“What on earth happened to your bikes?”
Eric studied the crumpled mudguards on the bikes and glanced with a puzzled look at Ian who looked around quickly for something to divert his Father’s attention. Nothing came immediately to view, so he began to fidget.
Now in those days it was a source of amazement to this eldest son when a parent seemed to penetrate a child’s brain with one look and nail the issue with utmost accuracy. Later, on having produced children the answer to that puzzle became apparent. A guilty child has the whole scene printed plainly on his or her face, and it does not take a genius to put facts together. Eric’s brain had been putting snippets of conversation at the dinner table together with casual remarks in the barnyard and the reason for the crumpled mudguards emerged like a document from a printer. For those who are curious the story can be gleaned from a previous blog titled Mooloo Schooldays Revisited.
Eric sighed and removed the offending mudguard. “That could get caught up in your wheel and cause you serious injury,” he muttered.
“Now be careful and show more responsibility!”
So Ian strapped on his school bag and walked, stooped and penitent, to the gate to meet the stoic neighbour children for their regular five mile bone shaking journey to school.
The neighbour kids took off down the twisting mountain dirt road skidding around hairpin bends at great speed and whooping with delight. Ian followed on, but without the usual enthusiasm. Ringing in his ears was the fatherly admonition. “Be careful, and show more responsibility!”
There was science behind negotiating this twisting mountain path. Approaching a hairpin bend at great speed you would hit the brakes and lean slightly to the right. The bicycle would react by broad siding around the corner and on releasing the brake one could rocket on to the next corner. The neighbour kids were expert at this and were always to the front leaving you to eat their dust.
But this day the brakes did not react. Whether it was damage caused by the neighbour kids little jest with the towing affair or not can never be proved; they just didn’t work that day.
So there was no way to slow progress as we all hurtled down that hill, and by some miracle all the hairpin curves were negotiated without mishap. As we reached the bottom of our mountain and approached the final straight downward grade Ian’s stress levels had considerably reduced, and he looked with confidence to negotiating that final downward slope. Just over the other side of the cattle grid the road began to curve upward again and that would slow momentum to a manageable level for the rest of the way.
But the cattle grid had other ideas. The impact on hitting that grid flattened both tires and Ian felt himself lifted into the air and landing with force on gravel. It took a while before his head stopped spinning and he could tentatively wobble to his feet. The neighbour kids had seen it all and were once again whooping with delight. Then smiles disappeared as they looked at Ian’s arm. Ian glanced down in the direction of their gaze and screamed with fright. The flesh had been taken off his right arm to the elbow and white bone protruded. Blood flowed profusely. Seconds later that ravaged arm sent signals to the brain and it responded with “here’s some pain for you!”
So to my shame I can recall hollering my way slowly up that mountain while the now sober neighbour kids pushed the broken bike along while one went on the run to fill Ian’s parents in on this catastrophic event.
Maude almost passed out when she saw her son’s arm. She washed out the gravel as best she could while Eric fetched the car for the trip to hospital. I still remember the agony of that journey and the way my parents rallied in support of their wounded son.
Grim faced doctors examined the arm and consulted on the best way to deal with this gaping wound. It would require weeks of treatment in hospital and the removal of skin from other areas of the body to cover the affected area. At one stage of the treatment consideration was being given to the removal of Ian’s arm if conditions did not improve. Ian shook with fright at each hospital visit by doctors as he wondered if he’d still have an arm at the end of his sojourn in hospital.
Ian remembers with gratitude the nursing staff at the Glandore Hospital in Gympie. They understood this child’s terror, and spent their spare time doing their best to console. One of the nurses in particular I remember fondly. The regular shots to counteract infection set in had produced two blue buttocks from bruising. The nurse would gently look for a place where those shots would cause the least pain. I fell in love with that nurse.
I could never figure out why it was that 4 am was the decreed time for “bathing” patients, nor could I comprehend why nurses were so cheerful at that unearthly time of the day. Wide awake after all that twisting and turning while being sponged down, Ian would stare into the darkness thinking of a future without hope and wishing for the dawn when patients in the ward would start their banter.
Some of the patients in Ian’s ward were rough diamonds from the bush, rednecks if you please! But these men had a zest for life in spite of their ailments. Jokes and colourful language flew across the room. Even the stern faced doctors seemed to enjoy the friendliness of the ward and joined us in fun on their visits. So daylight was a time when dark thoughts of the future could be swept aside, but during the night terror ruled.
After spending months in a rural school Ian considered his education in life to be fairly well rounded. But in this hospital there was more to learn. I remember the visit from a business like nurse the day after admission. She had a clipboard and was going from bed to bed checking off her questionnaire. Eventually she reached my bed and began to consult the check list. Each question was plain and quickly answered; that is until one I will never forget.
“Have your bowels moved?”
Now this one had me stumped! I’d never heard this term before and silence ruled. The nurse glanced up and saw the look of puzzlement on this young child’s face. She repeated the question.
Ian looked around helplessly for some clue to the meaning of this question and his eye fell on the radio his parents had lovingly placed beside his bed. Had the valves moved? Radios had valves! Could this be the key to answering this puzzling question?
“Nobody has touched my radio,” said Ian regaining his composure.
“What?” The nurse shouted in surprise.
“I said no one has touched the valves in my radio!”
The nurse looked at the radio and then at Ian. There was a loud guffaw from the rednecks in the ward who’d been listening in to the exchange. The nurse tried not to smile.
“Have you had a s**t,” yelled the rednecks.
Ian hung his head in embarrassment while the patients in the ward roared with laughter. “Yes,” he murmured softly. He had learned a new word but why hadn’t the nurse used simple language?
After weeks of hospital treatment the doctors decided the crisis was over and the arm could be saved, but it took years before that arm returned to its mobility of the past and piano lessons were written off for good.
In hindsight questions always surface. What if the brakes had been checked that morning before we took off at breakneck speed down that mountain? What if that cattle grid had not been there? What if Eric had not brought bicycles for his children rather than see them jog five miles to school each day with toughened neighbour kids? Was it Ian’s karma to have that experience?
The answer to those speculations is unimportant. The most important question is what was learned? Apart from the obvious need to check all possibilities before embarking on a venture Ian learned while experiencing the calamities of life you discover how kind human beings can be one to another, the simple pleasure of association with people from all walks of life whether they be sophisticated or redneck, and the unfathomable love of parents for their children no matter how wayward they may be.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2011, all rights reserved”