Sunday, March 10, 2013

Christopher's Toe

It was around September 1998. I had been working for AMC Forest Management since the previous summer. AMC bid on and carried out forestry maintenance contracts that were tendered by the Provincial Ministry of Forests.
I had successfully passed a first aid class so I was hired on to work as a silviculturist, which is a fancy word for someone who kills trees in the name of eradicating biodiversity, in the name of growing the crop trees, at the expense of all other trees, usually alder and willow.

Our mission was to wade through the forest, at various stages of growth and apply whatever tactic that was needed in order to propagate the coveted spruce, fir and hemlock.
This meant brushing back grass and small seedlings with a big blade that was literally a tool that would almost guarantee some sort of injury if any sort of mishap were to happen...
Ergo, enter my first aid ticket.
Let me be honest here, folks, I was no medical crusader, I just barely passed the exam to get the ticket. Hell, I did fail it the first time I challenged it.
I don't even know what possessed me to take a first aid class in the first place. It must have been another desperate attempt to circumvent proper education, which I have always feared in some way.
I was living with a couple of guys in Victoria and we had been connected to the owner of AMC through a rumour of jobs working up in Haida Gwaii.
I had previously spent years commercial fishing up in the Islands and was eager to see the place from the land side, albeit from logged out forest blocks.
 and logging roads.

All three of us agreed to employment over the phone, with plans for flights from YVR up to Sandspit and subsequent travel up to a place called Dinan Bay, via a crew van, work boat and crummy.
The work boat part of that equation didn't work out and 8 of us found ourselves sleeping on the floor of a bakery/jam room, in Port Clements, a tiny town of a few hundred people in the middle of the middle of nowhere.
But that is a whole different story that I will get into some other time. I just wanted to establish time and date.

Back to the Fall of '98. We were in the middle of what was to become a long contract. We would stay in logging camps or aboard an old converted rum runner, sometimes for months at a time. The contract was in Port Neville, a logging camp that was across from Kelsey Bay. It was reached by crew boat from Kelsey Bay, it took about 30-45 minutes, depending on the weather. The end of September and into October on the North Island is unpredictable, with unexpected fog and storms.
This particular contract was remote, we had to fly in and out daily.
There were many mornings we followed the tree line up the side of the mountain in the helicopter. Our pilot's name was Doug, though I confess I do not know his surname.
He was a total flying nerd, I watched him go over the helicopter, piece by piece, every morning, before he started it up and then he checked many other things after the machine was running.
I'll always remember him saying that "helicopters weren't meant to fly. Airplanes, yes, helicopters, no. When the power goes out, down you go"
"I mean, there's always auto gyration. Good luck with that"
With that in mind, Doug was a cautious pilot, which I appreciated.
We had a pilot the year before, who I had heard was a Vietnam vet but who knows?
That is the stuff of legend in the mountain helicopter pilots.
The guy we had for a time landed that machine in places I never knew you could do such a thing.
Like down on a stump on the side of the hill. Step carefully, one at a time out, with all your gear and your lunch.
After the day of work was done, you could hear the reverb of the blades in the sky and your departure was already factored into the end of the day.

We were working a hillside one day, when Jason appeared over the hill and shouted that Chris had hurt himself and he needed help.
I followed him back to the scene of the injury. It was a bit of a weird scene, all the crew were standing around Chris. It seemed as though I was the last to know and was late to the scene of the crime.
Chris was writhing around on the ground, almost incoherent.
He had somehow swung his axe and sliced into his boot.
We all wore steel toe, caulk boots but there was a cheaper, lesser version of the boots and he was wearing those, regrettably.
I could see a gash in the side of the boot, just behind the steel toe part of the boot. There was blood running out of it.
I calmed him down enough to cut the boot off the foot.
I examined the foot and all the toes were there. I cut his sock away and then, like magic, his baby toe literally fell off.
I caught it in my hand.
Chris had not seen the toe and I decided to remain silent about the toe until a bit later. I shoved it into a plastic zip-loc bag and put it in my pocket.
Our leader, Trevor, had already summoned Doug and he was on his way.
I placed the toe in a bag and then shoved it into my pocket.
The sound of the helicopter grew near. Some of the crew helped Chris limp to the helicopter.
Chris and I boarded.

We returned to camp and an airplane had been requested to pick him up and transport him to the nearest hospital.
We stood on the pad and and I presented him with his toe. He didn't really know how to take it. I had waited until he was calm before I let him know he actually chopped off a part of his body.
He seemed a bit shocked and maybe he even felt as if I had betrayed him a little. I explained to him that he was in shock earlier, from the pain and I thought it was a good idea to spare him the news until he was calm. Also, I had to give him the toe to take with him to the hospital. I had gone to the cook shack and gotten hold of some ice and put the toe on ice.
The airplane landed in short time and he was gone in bewildering speed...
I heard a few days later that the doctors at the hospital could not save the toe.
Evolutionarily speaking, he was expediting the process. Humans are slowly losing their baby toe. Apparently, we don't need it as much as we used to.

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