Navigating Upper School with fractured bones

Chronicle Staff

By Lara Sokoloff

On a campus built essentially vertically, getting from class to class in a wheelchair or on crutches can be quite inconvenient. Students are forced to find alternative routes around school that they didn’t even know existed, often making them up to 10 minutes late to class.

Jack Petok ’11 planned to attend the Community Council trip to the Giving Center in Santa Clarita on Nov. 27. However, on the morning of the event, he overslept. A friend said they would hold the bus for him, so he quickly dressed and hurried to school.

“I got there totally frazzled, no coffee in my system, and I had forgotten to grab a sweater, even though it was freezing cold and supposed to rain,” he said.

Once they arrived at the site, they were assigned to start pulling weeds out of the side of a hill, Petok said. As he was talking to a friend while climbing up the hill, he stepped awkwardly on his left foot.

“There was a big pop, but I didn’t fall or anything,” he said. “It just really hurt.”

After science teacher and trip chaperone Dietrich Schuhl tried to move Petok’s foot, and found he couldn’t without hurting Petok, Schuhl called an ambulance. Petok was taken to the local hospital, even though he was convinced it “wasn’t really a big deal.”

The X-rays that were taken showed that Petok had fractured his leg at his tibia and tibula, and his leg was dislocated. He was immediately transferred to a hospital closer to his home for surgery, which was performed that evening. Petok is in a hard cast until Dec. 30 and will wear a boot cast for six weeks after that.

Petok’s fifth and sixth period classes pose an incredible dilemma for him: He must get from Chamber Singers on the bottom floor of Chalmers to AP Art History in Feldman-Horn. On his first day at school in a wheelchair, his dean, Jon Wimbish, met him 10 minutes before Chamber Singers’ dismissal and rolled his wheelchair into an elevator, through the cafeteria, through the quad, into the Munger elevator and finally up the driveway behind the library to get to class. He ended up being 10 minutes late to class.

Petok has now arranged with his dean to be picked up at the loading dock outside Chalmers five minutes before the period ends and have Wimbish drive him up to Feldman Horn. He has arrived at class in a relatively timely manner since he and his dean started this system, he said.

Ben Gail ’13 fractured the growth plates in both his legs two weeks ago in separate incidents less than 24 hours apart. After two weeks in a wheelchair, Gail is now able to walk around in his casted ankles.

Despite the inconveniences his wheelchair provided, he managed to find some positives in the experience. Wheelchair races downhill, in addition to “poppin’ wheelies” around campus have kept Gail entertained. He has also strengthened his upper body as a result of the wheelchair, he said.

“You should see me,” he said. “I’m ripped!”

Danielle Salka ’11, who tore her ACL for the second time playing volleyball, has experience maneuvering the seemingly vertical campus injured, since she tore her ACL for the first time playing volleyball during her sophomore year. She now maneuvers around campus in a motorized wheelchair.

Shawn Ma ’11 dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula playing basketball three weeks ago during a scrimmage against Valencia High School, he said.

“There was no pop,” he said. “I just thought it was a really bad sprained ankle until I went to tie my shoe a little tighter and I felt my ankle bone jutting out.”

An ambulance took Ma to a Valencia hospital where his ankle was set. He was transferred to UCLA Medical Center the following day where his ankle was set again and x-rays were taken. The x-rays revealed that his fibula was completely fractured, he said. The following week, a metal plate was surgically screwed to Ma’s fibula and tibula.

The general layout of the school provides a massive obstacle for all injured students.

“In terms of the actual physical structure of the campus, it’s just terrible, and I think they know that too,” Petok said. “It’s just a pain in the neck to get around.”

Despite the school’s efforts, the unreliability of the Munger elevator proves to be the largest inconvenience for most students. Petok was stranded after finding it broken last Tuesday, Gail found it broken three mornings in a row and Salka begins her day by checking to ensure that it is working so she can plan her day accordingly, she said.

All areas of campus are accessible by elevator except for the third floor of Seaver, which proves to be an issue for many injured students.

Petok, Gail and Salka agreed that the implementation of an elevator there would seriously benefit students trying to maneuver the campus in a wheelchair.