Let me preface this by saying that I do not, nor have I ever had a problem with people coming up to me and asking how I lost my leg. The fact that I am happy to wear shorts outside well into November should prove that it’s not something I’ve ever tried to shy away from.
However, sometimes, if I’m feeling a little bored telling the same old story I can get… creative with the truth of how I became an amputee.
The Forest Fire
In the small place where I was brought up, we were surrounded on most sides by forests and mountains. The only access for vehicles was a single road that ran right through the centre of the village, (there were also footpaths, so long as you were happy to walk for an entire day to get to the nearest town).
With it being such a small place everybody knew everyone else, so a walk down the main street invited a near constant stream of hand waving, pleasantries and occasionally blocking the pavement to have a quick catch up.
During the summer of my eighteenth year, we were experiencing an uncharacteristically hot spell. Whilst passing tourists seemed mostly unfazed by this, most of the locals were either hiding inside with every fan in the house going or diving from our old stone bridge into the river.
So, to the day in question.
A group of us had just left the shop after buying cold drinks and a box of ice lollies. We planned to make our way into the woods to a nearby picnic site. It wasn’t secret per se but it also wasn’t obviously marked in any way so you could usually guarantee it wouldn’t be full.
Most importantly, it was surrounded by tall trees which served as much needed protection from the sun.
As we trekked through the woods a groaning sound suddenly erupted from the back of the group. We all whipped round to see what had happened and were greeted with the cartoon-like image of our friend trying to free herself from an ice lolly which was stuck fast to her tongue.
Naturally, we all sympathised with her struggle and made no comment on any possible comedic value the situation might have had.
As the picnic area came into view, we were disappointed to discover that it had already been discovered by some tourists. However, none of them were making use of the limited benches. Instead, they all seemed preoccupied with something lurking high within the trees.
We cautiously approached them and followed their gaze, trying to figure out what was holding their attention. At first nothing jumped out but then my friend (not the ice lolly one) realised what was going on.
A cat was sitting on a branch near the top of one of the trees.
Somebody from the crowd of tourists noticed us looking and informed us that it belonged to one of their group. Apparently they had tried to start a little fire (not a very good idea at all when standing in the middle of a forest that, in this weather, was basically a pile of kindling). The dry wood they had found went up much quicker than expected.
The fire was now extinguished but it had spooked the cat, which was now hiding away at the top of a tree.
“Don’t worry” I announced with the bravado of a teenager who was about to claim mastery of a skill in which he was barely competent, “I climb trees all the time, I’ll bring her down”.
With that, I marched over to the base of the trunk, making sure to look calm and ready for the climb. I began to make my way up, becoming more nervous with every step and moving carefully along the thicker looking branches.
I have no idea how this looked from the ground but as I reached the halfway mark, the realisation of just how high up the cat was hit me and my knees began to tremble. Not that this was the time to give up of course, that poor little creature needed my help and I wasn’t going to let her, or her family down.
With weak knees, sweaty palms and arms getting heavier by the minute, my ascent was a slow and certainly not very cool looking one. However, after a time the small feline was almost within reach. As I reached out my hand towards the branch on which the cat was perched, she leapt down.
I watched, astonished as the little creature bounced from branch to branch, making it back into her owners arms in just a few seconds.
There were cheers and claps from below as I began making my way slowly back to earth. Whether they were for me or the cat we will never know but I certainly didn’t feel very heroic with one hand clinging to the tree whilst the other was trying to maintain some dignity by keeping my shorts from riding up.
Close to the ground, one of the branches suddenly gave way. I slipped and though my hands reached out for any kind of purchase, they failed to find one and I fell, landing with a heavy thud on a mercifully soft patch of ground.
Everyone gathered around to see if I was okay but I waved them away. The only injuries I had received from the fall were a bruised ego and a small graze where my right leg had caught a branch on the way down.
Over the next few days I told the story to more people, embellishing it differently depending on the audience.
It became more difficult to brag about it though as I was beginning to feel a little out of sorts. My energy was dwindling, as if I was pulling all-nighters even after a full eight hours of sleep and I was constantly sweating and feeling sick.
Everybody put it down to the heat until, one morning a few days after the climb, I came down the stairs in my shorts. My parents faces went pale and they said that they were rushing me straight to the hospital. I looked to see what had caused such a reaction and immediately passed out.
Two days later, I regained consciousness in a hospital bed with my parents and a doctor hovering over me. He (the doctor) informed me that the small cut I had received from the tree had become infected and because of the positioning of the wound on my leg, it would have been difficult for me to notice without deliberately looking for it.
When I asked if the infection was gone he sombrely nodded but went on to say that it had become too rooted in my leg and to save my life, they had been given no choice but amputated it.
And that, my friends, is why I’m not a huge fan of cats.
There you have it, the story of how a forest fire caused me to lose my leg.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “there is no way anyone actually believes such bizarre stories”.
However, if a guy who clearly has a missing leg was stood in front of you telling you how he lost it, even if the story was wildly bizarre, how confident would you be to call him out on it?
Don’t worry, I always tell people the truth afterwards.
Thank you for reading folks, stay safe and be excellent to each other.
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