulna bone is continuing to heal.  Blood work every other week gives an indication the drugs are working.  My goal is to ski late in late March but its 50-50.

The point of this piece is simple.  Don’t take any ski season for granted.  Each season, each trip, each run is precious, and they could be taken away from you in a flash.  Just ask!

33 Comments

  1. I am a 60 year old guy, and after 50 consecutive seasons of skiing, something like this is a big fear. Hang in there, and keep the waxed side down!

  2. Marc:
    Best wishes for a full recovery. I too am a Vietnam vet who’s been skiing since the age of 7. Almost every year. I have my own personal record of skiing with an Army buddy for the past 35 years straight. As I am now in my early 70s, I treasure every ski season, hoping to get to that magical age of 80 where most areas let us ski FREE. Harder to do so now but only for the aches and pains of getting old, nothing compared to your situation. Hang in there.

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Greg,
      First things first, Welcome Home!

      Second, I plan on skiing well past 80. My combat tours and surviving thousands of hours in helicopters built by the lowest bid are proof that I’m immortal.

  3. Thank you for a great message Marc. Im 79 and still ski a lot including 3 weeks in Vail. After the age of 65 I don’t worry about broken bones or colds. I get flu and shingles shots.

    My real worry is infections. One tiny cut with an Exacto knife put me out for weeks recently due to infection. I missed a week at the beach this past summer due to bacterial pneumonia. Who knows how I got infected? I was crippled for a week due to a cut on the lower leg from a sharpe edge on my tool box. It got infected . I now treat even the tiniest cut very quickly and wash my hands well after touching anything that the public might be touching like toys at the WalMart. Age seems to reduce infection resistsnce.

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Larry,
      Thanx. We – the infectious disease – doc and i are pretty sure how I got this bug. It is an infection pure and simple and over the years, I have been pretty diligent about treating cuts.

      And age is insidious. It sneaks up on us and we get sick at the drop of the hat. Everytime we go visit our grandkids, one or both of us come home with whatever bug is going around their schools.

  4. Avatar Norm Reynolds says:

    I’ve missed one season (Vietnam-’68/’69) since the late ’40’s, and believe me, I treasure every turn! It doesn’t get any easier, but I get to work with wounded vets a lot, and that adds a lot of fun to the mix.

  5. Avatar James Stangl says:

    So sorry to hear about your infection; osteomyelitis (bone infection) can be a bear to treat. And with any drug or treatment, “there’s no free lunch.”

    I’m dealing with similar “lowered expectations” for this season; had surgery for a persistent ruptured disc in October, thought I was getting back to ski-readiness, then popped another disc just a couple of days ago. Now, I’m just hoping for a few cautious turns in late Feb or beyond.

    Makes me thankful for good health, and mindful to try to keep healthy overall and not take any day for granted.

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      James,
      As we get older, staying healthy and keeping fit gets hard and harder to stay less fit and less healthy. Pisses me off because I think because we managed to get into our dotage, we deserve to be fit and healthy!

  6. Avatar Michael Feldman says:

    Marc: Best of luck in getting back…I’m in heart rehab mode, working my way back from a complicated open-heart, valve job…I tried to ski the first day of Loon at op plus 30 and it was a disaster…dizzy, sweating nauseous…

    Today at Loon, I got in 3 nicely spaced Gondola runs. I’ve been able to walk 3-4 miles since three weeks out of the hospital after, but skiing is a different proposition…But it’s all coming back; especially fitness.
    I’m hopeful of a full season at 80.

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Michael,
      What I am dealing with is much less than open heart surgery. Good luck with your recovery. Getting back to health is much harder that either of us think.

  7. You guys all give me hope. I’ve been at it for 60 years. Still find it heart pumping. I work daily,just enough to stay toned, stationary bike. Hope to run into you all on the slopes .

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Ken,
      God willing, and if the creeks don’t rise, I’ll be back this year, if not next. I’ll be the guy yelling Hallelujah!!!

  8. Keep at it, you tough men (and women)!
    You’re all my heroes!
    Prayers for a full recovery for those post-medical care.
    After 4 cervical and 2 lumbar spine surgeries and both knees replaced, still active and skiing, and very thankful for modern medicine!
    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy New Year to all!

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Brad,
      It appears the warranty ran out on your back and knees. Thankfully, I haven’t had to go down that route.
      Thanx for your note.

  9. Avatar Peter Francis says:

    At 66, your message rings for me too. Came late to skiing (in my 40s), but doesn’t mean I’m any less ‘infected’! Aussie skier who has skied nearly 50 resorts across Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, USA and Europe and can’t stop booking those twice yearly ski holidays.

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      G’Day Peter,
      Keep doing the skiing “walkabouts.”
      BTW, The illness caused my wife and i to cancel a long planned 50th anniversary trip which was a 60 day trip to Australia and New Zealand. I used to do a lot of work in both countries and my wife wanted to go, so we were going. Oh well.

  10. Sorry to learn about your infection, but glad to know you’re still writing books. I have a few of yours left to read, but will need more!

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Bryan,
      Thanx for your note and there’s more coming in 2020. OBTW, I am going to have someone get this bug in an upcoming book.
      Keep reading and buying my books. Both my publisher and I love it!

  11. Marc, I wish you a continued uneventful recovery. When you are cleared to exercise, I recommend you start with a physical therapist, and not head to the hill until she/he feels you have regained full strength. Your body has been through a lot. It’s only 1 season, and you are young!

  12. Bravo and Kudos to you Marc, and thank you for writing a piece that we, as we get older, can all relate to. Not quite 60, but feel like I’m breaking down one joint at a time. I’ve had one knee replacement, will have the next one done next summer. This season, the day after Thanksgiving was taking a kettle off the stove and tweaked my back, just as it was feeling better thanks to Predisone pack, was going down a run, and hit my shoulder, so off the slopes for another couple of weeks. So yes, I’m cherishing the time I have left on the slopes. Wish a quick recovery for you, since it sounds like the hardest part is now behind you…Merry Christmas!

    • Avatar Marc Liebman says:

      Penny,
      You’ll find that as one gets older, stuff we used to do easily gets much harder. it is frustrating. I gave up playing soccer at age 60 and stopped playing softball at 70 because I kept watching people get hurt for no reason. So all I have left is skiing and I am NOT giving it up!

  13. I wish you a speedy and full recovery. I agree with Mr. Steinberg – get into physical therapy BUT make sure he/she understands skiing requirements. I have not skied for 4 years – hip and knee replacements I am 87 years old. Last year I was in PT for 4 months with a Physical Therapist I had used before. He did a great job improving my overall strength. I went out west to ski only to find that my quads screamed at me, making it almost impossible to ski. This year I have employed a physical fitness trainer who knows what a skier needs Hope springs eternal!!.

  14. I can relate. I am 68 years old this February and have been skiing since I was 7 years old. I had not missed a season in 45 years but was always limited to less than 20 ski days a year due mostly to where I live in southern Ontario Canada. My wife and I retired 2 years ago and planned one of our bucket list trips which was a tour of 10 Western Canada ski resorts to take place over 60 days last winter. Exactly 1 week before departure I had emergency open heart surgery to repair a ruptured Mitral Valve. I have pretty much fully recovered and will be able to get back out on the slopes. I have always been physically fit but it took every ounce of will power to keep at the exercise routine all this year to regain a fitness level good enough for skiing. I have never taken a single day of skiing for granted but this year I will cherish every ski day more than ever and I will be forever grateful to get 1 more chance to feel the way that only skiing makes me feel. I hope you can get back in shape and get your second chance like I have.

  15. Marc…this is important. If you are on a septic system, HAVE IT CHECKED. My husband was (like you) on long term antibiotics for a stubborn infection. Our septic system had a fit. We were lucky it was fixable (to the tune of $2000) rather than the $20,000+ it would have cost to replace it. We had had it serviced 13 months prior and they said it looked like it hadn’t been serviced in a decade. The antibiotics (coming out of his system when he used the bathroom) did to our septic system what they often do to one’s gut. If you are on city sewers, it’s not a problem, however.

  16. Avatar Marc Liebman says:

    To all who sent notes. Thanx for your support.

    • Avatar John Whitney says:

      And to all who sent notes on their many-yeared skiing histories, thanks for the inspiration and the reminder of what a wonderful sport and lifestyle we’ve been blessed with. Skiing has made my life infinitely more enjoyable, and it’s great to hear so many others feel the same way.

  17. This was a missed ski season for me, as cervical spine surgery and reactive arthritis finally did me in and I just wasn’t in shape to hit the slopes. At 78 I’ve been skiing since the age of 7 and love every moment. Reading the travails of others and the determination that jumps from the comments brings me new hope for next season …. I’ll be back! Thank you all.

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