Healing hands 

The Whistler Health Care Centre is an island of calm efficiency and innovation in the centre of North America's busiest ski resort

click to flip through (9) Nurse Shirley Balzarni adds a splint to skier Sarah Ussher of Langley  at the Whistler medical center. Bonny Makarewicz Photo
  • Nurse Shirley Balzarni adds a splint to skier Sarah Ussher of Langley at the Whistler medical center. Bonny Makarewicz Photo

Lucas Parker is doped up on morphine, trying to remember three simple words. He can't.

His mother Janice sits beside him, still in her light blue ski jacket, willing her youngest son to remember the words the doctor is asking him and the series of events that led up to his accident.

"I was in the terrain park and I went off a jump and I can't really remember the rest," says Lucas slowly, lying flat on his back in the clinic, his head immobilized, his right arm splinted. His eyes, however, tell a story — pained, dazed, confused. He is just 14 years old; flying through the air one minute, strapped down in a hospital bed the next.

Lucas has a concussion, just how serious it is remains to be seen. The doctor also suspects he's broken his humerus — the long arm bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow — a heart-breaking reality for this young competitive badminton player who has provincials on the near horizon. The doctor has told him to rest his mind, sleep if he needs to. X-rays will tell the tale.

He is the quintessential Whistler patient — young, injured while skiing or snowboarding...with broken bone.

Lucas and his mom wait quietly; the curtain falls back around them, isolating them in their temporary cocoon, as the daily medical melodrama at the unassuming centre unfolds in earnest around them.

• • •

Of the total 18,643 ER visits in 2011 at the Whistler Health Care Centre, a staggering 43 per cent (or 8,199) were orthopaedic injuries, like Lucas's. Compare that to the 18 per cent seen at Lions Gate Hospital in roughly the same time period.

It's easy to see why the centre's work in orthopaedics — that business of broken bones, dislocated joints and torn ligaments — has become its tour de force of sorts.

"Because we treat a population that's involved in high energy sport injuries, we tend to see these things perhaps with greater frequency than do other emergency departments," says Dr. Bruce Mohr, president of the medical staff at the centre. "There's a lot of high energy young population trauma going on here.

Set against the backdrop of North America's busiest ski resort, one that caters to more than two million skiers and riders annually, the centre is a hive of calm, business-like activity on a Sunday afternoon at the height of the ski season, the quiet punctuated by the rhythmic click-claquing of plastic ski boots on the polished linoleum floors.

Lined up in single file against the season-worn walls, the weary walking wounded wait, ski jackets unzipped, boots propped up to ease the pain of hurt legs, arms held tenderly.

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