It’s been quite a week for a number of reasons. It seemed that almost everywhere else in Central Portugal was in flames except us. So many people lost homes and lives, it’s been quite unbelievable. We missed it all by a day as we had left for the UK. From seeing maps of the burned areas, it looks unlikely that escape would have been an option once the fire came close – our land was surrounded, but we weren’t on it. There is much written on the latest fires and their aftermath, so I’m not going to dwell on it here, but in reality my mind has been thinking of little else. Along with deep sadness for those who lost so much and working out how we can help them, I’m pondering how we can continue to look at ways to protect ourselves in the short term and reforest our land in the long term.
In a previous post I mentioned the increased likelihood of Keith sustaining near fatal injuries due to our increased tool collection and usage in our much larger quinta. He didn’t wait long to prove me right and it’s all the fault of French Air Traffic Control*.
One evening, four days before the fires, Keith and I were indoors. Keith was washing-up. Suddenly, he said: ‘Sarah, we need to go to a hospital. I have lost my thumb’. I turned to find him clutching a blood soaked tea towel around his right hand. It was 10pm at night and had no idea what to do. Amidst a heated, panicked difference of opinion about whether we should call an ambulance (me) or drive to a hospital (him), we called 112 to find out where the hell the nearest 24 hour hospital was. Utilising our not-now-wasted First Aid training we kept the wound wrapped with Keith periodically becoming minorly hysterical about life with a severed digit. The emergency operator told us to stay put and the ambulance would come. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could find us in the forest as we have no address, road or post box – our mail goes to a cafe in the nearest village – and was yelling all this to the probably long-suffering operator, convinced that Keith was going to pass out through blood loss at any moment and knowing I couldn’t life him into the car. Amazingly from a few basic details she told me the name of our quinta and my name: we were registered somewhere and they knew us and the house. Phew! There is only one route to our house in a non-4×4 so I drove us up to the edge of the village to save the ambulance time. This meant sitting in a forest in the car, waiting for an ambulance that I wasn’t sure would come, with a man with a severed thumb, who I was expecting to pass out at any moment. I was flipping terrified. As is always the case in Portugal, stuff always works out in the end. Our friendly bombeiros (firemen) arrived (filthy fingernails – definitely not paramedics) and took us to a hospital 40 minutes away providing me with the best opportunity for practising Portuguese that I have had in more than year – I now know exactly when to pick our olives – whilst Keith sat in the back with an ice pack. Every cloud, and all that.
The Doctor at the hospital diagnosed cut tendons and nerves all around his thumb – it was still attached, but he couldn’t feel or move it – but didn’t want to operate and sent Keith to a larger hospital another hour away, straight into emergency surgery and two days in hospital. I returned home after a night sleeping in the car to what looked like a crime scene. Next time, he needs to maintain greater control of the blood I now know that blood takes off the top layer of terracotta tiles. That night is literally indelibly etched on our kitchen floor.
Three days before Keith had his mishap, we broke the coffee holding cup from our coffee machine.
One day before Keith’s mishap, my brother and his wife were due to arrive with a replacement coffee holding cup which we had delivered to their house. Their trip was foiled due to a French Air Traffic Control strike; their plane cancelled – while they were sitting on it waiting to take off. Without a replacement part, we were using a cafetiere. Keith was washing up the cafetiere when he pressed – somewhat incredulously – too hard on the glass at the bottom and pushed his thumb straight through.
If you know Keith, you will know that this is a particularly typical Keith accident which involves testing items to discover their boundaries. In order to discover their boundaries, it is necessary to go past the boundary to know where it is. This explains why he breaks things so frequently. ‘I’m an engineer’, he says, ‘engineering is all about testing for the edges’. ‘You’re a liability,’ I say, ‘you nearly lost your fucking thumb’. Even he conceded on that point. At least, he now knows the boundaries of a cafetiere. And a thumb.
Keith is fine but one-handed for the next 3-4 months at least. He can’t drive, use a strimmer, a chainsaw or cut up his dinner. This may be a saving grace for his longevity, but it’s a bloody nuisance for making progress in our garden. After two days in hospital, he was so bored and so happy to be out, telling me how he could help again now. No, I said, kindly: when you were in hospital I only had one person to look after, now you are out, I have one and a half. It’s a jolly good job that I didn’t chose nursing. Pity him.
His stitches come out this week and physio should start soon after. He has no movement or sensation in his thumb. It’s a serious injury and it will be months before we know how much mobility and strength he will regain. He can still make tea and eat biscuits so he has retained all of the essential, life-affirming qualities. The tree felling and three hectares of strimming will just have to wait.
*None of this had anything to with the French. It was all Keith’s fault. If he had been consistently trying to find the boundaries of the original coffee machine since the day we bought it by cramming too much bloody coffee into it, the coffee holding cup thing would never have broken and we wouldn’t have been using the cafetiere. I love the French despite them screwing up my brother’s holiday, but hey, you gotta love a strike.