Am­bu­lances on Their Backs


funds for the Brain Tu­mour Char­ity and for Royal Free, the hos­pi­tal where he was treated. The ques­tion was how to do it.

A pas­sion­ate skier and a mem­ber of the Bri­tish speed­ski­ing team un­til he was in­jured in a crash, Machell came up with the idea to boot up for the marathon dur­ing a ski trip to Selva, Italy, which is con­nected to other re­sorts. “I’ve never walked so much in ski boots in my life,” he says. “On the way back from a pub, I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad. I could run a marathon like this.’”

He pro­ceeded to buy a tread­mill on eBay and be­gan train­ing in boots, work­ing up to 10k, and start­ing to be­lieve, “Maybe I can do this.”

He did it, but at a price. Machell hit the in­fa­mous 20-mile-mark wall a wee bit early, around mile eight. “I’ve never been in so much pain,” he says. A woman on the side­line— he guesses she was a nurse— per­suaded him to stop and “she pulled all these ban­dages out of her ruck­sack and fixed me up.”

Later in the race, around mile 18, he was weak­en­ing again. “Then my best mate rang me and told me that ‘Pain is tem­po­rary. Glory is eter­nal.’” Now any thought of not com­plet­ing the course had to be dis­missed. When he saw his girl­friend at mile 22, “I knew I was go­ing to make it.”

You know how sore your feet are af­ter the last run of a long ski day? Don’t make Machell laugh. “I was wor­ried at the end of the race to take my boots off, won­der­ing what I would find,” he says. “There were blis­ters on blis­ters.”

Be­ing a thrifty Brit, Machell ad­mits that run­ning 26.2 miles in his ski boots “did ground them down a bit,” he says. “But I think they’re still good.” ● BY HEATHER HANSMAN Mortensen says it never fails. The in­stant pa­trol re­sponds to some­one se­ri­ously sick or in­jured on the hill, a doc­tor skis by. “They want to help but they’re used to per­fect light and per­fect con­di­tions,” Mortensen says. “Then they see me on my hands and knees man­ag­ing an air­way and they ski away.” And, luck­ily for the on-slope pa­tient, Mortensen has what he likes to call “an am­bu­lance in my back­pack.” He’s used to start­ing IVs, sta­bi­liz­ing vitals, and ini­ti­at­ing other in­va­sive med­i­cal pro­ce­dures that were for­merly restricted to emer­gency rooms—on the side of a ski run. Mortensen is part of a big­ger move­ment, mostly in­vis­i­ble to hap­pily obliv­i­ous skiers, to raise the level of on-hill med­i­cal care.

The over­ar­ch­ing ski-pa­trol med­i­cal direc­tive used to be to sta­bi­lize on-hill pa­tients, pack them into a sled, and get them—fast—to a tra­di­tional care fa­cil­ity. But as the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of trans­portable med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy im­proves, and, as Mortensen says, a cer­tain old boys’ club fades out, pa­trollers are able to of­fer more- ad­vanced care and change the fate of peo­ple who get sick or hurt on the hill. “That’s been the big shift in pa­trolling in the past 10 or 15 years,” he says. “We’re all at least EMTs and we had a level of train­ing that we weren’t us­ing. There’s no rea­son we can’t give pre­hos­pi­tal-level care, and we know that we can im­pact their re­cov­ery.”

On the hill, that care can man­i­fest in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways. Mortensen says Breck pa­trollers can do a nee­dle de­com­pres­sion of the chest wall for a col­lapsed lung and use an au­to­mated ex­ter­nal de­fib­ril­la­tor dur­ing car­diac ar­rest. They ad­min­is­ter drugs to keep pa­tients com­fort­able, but they’re also hy­per­aware of how quickly they should trans­port peo­ple and where to send them. When in­juries get life-and-death se­ri­ous, pa­trol is an in­creas­ingly cru­cial link in the Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices (EMS) chain. “You could say that it’s bet­ter to get hurt in a ski area than at your house. We very well could get to you faster than an am­bu­lance,” Mortensen says while show­ing a guest the pa­trol’s med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties at Breck­en­ridge’s mid­moun­tain Vista Haus lodge.

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