Saturday, July 9, 2011
The scars around my eyes (pt 3b)
It worked like a charm. With my face inches from the grass, eyes just above the upwardly-curved edge of the toboggan, the grass flashed by. I did it a couple of times.
A slight problem with my racing track was that after several hundred sorties, the speargrass surface was starting to wear thin. Inevitably, disaster struck. With my face millimetres above the top edge of my chariot, I hit a good-sized stone towards the bottom of the run. The trimming I had done with the tinsnips, resembling the serrated edge of a jam tin opened with one of those old emergency tin-openers, jumped upwards very sharply.
Yes, of course - I acquired, with no effort on my part, a jagged wound right along my left eyebrow. Blood was running into my eye. Heaps of it.
I admit to being concerned. It wasn’t all that painful, though that I think was partly due to the shock that occurs before the ‘Aaaghhh I’m dying!’ factor really sets in. Like when I stapled my two index fingers together in the foolhardiest act known to man or beast much later in life, when I should have known far better.
Not too many people have succeeded in stapling those index fingers together with an old fashioned manual stapler, each end of the staple coming out a different fingernail. That wasn’t one of my finer moments. If you care to repeat the experiment, you‘ll see just how simultaneously innovative and stupid you have to be to manage this trick. There was no pain with that, either, for about eight seconds, during which I did extract the staple with my teeth. Then came the most excruciating pain I’d ever felt in such a small area of my being – the fingertips, where half the most sensitive nerve endings in your body seem to be. I saw black spots before my eyes and nearly passed out.
Childbirth? Hah!! Try stapling your fingers together. Childbirth would be a breeze compared with that.
OK. Maybe not. I'm not really in a position to make the comparison, am I? But I have strayed far from my location, which soon happened to be kneeling on the creek bank, washing the flowing blood from my eye with scoops of creek water. It was probably not the greatest of antiseptics, now I come to think of it, but the water looked clean enough to me. I was hardly in a position to be fussy.
It was always the same problem for me. I’ve done something stupid, and now I’m going to get into trouble. Night follows day. If I could just get this blood to stop, I could maybe pretend the whole thing had never happened. I could hide it when I got upstairs, maybe.
Such are the combined fantasies and hopeful optimism of ten-year-old boys, even when they are oozing blood.
It wasn’t stopping.
‘Kay,’ I said to my little sister, ‘can you run up to the house, go to the bathroom, and look in the ragbag hanging behind the door. Get the biggest rag you can find and bring it down here. Please.’
I never said ‘Please’ to her as a rule, but this was definitely a time for diplomacy. I needed a go-between. Betwixt the ragbag and me, that is.
The ragbag contained scraps of worn-out clothes that Mum had boiled within an inch of their lives in the copper, so they were sterile – not that I cared tuppence about such things at the time.
Kay, who was about six, thought I had some real idea what I was doing. Prompted by this touching but misguided sisterly belief in my capacity for self-healing, and in spite of the evil tricks I had performed on her in the past, she ran up to the house and poked around in the ragbag until she found something she thought might do the trick.
Mum noticed that she was doing this.
‘What do you need that for?’
Kay was slightly evasive, which was a credit to her sororial loyalty, but it was the sort of evasiveness that mothers zero in on like Sherlock Holmes.
Finally Kay was forced to explain, which she did in four words.
‘It’s for the blood.’
I have the feeling that this attracted my mother’s attention fairly quickly, though I was not there at the time, so can’t say definitively. All I can guess, with some certainly now as a parent myself, was that a very short time would have elapsed between the yielding of this intelligence and my mother’s appearance beside me.
I was still on the creek bank, trying to wash blood away, but it didn’t seem to want to stop flowing. I was feeling distinctly woozy, I admit. My eyebrow was definitely hurting by this time, but things like the bottlebrush blooms and the green paspalum grass were floating around a bit in front of me.
I was not a well boy.
Mum summed up the situation quickly. She stemmed the bleeding with the clean rag Kay had found and my job was to clamp it firmly over the gash. Not surprisingly, my washing away the blood with creek water was not the way to coagulate it. Her method was much more effective.
She had only just got her driver’s licence, as it was barely a month or two before that we had bought our very first car. Her driving test at the Calliope Police Station was not too much more rigorous than mine, but she had never driven in the gleaming metropolis of Gladstone (pop. 7500.) Like it or not, she was about to take her first drive in town conditions, but given the state of my face, that wasn’t weighing too heavily on her mind. All she wanted was to get me to Gladstone Hospital and this time, have the wound stitched up, unlike at the time of the railway line incident.
We set off and I was soon sitting at Casualty at the Hospital, waiting for the stitching to take place. I wasn’t keen on the idea. From the hospital, Mum had phoned Aunty Lucy, Dad’s sister, who lived in Gladstone, so that she knew we were there. Her husband, Uncle Frank, drove her up to the hospital.
‘Have you ever had stitches, Uncle Frank?’ I asked him, seeking reassurance.
‘Loads of times.’
‘Did it hurt?’
‘Nah. Not a bit.’ He would have said that anyway, but I felt comforted.
Uncle Frank probably did have stitches, though he wasn’t showing me any scars. At the time, he worked where a lot of men in Gladstone worked - at the Meatworks. He was a boner. (Look, I’m sorry if the language has changed because of the pernicious influence of the Americans, but I can’t help that. Nor can I help any strange images it may evoke in the minds of people today, putting 'boner' and 'meatworks' together. That’s what men were called who did the specialised job at the Meatworks of fashioning boneless cuts of meat. Get over it. This was 1950s Australia, not the globalised 21st century!) You might reasonably expect boners to get a few cuts from time to time with the razor sharp knives flashing around.
If Uncle Frank said stitches didn’t hurt, that was fine by me. That’s what I wanted to hear, and what I wanted to believe.
He was lying through his teeth though, or perhaps, taking the kindest interpretation, he’d never had stitches or had no sense of pain. When a heartless Duty Sister is poking a large curved hook-like needle through your eyebrow, no anaesthetic as you might have these days, eight stitches going in hurt like blazes, especially when you’re ten years old.
The eye of that needle would have defied the Biblical tale about camels going through them. Rich men would have been perfectly safe in their quest for heaven. This was a four-lane camel highway, and the feeling of the thread passing through the skin and the knot-tying process one after the other, eight times, was something to die for. Die of, I mean.
Well, I thought I was going to anyway – but I didn’t let the team down, not with Uncle Frank there, and I just put up with it, wincing and making that occasional pathetic little I’m-being-brave noise to ensure my audience knew of my suffering and admired my endurance and stoicism.
I think it hurt Mum more than it did me, really. We were both glad to get me out of there alive. After a cup of sweet tea and a butterfly-cream cake at Aunty Lucy’s, which did a great deal to settle nerves all round, we were off home.
Yes, just in time for the milking. There were several hours of hard yakka ahead of us all. As far as the face was concerned, there would be no obvious scarring. The stitching was well done and it was covered, eventually, by eyebrow hair – not that I had a great deal of that at the time, but enough to have the embroidery classed as a piece of invisible mending.