By Dan Needles
I just got a new pair of rubber boots that were a bit slippy on the sole. I was climbing the ladder I use every day to get square bales out of the mow for the sheep. As I stepped over to my right onto the mow floor I put my foot down on a mound of straw that went out from under me like a bar of soap. In a nanosecond my nose was at mow floor level and I was hanging onto the ledge by my fingertips. My fingers will not sustain me anymore and I dropped from there, trying to stay loose and maintain the curve. Unfortunately, my old JD 40 loader tractor was blocking my descent and my right thigh made smart contact with the sloping loader arm. I flipped onto my left shoulder and came to rest in the manure bucket.
I knew right away I had broken my right leg high up and probably something else in my shoulder but, using my writing hand, which has never failed me, I managed to pull myself clear of the bucket and out onto the concrete floor. It was dark, about 8:30 in the evening and I was not carrying a cell phone. I knew that my wife would eventually sense something was wrong and come and find me, but the last little while I have been in the habit of visiting a sick neighbour after I close up the barn and she would probably assume I had gone there. So, there was nothing for it but to prop myself against the bucket and wait until her spidey sense made her come looking for me. The temperature was two degrees above zero and a gusty wind whipped through the open barn doors. I had on a thick barn coat with a hood, but my legs were pointed upwind into that wretched wind. I lay there shivering for two hours until my wife finally appeared in the barn door carrying a lamp, like Florence Nightingale. By that time I was fairly shocky and making as much sense as a newspaper drama critic. An ambulance arrived and sturdy fellows whisked me away to the local hospital. Next morning I received a ‘bipolar’ hip replacement, which sounded to me like a reasonably good call for a writer of humour and nonsense.
The fractures in the shoulder and ribs turned out to be of the hairline variety and the only advice the surgeon could offer was not to sneeze or laugh. His team had me up and walking on the new hip the morning after the operation and I was soon able to do everything on my own but drive. The children lost interest in my plight and went back to pounding on each other, which is their first love and a reassuring sign that the crisis had passed. The only major disappointment was that I had to cancel my trip to Ottawa to receive a ribbon from the Governor General for my writing. But he is a patient man and has given me six months to reform. I have been bumped over into the spring crop of inductees and will make the trip in May.
There is no cosmic justice but at least there is cosmic wit. I fell about three feet away from the very spot I fell 20 years ago when I pancaked my left heel and acquired a distinctive limp that makes me instantly recognizable from a distance. The takeaway farm safety message, of course is, if you own a ladder, tie it off securely or give the damn thing away. The other completely predictable part about a farm accident is the way the neighbourhood responds.
In the city, crisis is met with e-mails and phone calls with lovely expressions of support and good will. “If there’s anything I can do, just say the word,” they assure you. Unfortunately, there’s often not much to be done. Most of the work falls to immediate family and health care professionals.
In the country, casseroles start hitting the veranda within hours. Neighbours appear in the barn to figure out what the rations were for the lambs and figure out a safer system for tossing bales out of the mow. My cash cropper brothers-in-law show up and change the snow tires on the cars. Then they put up a storm door, pile wood, drain pipes and get the snowblower running. Then they find a rat. Nothing brings out the Christian zeal of neighbouring in my relatives like a rat. Within three days my barn is rat free, winterized, reorganized and rat-proofed.
My wife keeps telling people that a few inches to the left or right and we would be at a funeral. As it is, I have an idea what a wake feels like from the point of view of the dear departed. I am lying in state in front of the fireplace with hands folded on my chest while the entire extended family is feasting in the kitchen. No tuna casseroles for them. They are inventing a new way to deep fry something heart stopping and delicious.
Life has changed for the moment, but in the important ways, nothing has changed at all.
Dan Needles is a writer and the author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays. He lives on a small farm near Collingwood, Ont. His website is www.danneedles.ca.