© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
As a boy and a young man, I experienced my fair share of "interesting events". I even had a couple of visits to a hospital's Emergency Room, but, unfortunately, not as many as I should have. Being right-handed and right-legged, it's no surprise that most of the scars on my body are on my right side. After all, that's the side I naturally lead with.
The Big Fire
When I was about five, a young girl from the neighboring farm was over at my house to play. As was common at the time, pigsties were sheds with roofs made of straw spread over chicken wire. Probably the most common birds in the area were sparrows, and they made nests in these straw roofs (as well as in other places). As sparrows were considered pests, I grew up being encouraged to destroy their nests as the opportunity arose. In this case, there were so many nests that I found pulling them apart by hand to be onerous. And so I proposed that we burn them out. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I deliberately set fire to the straw roof. Unfortunately, my solution far exceeded my expectations, as it also destroyed a good part of the pigsties. Several pigs that were burned rather badly had to be put down. Quite some time after the alarm was raised, the Loxton Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived. I'm pretty sure my Dad whipped my butt afterwards. And although I've been somewhat fascinated by fire ever since—especially campfires—I have shown great restraint.
Around the Farm
From age 7–11, I lived on a 4,000-acre wheat and sheep farm. A popular activity for rural boys was bird nesting, which involved the climbing of trees and the taking eggs from bird's nests and blowing them (removing the contents through a small hole by blowing) to make an egg collection. Sparrows were rife, and Dad encouraged me to destroy their nests at every opportunity. Many nests were at the top of stone walls of various implement sheds just beneath the corrugated-iron roofs. One summer's day, I put my hand in such a nest to remove any eggs when something strange touched me. Then out popped the head of a rather large snake that had somehow gotten up to there to eat the eggs. After that, it took me a while to get up the courage to put my hand back into that kind of nest. Magpies didn't take kindly to having their nests robbed, and they would often swoop down on the heads of anyone climbing up a tree to their nest. And their beaks were sharp. Other birds that had nests were crows, tomtits, and pigeons.
I was probably about nine when I started shooting with a .22 rifle. And while I managed to shoot the occasional bird, I figure I missed far more than I hit. I had only one shooting accident in my life, which, of course, is one too many, but that didn't happen until I was a teenager. I was sitting in the kitchen cleaning the rifle, and managed to discharge a bullet right into the door frame.
To earn some serious pocket money, I trapped rabbits, although I seemed to have a problem remembering exactly where I'd set all of them, so sometimes I came home one or two short. When I had traps set, I had to get up early and go around them, especially in summer, to make sure the rabbits didn't die of heat. On school days, this mean a very early start. A number of incidents come to mind: One early morning, I came to a rabbit hole to see the chain was pulled down into the hole. So I reached way down into the dark hole, only to find a very angry and large lizard at the end. I can assure you I removed my arm muy pronto! On another occasion, there was a magpie with a very sharp beak! Once, the trap was missing, and since it had been tethered to an 18"-long steel peg hammered vertically into the ground, something rather large and/or strong had been caught and had managed to pull the peg from the ground. The trail was easy to follow, and more than a mile later, I caught up with Brer Fox, who was trailing the trap behind him. Being an enterprising lad, I managed to dispatch Foxy Loxy, and retrieve my trap without damage to myself.
From age 12–14, we lived on a place where we ran more than 200 pigs, many of which we bred. My job after school each weekday was to feed those pigs buckets of crushed grain. I also had to clean the cement water troughs. I remember one particular incident, which happened so quickly, I had no time to think that I was "going to die". The smaller sties had a small run out the back, and that was reached by a narrow opening in the wall at the back. Dad wanted to vaccinate (or do something or other) to a large sow, so he told me to bring her into the main pen from the run, and then to sit in that back opening, blocking it as an escape route. Well, the sow knew the opening was right behind me, and when she wanted "out", she put all her force behind her 200+ pounds of weight and fairly well charged pretty much through me. Fortunately, I was pushed back and to the side, rather than being wedged against the opening wall or trampled. Having me sit there certainly wasn't the smartest idea my Dad had, that's for sure!
When I was about nine, Dad, Mom, and I took a day trip to the state capital, Adelaide. Somewhere in the suburbs, we were involved in an accident. I was sitting in the front between Dad and Mom. (This was during the days before seatbelts were installed.) I was taken by ambulance to the Adelaide Children's Hospital where I was treated for an obvious injury, a gashed mouth caused by glass from the broken windshield. When the Doctor asked me if I hurt anywhere else, I just happened to mention that my right shoulder was a bit sore. Once they got my sweater and shirt off they found a good-sized gash in my right shoulder where the rear-vision mirror stem had penetrated. So, they stitched up both wounds. [Some might say that the Dr. should have stitched my mouth a little tighter, as well!]
I started driving farm vehicles when I was about 11. However, despite a number of "near misses" I managed to keep my early driving record "clean". Interestingly, when I sat for my practical driving test (which back then, in South Australia, was done by a policeman) at age 16, the policeman told me to, "Drive like you were taught". Pretty soon, I was speeding and I cut a corner. Needless to say, he failed me, and I had to take the test again some weeks later.
When I was 18, I went home to help Dad cart wheat to the local grain elevator. However, to do that, I needed to get a truck-driving license. Now Dad had warned me that the driver's-side door latch was faulty, and that I should "Watch out!" Well, don't you know, there I was taking a Policemen out for my test drive, and as we were going around the town's large roundabout (turning circle), the driver's-side door flew open. Well, what was a lad from the bush to do, but say, "Sorry about that; the latch is a bit dicky", and put his arm out the window to hold it shut while driving with the other hand!
When I was 20, I bought a couple of cars of the same make and model, and I was trying to make one good one out of them. I parked them in the back lane and one Saturday afternoon I was working on them. I was tightening a bolt underneath the front of one when my hand slipped and I gashed my right wrist on some jagged metal. As I stood up, blood spurted 8–10 feet across the lane and I thought to myself, "Hmm, that doesn't look too good!" I used my left hand as a tourniquet and raced over to the neighbor's house. Fortunately, he was home. He owned a Mini Moke, which had open sides and roof, and we jumped in, me with a greasy old cloth trying to stem the bleeding. The first hospital we went to was for maternity patients only with no emergency facility, so we headed straight for the Royal Adelaide Hospital, some five miles further on. There the staff quickly put a clamp on things to stop the bleeding and then asked me to "please take a seat". Some hours later, after they'd dealt with all the higher priority emergencies, they got to me. And when they lifted me up onto a table, I fainted from all the blood loss. The gash was deep, and needed several layers of stiches. A second, but smaller, cut also needed a bit of attention. Of course, my arms were covered in grease from working on the car, but they only cleaned around the wounds. So when I got back home, I had to ask my housemate to help me clean up.
So there I was, right arm confined to a sling, with a brand new motorcycle sitting in the shed. So, how would I be able to ride in that condition? Of course, being young and stupid, I took my arm out of the sling and set off. Now I needed to twist my right wrist to operate the throttle, that tore the main wound open, and infection set in. So my short-term solution actually turned out to cause me to stop riding longer. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!
I was rather cavalier when riding my motorcycle, and sometimes I even rode with open-toed sandals, which in hindsight can only be described as "incredibly stupid". One day, while riding on the sidewalk near my house I ran right along a chain-mesh fence, tearing up all the toes on one foot. Another time, I was tailgating a van, and when it braked suddenly, I turned the bike on its side and slid—still seated on the bike—under the back of the van. The large steel ball on the van's trailer hitch put a big dent into the bike's oil tank right next to my leg, but other than that, there was no damage.
On one visit back to Australia from the US, friend Dave, lent me a car. Well, one fine day, I was minding my own business when a guy coming towards me decided to do a U-turn, right in front of me. From a neighbor who watched the event, I borrow a large steel bar and managed to get my front fender off the wheel to make my car drivable. As for the other guy, I noticed the other side of his car was also dented, and when I asked, "How come?" he told me that was from an accident he'd had a few weeks before! By the way, 30+ years later, Dave and I are still friends.
In 1968, I was in Year 11 at High school, and I played Australian Rules Football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team. We made it to the Grand Final. In the dying stages of the game, I was running in to pick the ball off the ground when a player from the opposing team ran in to kick the ball of the ground. [Nowadays, that results in a penalty and is referred to as "kicking in danger".] He missed the ball and got me right in the shin of my right leg, and down I went. After a brief lie on the ground, with the help of the trainers (the guys who run out onto the field with water, towels, and to help with minor medical problems) I managed to walk off the field. Not long after, the final siren sounded, and we'd won the game and the championship.
As was always the case, at each local sporting event involving bodily contact or other chances for injury, the non-profit St. Johns' Ambulance Brigade always provided an ambulance and several (usually volunteer) first-aid people. They looked me over, put my leg in an inflatable splint, and figured I'd need to go to the hospital to have the leg X-rayed. However, rather than go to the local hospital and possibly stay overnight in a town away from home, they agreed to drive me back to my home town, and my Dad rode in the ambulance with me. At the Loxton hospital, the X-ray showed a multiple fracture (without any sideways displacement, which was why I was able to walk off the playing field), so the doctor and nurses put a plaster cast on the lower leg leaving the front open to accommodate the swelling. Several days later, they wrapped plaster around to provide a somewhat thin cover over the front.
I stayed in hospital for a couple of nights. I was in a bed right up in the far corner in the large men's ward. Through a door nearby was a room where male patients were put if they were unlikely to survive. I believe it was referred to as the "Death Ward"! Anyway, while I was in hospital, an elderly farmer from my area was wheeled in there, and his family came to say "goodbye" along with the Lutheran minister. Charlie was on some sort of breathing device that made quite a sound. In the middle of the night, I woke up and heard that sound stop, and I figured Charlie had gone to that great farm in the sky. So I buzzed the nurse to let her know. The next morning, nurses were wheeling equipment out of that room and generally cleaning it up, but no one would say that Charlie had died; they had to keep up the morale of the other patients, I guess, lest we thought it was a result of the hospital food.
For some reason, the doctor did not put a heel on my cast, which made it difficult to walk. I'm guessing that was the point, to keep me off that foot. Of course, I had crutches, but I still put weight on the foot. Once I was out of hospital, I had checkups at the doctor's office every two weeks. Given the temporary nature of the first cast with the front closed after the swelling went down, and my general abuse of it, that cast lasted only a few weeks, and the doctor replaced it with a new one. But when I broke that—because I was driving a stick shift vehicle and getting around without my crutches to feed the pigs—the doctor put on a full cast, right up to my thigh. That made it impossible to sit on the front seat of a car, let alone drive, so it had the desired intent, to slow me down. Bugger!
I soon got into the swing of using crutches, but it made it awkward to use them and to carry a school satchel the half mile to/from the bus stop from the house, and to get around school with books and such.
To use the ambulance service, one generally became a member for an annual fee, and that entitled one to unlimited usage, as needed. As such, whenever I had to go to the doctor's office, I scheduled a pick up by an ambulance. And some days, the driver would be a bit bored, and he'd use the siren as we drove the couple of miles from the high school through the town. At the beginning, I rode in a special passenger seat. However, once I had a full cast, I could no longer fit there, so they had to open the back, lay me on the bed, and strap me in. It was quite a production when kids saw me being loaded in at the school. I know I enjoyed it. One nice day, when I was done at the doctor's office the driver said something like, "Where to Sir?" and I said, "It's such a nice afternoon, why don't I skip school for the rest of the day and have you drive me home?" He thought that was a fine idea, and as he nothing better to do, we drove the nine miles where he came into the house and had a cup of tea with Mom.
Over a number of years of playing football, I had my share of finger injuries and concussions. However, the big event that heralded the end of my career involved a knee injury. In March of 1973, at the grand age of 19, I was "all pumped up". I'd played in two consecutive premiership teams in the Under-19's competition, and I was ready to try to make the big move to a spot on the League team.
Before the regular season started in April, it was customary for clubs to have a series of pre-season trial games, mostly intra-club between the players in the League and Seconds squads. That year, there were three such games, and I remember well the first two games, in which I had opponents with years of League experience. It certainly was a shock to be making heavy body contact with seasoned veterans! In any event, I did well in those two games. In the third game, about 15–20 minutes into the first quarter, I was running for the ball and in the middle of a turn, my right knee "gave out", and I lay on the ground unable to move that leg much. Of course, the medical trainers rushed out to me, and after a few minutes, I was able to stand and hobble off the field. Back in the dressing room, a club doctor looked me over and said he thought it was a cartilage problem, a common malady for Aussie Rules players. Within a few days, a specialist has confirmed that I'd torn a cartilage, and surgery to remove it was set for a few weeks later.
I must say that this was a major setback, and, in hindsight, one from which I never really recovered. I spent the rest of that year working out, but was never confident enough to think I was ready to play again. To make matters worse, the following year, I tore the other cartilage in that knee and damaged a ligament. Subsequently, that cartilage was removed and the ligament cut and tied. I never was able to get that knee in good shape. Although I did play in later trial matches, it was clear my shot at the big time had passed. But, as they say, "Life goes on", and with football "out of that way" I could concentrate on my education and career.
My one-teacher country school had a large garden in which was a patch of bamboo, and from that I carry a large and permanent reminder. From time to time, we'd cut down lengths of bamboo for use in a variety of activities, leaving behind jagged stumps about three inches out of the ground. The Taplan football club oval (playing field) was nearby, and one Saturday during a game there, some other kids and I went over to the bamboo patch to "mess around". Somehow, I fell over and got one of those sharp, jagged stumps stuck in the front of my right, lower leg, right down to the bone. There was a lot of blood, yet I never did have it stitched. [Now, when I look at the large scar I am reminded of the famous quote from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "It's only a flesh wound!"
Once, I lived in a house several of whose doorways were a little shorter than I was tall. One day I turned around and charged out of the kitchen, and immediately encountered a rather stubborn door frame. Although I retained consciousness, I must say that I lay on the floor a good while after.
In 1981, I had my first Adventure Trip, eight days on and near the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. As part of my kit for the trip I bought a brand new Swiss Army knife. After a day at a swank base camp and then a long boat ride, we arrived near our quite primitive camp. As got off the boat, I spied a cluster of bamboo-like reeds, and decided to use my trusty knife to cut myself a walking stick. Seconds later, I'd managed to slice my finger quite badly, and as I looked around, I saw I was next to a villager's yard with a cow grazing nearby. Right about then, it occurred to me that I'd not had any vaccinations. (Can you say tetanus?) Fortunately, a fellow traveler was a nurse, and I had did have with me a basic First-Aid kit, so disaster was averted.
Over the years, I've been on the receiving end of some 240- and 110-volt electric shocks.
From age 16–18, I ran a quality control lab for a margarine factory. Now despite all recommendations to the contrary, I attempted to push a section of glass tubing through a hole in a rubber bung while holding said bung in the palm of my right hand. Needless to say, the tubing went right through the bung and into my hand right where the tendons for each finger come together. Forty five years later, I'm still reminded of that event each time I try to grip a screwdriver!
For my follow-on laboratory act, I attempted to pipette by mouth (instead of using a rubber pumper) absolute alcohol. Surprise! Yes, I got a mouthful, and although I got to the sink to rinse out my mouth within seconds, I can assure you that it takes far less time than that for absolute alcohol to "tickle" ones skin. As a result, if I take a sniff of any alcoholic drink, in my mind, I am transported back to that event.
Fortunately, the frequency of accidents has dropped significantly with age, but I have noticed that among many people Common Sense isn't so common. (If you doubt these, read about the Darwin Awards.)
After many years of having no medical problems of note, several years ago, within a span of only three months, I had emergency laser surgery for a torn and partially detached retina, surgery to remove an inflamed (but benign) cyst on my chest, and a visit to a hospital's emergency facility during the beginning of a snowstorm.
By the way, while aging is mandatory, maturing is optional!