Volume 18, Number 103, June/July 2015 Summer Break by Jon Krafcher
Since April my plans were to hike along the Bruce Peninsula’s cliffs with a Georgian Bay sunrise, run barefoot on Sauble’s sandy shore and feel Huron’s waves wash over me.
Work was finished on Friday and I was to leave for my summer holidays the following day immediately after my pal Peter and I had taken Nanook, my 90 pound Siberian Husky, for a walk, as we often do on a Saturday morning. It was my turn to choose where to walk, so I chose Waterloo Park.
Starting at the age of nine and into early adolescence, my friends and I spent summer afternoons at Waterloo Park racing our bikes, swimming, fishing in Silver Lake off the bridge and being daredevils and super heroes on the playground equipment. We’d push the merry-go-round until it blurred, leap onto it and lean over the edge. Then we’d fling ourselves into space until gravity yanked us back to earth with a thud. Other times we’d stand on the swings, hold onto the chains and pump until we were horizontal.
Once, several weeks into the summer, I thought I could fly and land on my feet like Superman. As the swing swung, I let go, and with flailing limbs I crashed to the ground. I was on my stomach gasping for air while trying to spit out sand. Rolling onto my back, I wailed. For the rest of the summer I bore the burden of a cast on my left arm, often in the confines of the front porch. After lunch I’d stare through the railing bars at my buddies speeding off on their bikes to the park. Mom was always extra vigilant at this time.
Playing Old Maid and checkers with mom and helping her bake made that summer seem longer than any other. But, it wasn’t as satisfying as a seemingly shorter, more exciting summer, just like a small batch of brownies with extra scoops of cocoa and sugar is more satisfying than a big batch of brownies minus the extra scoops.
Having the cast removed was a mixed blessing. I was finally permitted off the property to play, but first there was school, then homework.
Nanook, yipping, stuck his head out the car window when we arrived at the park. He leaped from the rear hatch, pressed his nose to the ground and led Peter and me to the path between the railway tracks and rear of the animal pens. We strolled toward the grist mill near the southeast corner of Silver Lake. Before we crossed the bridge, Nanook, as always, spotted squirrels combing the grass for food dropped by yesterday’s picnickers. He froze and eyed them. It took three tugs of his leash and a sterner voice to budge him.
We continued along the sun speckled path, gently winding our way along the south side of the lake. At the mill we turned left, walked briefly along Bridgeport Rd. and turned left again where the path continues. Thin leafy bushes and a grassy fringe spotted with buttercups lined the lake side of the path, while the opposite side was covered mostly in thick bushes which provide a refuge for rabbits.
Two cotton-tails were nibbling the grass ahead of us. Nanook noticedthem, stopped, then lurched forward. I commanded him to stay and leaned back, digging my heels into the earth while gripping the taut leash with both hands, tug-o-war style. The rabbits darted beneath the thick bushes. Nanook lunged.
A crack, similar to a dry tree branch snapping in two, tore into my ears. As I collapsed like a marionette with cut strings, pain, more intense than breaking my arm (and the spanking I got for swiping nickels from dad’s underwear drawer when I was eight), gushed from my left leg, rushed through my body and blasted out my mouth. “My leg’s broken,” I blared.
Peter grabbed Nanook’s leash, and I told him to phone an ambulance.
Wailing, I stretched my arms toward the sky in an attempt to snatch back my holiday plans, which, like in the old Looney Tunes when a character dies, had metamorphosised into harp playing angels floating up to heaven.
On the hill behind the thick bushes, an apartment overlooks the path. A man on one of the balconies ran inside. Two middle-aged women walking toward me stopped and grimaced as I squirmed and screeched on the grass. Maybe they thought I was an old hippie tripping on brown acid.
I felt a gentle touch on my back. It was the man from the balcony, who encouraged me to relax and focus on breathing. Peter returned and said an ambulance was coming. I handed him my car keys and asked him to phone my girlfriend, Joan. Her holiday plans wouldn’t be joining mine: she had to work all summer.
Finally, the ambulance arrived. Two paramedics knelt beside me and asked where I hurt. My lower left leg I said. One asked if I could move my head and other limbs. I nodded yes. He asked if my back and neck were sore. I said no. Slowly he lifted my pant leg and explained how he and his partner were going to roll me onto my back, which they then preceded to do. When they hoisted me onto the gurney Nanook yelped and jerked, but Peter managed to anchor him. Peter and the kind man said good bye, and the grimacing women kept their distance - I flashed them a peace sign as I was lifted into the ambulance.
Initially, I was disappointed there was no siren as we pulled away because I’d often wondered how one sounded from inside an ambulance. However, after some reflection, I smiled to know that my injury didn’t warrant one.
Shortly after arriving at Grand River Hospital, I was wheeled into a curtained cubicle where I received a shot of morphine. After having my favourite jeans cut off, x-rays and more shots of morphine, an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. G., informed me my tibia and fibula were broken and surgery would be necessary to insert the pins and metal rods needed to put me back together. My new hardware wouldn’t allow me to fly like Superman, but it would give me something in common with another super-hero: 1970’s Steve Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man.
Late in the evening I was wheeled to a room where a bed had become available. Dr. G. inserted the hardware next morning and wrapped my lower leg in a cloth bandage with a support going from the sole of my foot to slightly below the back of my knee.
After spending the first four days of my vacation dealing with a broken leg, an allergic reaction to Demerol, being isolated for a possible case of pneumonia (at least I got a private room out of it), claustrophobia and constipation (inserting the suppository and dealing with its results helped to fill more than just a few hours), I was thrilled to hear that I was being released.
Joan drove me and my crutches home to a wheelchair, bathtub seat and pee bottle (it’s challenging at 3:00 AM to hold it properly and pee into the wee hole while lying down). Upon my entrance, Nanook immediately greeted me with his Husky smile and I greeted him with snout rubs. The next day as I rested on the couch, he slowly approached my injured leg, sniffed it and then licked it.
After two weeks, Dr. G. checked my progress. I was healing well and the bandages and support were replaced with a cast.
With several more visits to the doctor behind me, I’m now able to walk without the cast. But my summer holidays are through. The weather is still warm during the day and Indian summer is a picturesque time of year. I could take Nanook for a walk by a warren. However, if we’re cursed with another early winter I’ll be stuck in the house for months. At least in the summer, without the ice and snow, I can move around outside on crutches or a wheel chair.
Some folks believe a Teacup poodle would be less hazardous to my health than a large dog. Have they considered that I may not notice such a speck of a dog as I’m descending the stairs? But, most importantly, Nanook is fixed firmly in my heart, and we’re looking forward to next summer like kids looking forward to a batch of brownies with extra scoops of cocoa and sugar.