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Fighting Forty (Part 2): Surgery Day

 /  Dec 07, 2010 4 Min Read  /  Climbing

Today we've got Part 2 in Kelly Cordes' series about the bout of injuries he's experienced this past year (part 1 is here). His most recent setback, a severely torn shoulder, happened shortly before his scheduled departure for Patagonia. Kelly was helping Tommy and Becca Caldwell pack for departure last week – instead of joining them, as was his original plan. Kelly is likely still in surgery at the time of this posting.  May your surgeon's hand be steady, your pain pills heady, and your recovery complete and speedy, friend. -Ed

Slide image The way the wind blows in Estes Park this time of year reminds me of El Chalten, Patagonia, especially on sunny days when I can see the mountains, or at least see the clouds enshrouding the mountains, as I walk the dirt road outside my house, and the way the wind feels and sounds and smells takes me there and it stings just a little.

The MRI results floored me. I’d been feeling good and climbing near my normal level, albeit in the gym and with half an arm. “Really?” Dr. Hackett said over the phone, “You must have a pretty high toughness factor, because…” and he proceeded to describe the structural trainwreck of my shoulder, stuff that will not fix itself. The supraspinatus (of the rotator cuff) is hanging on by threads, its tendon torn through 80–90% on the humerus side, while the labrum (the gasket-like thing that primarily stabilizes the joint) is hanging off the shoulder, torn nearly 270 degrees of its circumference.

I’ve never thought of myself as injury prone.

[Photo: Cordes collection]

Really, think about it: spinal surgery in 2005 for a childhood injury gone bad, a wear-and-tear knee surgery soon after, three leg surgeries last February from a freak accident, a little banged-up last July from my first leader fall injury in thousands of pitches, and surgery now for a “perfect storm.” Bad luck?

It’s more than that. My other shoulder doesn’t feel much better, I limp out of bed most mornings, and I have an untreated tear in one of my knees. Everything has a price, and if you have only one pair of 60,000-mile tires for the life of your car, you’d better make those miles count. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how I’m going to keep myself healthy and climbing going forward.

Anyway, more discussion with Hackett and others, ranging from high-level fellow climbers with similar shoulder damage (though unanimously lesser – seems when I fuck myself up, at least I do it right) to physician friends, leaves little doubt: fix it, or get a desk job.

My friends left last week for Patagonia, where we planned to spend the winter together. Today I go under the knife for my fourth surgery this year.

Yesterday I thought back on my miles and on my luck, those things that helped in my “getting old.” Goddamn I’ve been lucky. I remember the Montana days, stumbling into and falling in love with climbing at age 25, being forever changed by scrappy adventures with scrappy partners in wild places, living on shoestrings and ramen but making it happen. I remember my shack-dwelling years here in Colorado and living the timeless phrase, "At either end of the social spectrum there lies a leisure class." I remember being scared, thrilled, terrified, indescribably overjoyed; and when I close my eyes I can drift to places and times and experiences that have burned deep into my brain – things forever mine no matter how beat-up or beat-down I get – and I know that I'll emerge just fine and figure out how to keep going, to where I can again see Karakoram sunrises and Alaskan twilight, the view of the pampas and the lakes and the Ice Cap from high atop Patagonian peaks, to continue to tie-in with dear friends and wonderful partners, and to live the greatest of days.

As I go to sleep this afternoon I’ll hope that Dr. Hackett has an equally great day, with steady fingers and a sharp eye. I know that he will.

I suppose when I wake I’ll have a few more scars than I already have. But that’s OK, because every mark, every scar, every gray hair and every wrinkle is a part of you. Who you are.

Make them count.


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