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Why I’m Grateful For My Ski Accident

A sports injury helps our president experience firsthand the importance of mental health in rehabilitation

Ashim Khemani speaking on stage

It was our first day at Whistler. The second chairlift ride. My daughter and I were riding up a high-speed quad on a beautiful winter morning. When we arrived at the hilltop drop off, I stood, poles in hand—and the lady next to me toppled onto me in such a way that my knee twisted inward as I wiped out.

The first thing I experienced was intense pain. The chairlift operator stopped the lift. I tried to stand, to get out of the way, but my knee wouldn’t work.

My daughter and others helped me to move off to the side. Ski patrol brought me down the hill and the doctor told me she thought I had torn two knee ligaments—both my medial collateral and my anterior cruciate ligaments. I cut the trip short, and the first surgeon I saw back in Toronto wanted to put me in a cast for a month. Hip to ankle. To completely immobilize my leg.

Another surgeon told me exactly the opposite. A cast would cause me to lose range of motion. I needed to have the knee in a brace—and as much as I could, I should be moving around and in active physio.

What I confronted in those moments was similar to what many Medcan clients experience when facing a health issue. There were worries, and anxiety. My wife was away travelling with our son on a long-planned trip. She offered to cut it short and I felt guilty about having her do that. Our work at Medcan required attention and not being fully engaged was distracting. How would I get around? How would I work?

I felt these terrible feelings—even though in many respects I am in the perfect position to experience an injury like this. As the president of Medcan I have the privilege of leading an organization whose entire purpose is to help people in exactly my situation—and countless others. The calibre of talent that works out of Medcan is among the best, not only in the country, but the world. Combine the talent with the coordination of care and the breadth of services, and I was truly in the perfect spot.

It is one thing to talk about the importance of mental health. It is another to experience that importance in the face of a mobility-reducing injury.

What I realized was that my mental health took precedence over and above the rehab that I was conducting on my knee. To commit to the rehab to the extent that was required, I needed to remain consistently positive. I had to believe that my effort would be rewarded. To occupy the proper mental space, I needed to be purposeful and conduct a lot of self-care.

Mindfulness was a tremendous help. If I felt the approach of negative feelings, I concentrated on my breathing, and attempted to occupy the present moment. It would have been easy to scale back my exercise, but what I realized was that a daily workout had become even more important, because that was part of my lifestyle and it allowed me an organic opportunity to connect with clients and colleagues on the fitness floor. So my trainer, my physiotherapist and a kinesiologist who specialized in orthopedic rehab helped me customize my exercise regimen.

I opted not to get the cast, basically because I made a judgment call and relied on the advice of clinicians that I trust. I chose to believe the doctor who said the cast was discretionary, because I couldn’t wrap my head around continuing to function with my entire leg encased in plaster for so long. Instead, I chose to use a brace.

Interestingly, quite a community forms as others see you moving around in a brace. People inquire about the injury and share their own stories with similar issues that they may have dealt with. I rapidly made some new friends.

A second MRI to be done in some weeks will confirm whether repairing my joint will require surgery. My mobility improves with every week, and my mental predisposition has been top notch.

And in retrospect, my injury has been a blessing. Now, as my brace and I move through the halls of this company, I feel that I have a more complete understanding of the importance of Medcan’s holistic approach. In my case, as with most of our clients, one issue was a priority—but the situation was interdependent with many other considerations. Nothing happens in isolation.

Almost every health condition has a mental health component to it. Body—and mind. Move—and think. My new perspective has helped me to become a better and more empathetic leader here at Medcan.

Sometimes, even the most unfortunate of accidents can trigger a positive effect.

Ashim Khemani is the president of Medcan. He is the author of Canadian Group Insurance Benefits—A Practitioner’s Guide and Reference Manual, and the co-author of Global Health Care Systems: A Perspective on Issues, Practices and Trends Among OECD Nations.

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