Explorer Scout Camp Diary: Day Six – 9 August 2012
As I wake for my penultimate morning on the camp, I’m excited about the assault course activity planned. But after an accident at the end of the session, the rest of the day is forced to take a very different shape to the one on the schedule, as I’m rushed to A&E. Luckily, once discharged, I’m able to join the rest of the unit in a sunny Ilfracombe. (This is the sixth instalment: you can read about Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday by following the links.)
So this is it. I’ve probably built this up far too much, and if you’ve been eagerly awaiting a true tale of catastrophe, I sincerely apologise in advance: I’m afraid you will only be disappointed. What happened to my knee is nothing on what happened to my friend Joe’s finger – it came off, gruesomely. It’s certainly nothing when compared to the horror that the subjects of Our War (the extraordinary documentary series about the bloody Afghan conflict) go through. But for me, at the time, it was pretty nasty.
Be warned that this post does contain photographs of my wound.
Thursday began, as so many ill-fated days often do, just like any other day. In fact, it started better. There was no rain falling from the sky, but a glowing golden orb hovering steadily there instead. So warm was it, that after breakfast we made hay and hung on our makeshift washing line every wet tea-towel, cagoule, and boot. The only wet thing I didn’t put out were my still slightly damp swimming shorts from the previous day’s surfing lesson, which I changed into knowing there was more sense getting them filthy than a clean pair of day-shorts.
This ‘assault course’ as it had long been billed was, and I remember saying so at the time, “nothing more than a muddy adventure playground”. Yet, for some strange reason, the leaders insisted that we wore uncomfortably tight, sweaty hard-hats on this hottest of mornings. Eventually, though, with a full risk-assessment completed and every blindingly obvious element of the course discussed, analysed, and covered, we were finally allowed to begin.
Initially racing against a single opponent, Josh and I were the first pair to take on the obstacles, which included a six-foot wall, some ladders, a small tower, a suspended piece of large-diameter circular piping, a rope-swing, and a final crawl to the end.
Once we’d all had a go, with each pair ‘spotting‘ for another pair (Josh and I assisted Danni and Madi), the leaders filled a cup with water and told us that our next challenge was to all work together to get the cup to the other end of the course, while retaining as much water in it as possible. A simple enough task, surely; indeed, it wasn’t exactly difficult to walk down a set of rungs while holding the mug, nor did we greatly struggle to push it along the tube. But when we reached the rope-swing, suddenly the challenge was a lot harder. In order to successfully hold onto rope, the participant really needed two hands, but at least one hand was also needed to tightly hold the cup. Thinking as a whole group, we agreed it would be easiest to have one of the unit ready to receive the cup on the other end. After a few attempts, we completed that section of the course too, and I was given the honour of ceremonially collecting the cup at the end of Josh’s last mud slither.
When I’m asked to explain why what happened next actually happened next, I’m reminded of Richard Hammond describing his near-fatal 2006 accident on an episode of Top Gear: “I think it was a bit like, you know when you’re a kid and you’re out playing with your mates and your mum would shout for you to come in for your tea – and you just push it a bit and keep going a bit longer.” Co-host Jeremy Clarkson then followed-up: “…And that’s always when you fall out of the tree.” It’s exactly the same for me. We’d had our fun, finished the activity, but we still had the use of that part of the site for another ten minutes. And that’s when I made my terrible misjudgement.
Right here, right now, as I begin typing these thoughts directly into my phone (thankfully fully charged, after a week of jotting down memories of this camp in note form in an old exercise book) while travelling the short distance to Barnstaple A&E, it’s funny to think I was such a massive idiot. “Mudbath”, I shouted joyfully, before jumping and sliding on my knees into a huge pool of thick, brown, sludge. But my joy was quickly ended with a large cry of my signature pain shout “Uggggg” when I realised I’d landed on some sharp rocks lurking underneath the soft-looking mud. Both knees hurt, the left more so than the right, but neither were horrendously so. So I carried on playing, rolling around in the slime, until Graham, photographing from the side, spotted blood. I then looked down for myself. My left leg was red.
“Right, OK,” Graham said, “let’s get you washed off”.
I walked over to the drinking tap in a fashion that, to my own surprise, gave no suggestion of the damage I’d done, where I then drenched my leg, washing off the mud and cleaning the wound. It was only there, though, that I realised the seriousness of my injury. A deep, deep gash, with blood pouring out at an uncontrollable rate, met my eyes. Expletives followed out of the mouths of my fellow Explorer Scouts (who actually had a far better view of it than I did), while I just gritted my teeth. In my desperate quest for full journalistic coverage of the thing I was describing as “merely a graze”, I was instructing my friends to photograph the knee – much to Graham’s horror.
With the leg itself cleaned of mud as best as possible, I walked, again without any tremendous amount of pain, to the shower block about 200 metres away. I had, thankfully, (unlike any of my peers) come prepared to get muddy and then scrub off, with a towel, a change of clothes, my washbag, and some clean flip-flops all in a black bin-bag. My mates were brilliant in helping me as I coolly and calmly, even if at a fast pace, commanded that part of the operation. They sorted me out, and arranged for bandages and a First Aid kit to be ready on my exit from the shower. Standing in the cubicle, though, blood continued pouring out – for the first time, I was really alarmed by its rapidity and, crucially, relentlessness. The small, confined, floor-draining space in which I was standing looked less like a room for washing and more like an abattoir.
I was losing a lot of blood. I mean, a lot of blood. Ed, from the other side of the shower door, helpfully suggested holding the wound together, thereby slowing the blood flow considerably. But it was still slightly unnerving.
Once I’d dried my hair and body, I just wrapped a towel around my crotch and, now keeping the leg straight, hobbled over to the picnic bench nearby the showers. I was virtually naked but didn’t care: no one did. They all just got on with what needed to be done, me nursing my ‘scratch’ with a flannel (and trying desperately to keep the swarm of bloodthirsty flies away), before Alex put a bandage around the knee. But then, I accidentally bent my leg, apparently requiring it to be re-bandaged.
“Apologies for any upskirt flashes”, I joked, as my closest friends helped me put on a pair of boxer shorts to make me decent for my hospital visit. I slipped on a T-shirt and some shorts, then leant on Josh and Ed as they manoeuvred me carefully into the waiting minibus.
So that’s how I’ve ended up where I am. My leg is resting on top of a cool-box, my mind is distracted by writing this, and I’ve my iPod (again, fully charged) in my ears. We’re now just pulling up at the hospital. Let’s see what they make of it all.
What they made of it was quick work – I was amazed by the speed with which the overworked, extremely busy NHS doctors and nurses at North Devon District Hospital saw to me. The triage nurse unwrapped my temporary bandage (obviously, the wound had stopped bleeding heavily now) and then I was called by another nurse who ensured the cut was properly sterile. Before adding stitches, she attempted to apply a local anaesthetic to the area she was about to sew, but the gash was apparently so big it was a nigh on impossible task to numb it, so that effort was sort of aborted.
I was lying down, staring at the ceiling and clenching my jaw, while the needlework went on. I could now really feel the pain emulating from my joint. I didn’t count them at the time, but would some days later find out that I’d had in total nine stitches.
But I wasn’t the only one in stitches: rightly or wrongly, I had the whole ward laughing – every doctor, nurse, and patient – as I made light of my stupidity through my cheeky humour. The way I seem to best deal with moments of crisis is to giggle. Everything seemed funny. Back at the campsite, I’d quipped to campwarden Richard that, fresh from cleaning the ‘Poo Shower’, he now had another to sort out, and that “Your hard-hats didn’t save my knee!”. At the hospital, in the X-Ray room where I was sent as a precaution, I couldn’t help but snigger at a poster advertising the University of Exeter’s Medicine connection with the department, which declared in a proud headline: ‘Tomorrow’s radiographers are here today.’ “Starting their shift early, are they?”, I asked facetiously.
The results of the X-Ray revealed that there was some small piece of grit or sand or something behind the now-sealed wound. It was decided that it was not worth reopening the cut to try to fish it out (especially because it was clean of bugs anyway), so wrapped in gauze and bandages – and armed with boxes of antibiotics – I was discharged. I must at this point thank leader Aran for being so helpful, and staying with me at the hospital. She’d even thoughtfully brought along a few sandwiches, so while we waited for Graham to pick us up, we enjoyed those in the brightness of the day. The weather was amazing.
Graham had taken the rest of the unit back to Ilfracombe, where they’d been lucky enough to watch as mist evaporated over the ‘chimneys’ of the theatre. Temporarily leaving Alex in charge there, he drove Aran and I to join the group. In light of the situation, I thought it better not to repeat Tuesday’s great hill-slide as I’d originally planned.
When we located my five fellow Explorers, they were all keen to know how many stitches I’d had (information I was unable to relay), evidently having had a little bet amongst themselves. Madi greeted me with one of her wonderfully warm hugs, but then acted strangely, disappearing off to the back of the party. We all decided to enter one shop which seemed to sell utter tat, everything from didgeridoos to crude postcards and inaccurately hand-carved wooden penises (frankly I couldn’t see them being pride of place on the mantelpiece). We quickly left. Outside, Madi told me to put out my hands and shut my eyes. When I opened them, I saw in my paws a very funky pen and lovely ‘Missing You’ postcard – which Madi had carefully orchestrated the signing of, hence the shady lingering-at-the-back acting when I first arrived. It was a wonderful surprise!
With a rendezvous set for half an hour’s time, I split the remainder of my time between the town – sadly apparently nothing of its once grandeur – and by the harbour, skimming stones with Ed, Josh, and Matt. I then moved further up the shingle to sit with Madi and Danni, before the six of us walked back to the minibus.
Once back at Collard Bridge Campsite (we stopped en-route at a Tesco), Madi and Ed joined Josh and me in our tent, and we entertained ourselves by donning the remaining pairs of budget XL Women’s Tights I’d bought earlier in the week: Josh had a pair on his head, Ed on his neck, and Madi wore her allotted pair in the more traditional manner.
After dinner, we had pancakes for dessert where, lacking a spoon, I was forced to delicately pour the jam on. Needless to say, it rushed out far faster than I’d been anticipating, meaning I practically had to slurp it out of the drowned crêpe. Josh struggled similarly.
Continuing the biblical theme I’d unintentionally started earlier in the week, by calling my mates my ‘disciples’, I described the meal as my ‘last supper’, knowing in 24 hours’ time I’d be eating at home. That’s because I was scheduled to leave the camp on Friday, a day earlier than the rest of the troop, in order to wash and dry my clothes – and repack my bags – in time for Berkshire Scouts’ Aragon expedition. As a result, I thought it would be wise to pack as much as possible then, leaving space for my still-required overnight things, thereby reducing the stress of my last morning.
While my disciples and I were back in my tent, Ed noticed an increased amount of blood on my white bandage. Coupled with increased pain, I was slightly worried, so thought no harm could come from just mentioning it to Aran. She was all up for removing the bandage there and then, but I wanted to check she had clean bandages to redress it with. “If not, we can just use a tea-towel.”, her reply. I wasn’t sure that she was joking, so decided it would be best to leave it as it was. After returning to the tent with the other three, I’d only just got myself in when Graham said “Grab your things, we’re going back to the hospital now”.
The three of them pleaded to come with me, but Graham allowed only one. As Josh and Ed had come with me (albeit to just drop me off) the first time, they agreed it was rightly Madi’s turn to accompany me. The hospital was so much quieter by 11:15pm than it had been when I first walked through its double-doors, ten hours earlier. In the waiting room, the adrenaline of the day finally began to dry up and, despite the throbbing pain, sheer exhaustion set in. I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open.
After taking off the bandage but voting against removing the gauze, the triage nurse informed me, to my surprise, that such ‘weeping’ was to be expected of a freshly stitched cut. She told me not to worry, but to keep it as straight as possible.
We drove back (Graham had, while Aran and Madi supervised me, been locating the railway station for me), and then Josh helped me into my sleeping bag. I was due some rest – and, arguably to a much greater extent, so too were the brilliant leaders.