Rescue from Zermatt, Switzerland by Ingram Lloyd

Piste skiing / ski touring?  Which is riskier?  An accident on Friday December 19th 2016 and the Austrian Alpine Club insurance outcome

Well this question was put to the test in December 2016.  The Lloyds joined the Estens in Zermatt for a very enjoyable 10 days piste skiing.  The sun shone, the sky was blue and all pistes in very good condition despite the lack of recent snow.  Snow making had been well programmed to ensure well maintained but “hard” runs.  We tightened our belts with the cost of food but enjoyed sitting in the sun looking endlessly at the Matterhorn.  I had had a new hip in June and was delighted with the result.

BUT on the last day, seemingly having an easy day, up and down on the railway, Hywel and I were skiing to lunch when my skis went into the icy edge of the piste.  My bindings didn’t release but I wasn’t too worried although my leg hurt.  We made it down to the chair, I got on but never got off.  In rising to ski off my right leg collapsed and I felled all on the lift.  I fell on them, their skis and poles.  After having the obligatory bash on the head by the next chair (thank goodness for helmets), I decided to stay still as all others were rushing around. 

The pisteurs appeared, cordoned me off and started grilling Hywel and me about any possible pain, injury etc.  Looking at my touring kit they were rather dumfounded when Hywel said I was 70 and had had a new hip 6 months earlier.  Lots of phone calls by them to the valley (doctor?) resulted in a helicopter being called.  Fine I thought, still flat on the snow, a quick check over and I’d be away.

The helicopter landed about 40 minutes after my fall, all 4 adjoining lifts had to close, so further chaos for others.  Two doctors came out and while I was urging Hywel to take pictures, he informed me rather tersely “I’m far too busy filling in my credit card details”.  Oh dear, I thought.

I don’t remember anything of being put on the helicopter or the flight, as when I was moved it was extremely painful and I was rendered unconscious.  Waking up on the roof of Visp hospital was a bit like a set from a Bond film.  Down in a treatment room, lots of shaking hands and off to X-ray where they joyfully told me that I had a spiral fracture of my femur (in the leg with the new hip).  A few bad words were uttered and an odd tear shed, but there was nothing I could do.

The treatment I had was excellent but mainly in German which is no good to me.  They ensured that I was pain free as the op would not be for a further 6 days as the main consultant would do it and he deemed me not to be an emergency.  I just resigned myself to wait and eat fabulous food.

Visp hospital were insistent that I present my EHIC card as this would cover the cost of my stay in the hospital as the UK and Switzerland have a reciprocal deal.  Meanwhile poor Hywel had been rushing around getting back down with my skis etc. The Banhoff stepped up wonderfully and said that he could stay on as long as he needed.  The following day (Saturday) Hywel emailed the KNOX Versicherungsmanagement office in Austria as instructed in the Austrian Alpine Club documentation as the UK office was closed.  The next day (Sunday) he was contacted by phone and their efficient procedures clicked into place.  Hywel then drove back to the UK, promising to return for Christmas.

Later on Sunday, I was then phoned by the insurers telling me that I could be repatriated, as I met the length of hospital stay criteria.  I took some advice from a UK consultant friend and decided to return to the UK and back to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital (NOC) in Oxford and under the care of the team who had done the two earlier hip operations.

Four days after the accident, still completely flat and not enjoying movement, I was collected by a private ambulance and driven to Geneva airport by two very jolly competent girls.  A Lear jet took me (just me) and the accompanying team, pilot, doctor and two very excellent paramedics.  I left Visp Tuesday at 10 am and got into the NOC at 1am on Wednesday, having landed at Oxford Airport.  A very long day, but I was kept pain free.  The National Health care was fabulous, the senior registrar, a consultant and a pain doctor all appeared as soon as I was admitted (1am) and checked this and that, and after some time I got to sleep.  My op was on the same day (Friday) as if I had stayed in Visp, but I was home.  The food of course was awful but the care was excellent.  Many days later, I got out of bed and struggled up the stairs, a requirement before I could go home.  The physio demanded to know why I was still moaning and groaning and called a doctor when she got me back to my room.  It turned out that I had badly torn a tendon in the leg, and that is why it gave way when I tried to get off the chair lift.  So, I had to get over a torn tendon, a spiral break and a hip revision.  A great start to 2017.  I didn’t get about much in January and February but in June, we joined the Dom group in Randa as cheer leaders, and great fun it was.

How good was the AAC insurance?  Fantastic.  I was regularly contacted by phone when I was in Visp and kept fully informed of what would happen.  Back in the UK all bills (hospital, helicopter, ambulances, private ambulance jet) were sent to me and I passed them on by post to Austria where they were dealt with promptly and without any bother.  I was informed by email each time an invoice was settled.  I submitted each claim with a detailed covering letter with ref details etc. 

I have renewed my insurance as I think that it is fantastic value and in my case, all worked perfectly.  I was often asked how I was doing, a kind and personal touch even though this had been a very expensive claim for them.

So never a claim when touring etc but an expensive claim on the piste:  is piste skiing riskier?  Where will I be next season?  On skis but not wishing for a similar fall.  It has taken a very long time to get better and I think that I have a bit further to go yet, or I hope so.

[Updated 19 March 2019]

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