Monday, August 27, 2012
The chill of victory: Parkwest surgeon lands spot in U.S. Ski Team physician pool
You’ll have to pardon Dr. Chris Shaver if the recent Summer Olympics in London weren’t his cup of tea. No, his sport is best served cold with lots of sugar.
Dr. Chris Shaver, shown on the slopes of Park City, Utah, during last year’s NorAm Freestyle Moguls event, looks forward to his next assignments with the U.S. Ski Team’s physician pool.
That’s because Shaver, an orthopedic surgeon at Parkwest Medical Center, has a lifelong love affair with the ski slopes – one that has now earned him a place in the physician pool for the United States Ski Team.
“Free ski and moguls is my cup of tea,” Shaver said, referring to the two alpine events he loves best. “Skiing is a sport where, unless you get to the level of these guys on the U.S. Ski Team, there are no rules – you just go out, and if it’s fun, you do it. You can go fast. You can go slow. You can try tricks, and on every run you can try to make yourself better or you can just have a nice, relaxing afternoon.”
Although he first applied in 2009 (the same year he began his practice), it wasn’t until last summer that the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) informed Shaver of his selection as a U.S. Ski Team physician.
The lengthy approval process included, of course, requisite background and reference checks, followed by an intensive medical emergency workshop in Beaver Creek, Colo., and finally his first test assignment – the NorAm Freestyle Moguls and NorAm Aerials in Park City, Utah, events that attracted not only former World Cup skiers looking to make a comeback from injury, but also other international athletes and club teams.
“During that period, I was evaluated for getting along with the athletes, getting along with the coaches, knowing what I’m talking about and being available,” said Shaver. “They don’t really evaluate your skiing skills although I assumed if you’re interested in doing this that you can get down a hill pretty quickly. I mean, one of the requirements is that you need to be able to ski a World Cup course. You don’t have to ski it at the speed these athletes do, but you have to be able to get down it safely and get to the athletes in an expedient manner.”
Shaver laughs when asked for a self-evaluation of his ski skills. “That’s a hard question – I could always get better, much better,” he said. “When I’m out West, I’m probably a 6 or 7 out of 10. I can get down anything on the mountain – it might not be pretty, but there’s nothing I can’t get down, and I can make some things look kind of pretty. Here in the western North Carolina mountains, I’m probably a 9 out of 10 but that comes with the territory. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re skiing with people who ski 110 days out of the year for 20 years and you only ski 10 days out of the year.”
Shaver admits that he’s something of an oddity on the ski slopes – a Southern boy from Greeneville, Tenn., who was hooked on his first ski trip with a church group to Sugar Mountain, N.C. “I looked like the normal Southern Appalachian first-time skier in my camouflage and a blaze orange UT jacket, but I fell in love with it,” he said.
Shaver says trying to keep up with World Cup events is difficult in East Tennessee where football tends to dominate the sports pages.
Before long, he and his buddies were spending most winter weekends on Sugar Mountain or Beech Mountain. Sometimes, they even made weekday trips after school for night skiing, returning home around midnight.
As a college freshman, he was elected to the cabinet of the University of Tennessee Ski and Snowboard Club and began organizing trips to ski resorts out West. “When I went to medical school, I kept that up, not with the UT ski team but I organized ski trips for my med school classmates,” said Shaver. “Then, when I got into residency, I would find educational courses that coincided with the mountains. So I would get up at 6 in the morning, go do the education until 9 or 10, ski the rest of the day, and then back to studying from 4 until 7 p.m.”
It was during this time that he first heard about the U.S. Ski Team’s physician pool through one of his residency teachers, Dr. Jason Folk. Folk, an orthopedist in Greenville, S.C., was a member of the physician pool and would spend two weeks each summer with the U.S. team when it trained in New Zealand.
“He would tell me all these stories about it, and I knew it was something I’d like to do too,” said Shaver. “So, I just kept bugging him, kept saying, ‘Jason, you’ve got to remember me. I want to get involved in this.’ ”
Before he could officially join the pool of about 120 physicians (primarily general practitioners from ski towns and orthopedic surgeons from around the country), Shaver had to attend the Medical Emergency in Skiing and Snowboarding (MESS) Corps’ workshop.
“It was a three- or four-day intensive primer on the type of emergencies that you’ll see on the hill in skiing and snowboarding, what to evaluate for and what to do,” explained Shaver. “Some of those things were commonplace for what I do in my practice or my normal training and some were not. For example, they give you these kits to put in chest tubes like the emergency room physicians do in trauma bays. I haven’t had to do that, but some have had to do that on the slope because of collapsed lungs or things like that.”
Ski injuries, Shaver said, can range from anything like a sprained ankle all the way to “something that would make you think they’d been in a car accident.”
Shaver, who learned to ski on the mountains of western North Carolina, is right at home on the moguls course in Park City, Utah.
“Some of these guys are going 70, 80, 90 miles per hour on certain courses, and it’s literally like they are having a car wreck without the car around them,” he said. “They wipe out and go into the fence or go into a flip, and it’s essentially a car wreck. So, the injuries, especially, in downhill can be horrific.”
Should he encounter a serious or life-threatening injury on the slopes, Shaver said, his role would be to stabilize the patient before sending them on to the local hospital.
“I think some people have somewhat of a misperception of what I’m doing,” he said. “Obviously, I’m not licensed to perform orthopedic surgery in Utah or Sweden or something like that. But what I do is evaluate the athletes when they have an injury or when they have a nagging problem. I evaluate what I think their problem is or what I think the injury they’ve sustained is. Is this something that they can continue to compete on? Do we need to put them in a brace? Do we need to tape them up? Do we need to get them on certain medications or physical therapy regimens? Do they need X-rays or MRIs or go to the emergency room? There are certain things that we wouldn’t and can’t do medically on the hill – attempt to definitively treat life-threatening injuries, major dislocations, severe concussions and things like that.”
Another common misperception, Shaver said, is that he’ll be attending the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. Plum assignments like that, he said, go to veteran physicians in the pool who are able to make the required four- to six-week commitment.
Instead, he’s eagerly awaiting his next assignment – a moguls event in Stowe, Vt., later this winter. “With three small children (ages 7, 5 and 22 months), I’m probably going to stay in the States or Canada,” he says. “I don’t really want to be in Norway. But later on, when my children are a little older, we’ll do that and we’ll make it a family vacation.”
For more information about orthopedics or physician referral, visit TreatedWell.com or call 374.PARK.