The bullet

Continued from The shooting

Lying face-down on the surgery table in Dr. John’s clinic, I was still insisting that I’d only been shot by a pellet gun. The room was filled with people I didn’t know – John’s team of first aiders who’d been summoned, mostly out of the bar. There was a hoard of nosy locals clammering outside, trying to get in or catch a glimpse of what was going on. Within a matter of minutes, Shelby the local TV guy arrived, wanting to shoot some film for the news. My alarmed response was an instant no, much to the disappointment of the publicity whore island doctor. I detest being centre of attention, to the point that I’d not show up to my own funeral if I thought I’d get away with it, but I was fast coming to realise that on a small island like this that’s exactly what I was about to be.

Jane arrived around the same time as the police. She’d got the news while closing up at work, but her manager had made it clear she was obliged to stay and pack away the bottles first. The police informed us the gunman had been arrested, took some details and asked some questions. There was a brief panic when they asked for my passport – it was currently in an unknown location off on some dodgy visa renewal – but thankfully just having the number was enough.

Though I think I did fuzzily request painkillers at some point, none were provided. The area around the wound was numbed with lidocaine so that John could operate, and an IV drip attached, but that was the only medication administered. This meant I was conscious throughout the entire intense and surreal process of the next few hours. I could see around me the faces of those I knew – Jane, Magenta, Steve – bound with pity, fear, affection, and was able to respond with good humour and reassurances: I was by far the calmest person in the room, making light conversation about the unfortunate absence of anaesthetic during the Napoleonic Wars and such.

I couldn’t see the faces of the two attendees plugging my wound, but knew their names were Errol and Ryan and that they kept having to swap over because the sight of the blood was making them faint. They were revived from their nausea and fatigue with some stimulatory bumps supplied, of course, by the inimitable Dr. J. Jane, on the other hand, was fascinated by proceedings and gazed on avidly. I was disappointed I couldn’t get a look myself.

I could feel the sensation of John poking about in my back, and after an hour or so the scraping of the bullet being slid out through my flesh. When I saw it I could not believe the size of it; um, not a pellet gun after all – try a .38. “Jesus fuck!” I think was my response. I was equally surprised to learn that it had travelled a full 21cm across my back, entering just below my left shoulder blade and stopping at the other side of my spine. I’d only felt the punching sensation in one spot, where the bullet had crossed my vertebrae.

Getting the bullet out was nowhere near the end of it– the wound had to be cleaned out to avoid infection, and John had to be sure there was no damage to my lungs or spine – if there was it would mean a cataclysmically expensive secondment to hospital on the mainland. John was aware of the fact that my travel insurance had expired and was doing all he could to avoid such an excursion.

After stitching up the tiny incision made to extract the bullet, I was transferred to another room with better light to get the wound cleaned out. The concern was for rust or dirt from the bullet, or cloth fragments from my t-shirt, being left inside the wound and causing infection, easily contracted and not so easily cured in the tropical climate. Due to its meticulous nature, this process actually took about twice as long as the bullet extraction, during which time I began to wane.

Manoeuvring me into a position so as to pull the bloody t-shirt off me, which up until this point had sat around my shoulders, was agonizingly painful. The adrenaline had worn off and I was sore and exhausted. The t-shirt made a thwack as it hit the floor, heavy with blood. My thoughts wondered more and people came to mind that I really, really wished I could see at that moment. For the first time that night tears leaked out of my eyes, and I pressed my face into the pillow to absorb them: seeing me suddenly crying would have been no good for team morale.

Through the course of the night I was filled in with the rest of the shocking details from Steve and Magenta. While I’d been crouched under the bar, shot and unmoving, the Barbecue Man had aimed right at their heads, one then the other. In a moment of amazing superman reaction Steve, the unassuming Welshman, picked up an empty ice box and deflected the shots – one of which still skiffed the top of his head. The crazed German then threw the gun at Steve and, as in some film noir melodrama, said “Kill me”. Killing was the furthest thing from Steve’s mind and he kicked the gun away. The shooter made a lunge to reclaim the weapon, and Steve intercepted him, in the ensuing brief scuffle kneeing the aggressor in the balls in his bid to get the madman out…

When Jane and I were hitch-hiking inCalifornia, we had a safety word if either of us felt we were in a car with a creep – ‘Steve’. We appointed the first Steve we met on the journey Safety Steve. Steve was a lovely bloke but being a stoner, a Deadhead, and a purveyor of LSD, he was not a particularly safety conscious fellow. Now our true Safety Steve had been unmasked!

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