With Only A Pocket Knife

The sugar-cane pad­dock was quiet as Barry Lynch’s scream pierced the air. The farmer was pinned to the earth by a 10-ton trailer and kilo­me­tres away from help.

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - HE­LEN SIGNY

The sugar-cane pad­dock was quiet as Barry Lynch’s scream pierced the air. The farmer was pinned to the earth by a 10-ton trailer and kilo­me­tres away from help.

The land­scape was dark and cool as Aus­tralian sugar-cane farmer Barry Lynch pulled his pickup truck to the edge of the road and en­gaged the hand­brake. It was 6 a.m. The burly 54-year-old took a quick swig of cof­fee, ad­justed his cap and stepped out of the cab into the North Queens­land morn­ing.

Work­ing swiftly, Lynch checked out the ma­chin­ery he was to use that day. The red-and-black trac­tor was at­tached to a trailer—and a tanker on wheels filled with 5,400 litres of her­bi­cide. He was heading to a far pad­dock to spray some young cane, but his mind was al­ready on that even­ing’s mis­sion. It was Oc­to­ber 1, 2013, the first an­niver­sary of his mother’s death. Once he’d fin­ished work, he’d head to the coastal town of Lucinda, about 140 kilo­me­tres away, where he and his sis­ter Su­san would re­lease flow­ers into the ocean in her mem­ory.

Lynch had lived most of his life on a sugar-cane farm, near the hu­mid, tropical north­east coast, so work­ing the land was in his blood. He trav­elled from farm to farm, pre­par­ing the ground and nur­tur­ing young cane. It was a lonely job. Most days it was just him. But he en­joyed driv­ing the big ma­chin­ery and loved the smell of the

soil as he worked the pad­docks. He was well-known for his de­ter­mi­na­tion and ded­i­ca­tion to the job—for never rest­ing un­til the work was done.

This morn­ing he had set out at 5 a.m. from his home in the small town of Tully. Sin­gle since his di­vorce nearly 30 years ear­lier, Lynch lived on his own but spent time with his two daugh­ters and five grand­chil­dren when­ever he could. Fam­ily has al­ways been im­por­tant to him: Lynch was one of six chil­dren him­self, and he’d been es­pe­cially close to his fa­ther, whose beloved multi-pur­pose pocket knife he’d in­her­ited. The tool, with its two blades, pli­ers, screw­driver and a lit­tle saw, meant the world to the farmer. He was never with­out it.

To ac­cess the crops, he needed to drive the trac­tor down a steep de­cline, over a creek and up the other side. He climbed into the cab, turned the key and felt the trac­tor rum­ble to life. Then he put it into gear and set off.

CRUNCH. The trac­tor jerked and ground to a halt. As he clam­bered out of the cab to see what had hap­pened, his phone fell out of his pocket. He swore un­der his breath as he picked it up, then quickly made his way be­hind the trac­tor.

As the ve­hi­cle had headed over the ridge, the pres­sure on the metal draw­bar link­ing the trac­tor to the trailer had snapped it. The hy­draulic ca­bles were still con­nected, but the draw­bar was hang­ing lop­sided and bro­ken, leav­ing the trailer—now on flat ground—in a nose­dive.

One end of the draw­bar was bolted to the un­der­side of the trac­tor, un­der­neath the gear­box. All Lynch needed to do was loosen the bolt to re­lease it, then he could re­pair the draw­bar and get on with his day. He shifted the trac­tor into re­verse and backed it up, nudg­ing the trailer back­wards as he did so.

He quickly walked the 500 me­tres back to his pickup, ir­ri­ta­tion nig­gling in the pit of his stom­ach—he wanted to get the job done right. He grabbed his tool kit and a length of chain, took a swig of rapidly warm­ing cola and tossed his mo­bile phone on the pas­sen­ger seat to avoid drop­ping it a sec­ond time.

There was no one around for kilo­me­tres. Lynch in­spected the dam­age more closely. The draw­bar of the tanker had dug into the earth, but the three­p­oint hitch—an­other link be­tween trac­tor and trailer—was still in­tact. He wrapped the chain around it to lift the trailer off the ground, steadied

BARRY LYNCH TOSSED HIS PHONE ON

THE SEAT OF

HIS TRUCK. THERE WAS NO ONE AROUND

FOR KILO­ME­TRES.

the trailer wheels with wooden chocks and jumped onto the trac­tor to move it for­ward and give him­self space to crawl un­der­neath. Then he slith­ered through on his left side to get to the bolt in or­der to re­trieve the bro­ken piece of draw­bar.

It was hot and noisy un­der­neath the trac­tor as he stretched to ma­noeu­vre the wrench. He didn’t re­al­ize it, but as he reached for­ward, his right knee pressed against one of the wooden chocks.

Sud­denly, the chock gave way and nearly 10 tons of fully loaded tanker and fer­til­izer crashed down on the in­side of Lynch’s leg.

THE PAD­DOCK WAS quiet as Lynch’s scream pierced the air. He was pinned to the earth with his leg bent, the full weight of the trailer on the in­side of his knee, com­press­ing it to half its nat­u­ral size and cut­ting off the cir­cu­la­tion. Below the knee, his calf and foot im­me­di­ately started to swell with pool­ing blood. The pain was over­whelm­ing.

I’ve got to get that boot off, Lynch screamed in­side his head. He could feel his foot swelling as he reached down and fum­bled to rip off his footwear.

I’m in trou­ble here, he thought. My phone’s in the pickup. No one will re­al­ize I’m miss­ing un­til to­mor­row morn­ing if I fail to show up for work.

Lynch tried yelling out but soon re­al­ized there wasn’t any­one to hear him. And who would no­tice a trac­tor sit­ting in the mid­dle of a cane pad­dock in Far North Queens­land?

As pain and panic washed over him, he reached for his packet of cig­a­rettes, lay back and lit up with trem­bling hands.

Smok­ing calmed him a lit­tle. About half­way through the cig­a­rette, he re­al­ized he had two op­tions: ei­ther he could try to am­pu­tate his own leg or he could dig him­self free. Lynch reached for his knife. The trailer was rest­ing on a block of wood and wouldn’t shift any fur­ther. With the knife and his wrench, which was still on the ground, maybe he could dig out the earth from un­der­neath his leg.

Lynch got to work. He pulled out the five-cen­time­tre blade and started to chip away at the solid earth be­neath his knee, hit­ting the knife with his wrench. The red­dish soil of the track was as hard as a tarred road, com­pacted from the weight of heavy ma­chin­ery over the years. By tap­ping vig­or­ously on the lit­tle saw with the span­ner, he could dig its en­tire length

THE PAD­DOCK

WAS QUIET AS LYNCH’S

SCREAM PIERCED THE AIR. HE WAS PINNED TO THE EARTH WITH

HIS LEG BENT.

into the ground. Then he wrig­gled it from side to side, loos­en­ing the dirt be­fore pulling it out and knock­ing it in again a few mil­lime­tres away. Af­ter many rep­e­ti­tions, a small chunk of road was loose enough for him to scrape away with his hands.

Ev­ery 10 to 15 min­utes he’d switch to the other side of his leg and start there.

Sweat ran down Lynch’s fore­head and stung his eyes. The tem­per­a­ture steadily rose toward 30 C as the morn­ing wore on, with half of his body in the di­rect sun and the other half in the heat of the trac­tor. He had no wa­ter, and he thirstily eyed the drip­ping over­flow from the trac­tor’s air con­di­tion­ing a cou­ple of feet be­hind him. He took off his cap and set it up­side down on the bro­ken piece of draw­bar, where it could catch the drips. He knew it wasn’t potable, but he was des­per­ate. Then he con­sumed what lit­tle mois­ture he could and car­ried on chip­ping away.

By noon, the sun was di­rectly over­head, beat­ing down on Lynch’s chest and legs. His mind wan­dered to his fam­ily, and he wept. Am I re­ally never go­ing to see them again? But then he thought of his mother. He was damned if he was go­ing to die here, to­day, on the an­niver­sary of her death. I’m go­ing to be there to lay those flow­ers, he told him­self. The goal gave him a lit­tle strength.

Then anger welled up. I should have se­cured the trailer bet­ter, he thought. The frus­tra­tion was good—it gave him more adrenalin to keep go­ing. He pulled him­self to­gether and kept chip­ping at the earth.

SIX HOURS LATER, he still wasn’t free, and he was get­ting weaker. Not only does be­ing crushed dam­age the part of the body that has taken the force, but it can also lead to a lack of blood to the mus­cles and tis­sues, which can dam­age the nerves and lead to mus­cle death. The blood pool­ing in Lynch’s leg caused it to swell up. He was at risk of pass­ing out.

By now, Lynch’s leg was four times its nor­mal size, turn­ing black as it had grown big­ger. He could feel the skin crack­ing. It was as if his leg was go­ing to ex­plode. Damn it, I’ll just stab it with the knife to re­lieve the pres­sure, Lynch thought. But be­fore he could sum­mon the courage, he looked down at the ground and saw that it was damp. He rubbed his hand up and down his leg and felt that it, too, was wet with blood. He re­al­ized with a jolt that the skin of his leg had burst, leav­ing a hole the size of a fist.

Am I go­ing to bleed out? He reached around his waist and slowly took the belt from his pants. He tied it above the wound as a tourni­quet, and the flow of blood slowed a lit­tle. But Lynch knew his time was lim­ited. He started to dig even harder.

THE AF­TER­NOON SHAD­OWS were grow­ing longer as the trench un­der Lynch’s knee reached about 50 cen­time­tres wide and 10 cen­time­tres deep. That’s when he first felt some move­ment in his leg. He started to dig more fran­ti­cally. Yes, his knee could def­i­nitely move. He took a gam­ble, grabbed hold of the three-point link­age arms of the trac­tor and lev­ered him­self up.

Lynch pulled his leg, cov­ered with a slick coat of blood and dirt, free. Eu­pho­ria and re­lief swept over him. I’m go­ing to make it to the memo­rial, Lynch thought wildly as he crawled out from un­der­neath the trac­tor. He pulled him­self to stand­ing, but as he put his weight on the in­jured leg, it snapped be­neath him. He crum­bled to the ground.

Un­known to Lynch, be­ing free meant he was in crit­i­cal dan­ger. Over mul­ti­ple hours, the lack of cir­cu­la­tion to his leg had caused his cells to try to sur­vive with­out oxy­gen. They were gen­er­at­ing a large amount of lac­tic

LYNCH’S LEG

WAS FOUR TIMES ITS

NOR­MAL SIZE. HE FELT LIKE IT

WAS GO­ING

TO EX­PLODE.

acid and leak­ing sub­stances like potas­sium and myo­globin into the sur­round­ing tis­sues, which can ul­ti­mately be fa­tal. Now that the leg was free, these deadly poi­sons would be car­ried around Lynch’s body, po­ten­tially caus­ing life-threat­en­ing prob­lems to his kid­neys, heart, liver or lungs. He needed med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Lynch’s pain was be­com­ing un­bear­able. I’ve got to get to my phone, he told him­self. He started to pull him­self along on his back­side, his use­less leg drag­ging. It took a full 10 min­utes for him to haul him­self the 500 me­tres to his truck.

By the time he got there, he was ready to faint. Lynch reached up to the driver’s seat and pulled him­self up on his arm, took a swig of the warm cola and grabbed his mo­bile. He called emer­gency.

Lynch was ly­ing by his pickup, nearly un­con­scious. When, far in the dis­tance, the am­bu­lance came into sight, the farmer closed his eyes. The para­medic jumped out and knelt be­side him. “How are you, mate?” he asked.

“I’ve had a bit of trou­ble with my leg,” Lynch replied. As he saw the ex­tent of the dam­age to his leg, he blacked out.

THESE DAYS, Lynch still feels con­stant pain in his leg, but he’s glad to be alive. He was in hos­pi­tal for more than five months and un­der­went 22 surg­eries fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent. A year later, he was fi­nally able to lay the flow­ers for his mother’s memo­rial.

His beloved pocket knife sits in a glass cabi­net in his house. It sym­bol­izes the mem­ory of his fa­ther and the stead­fast de­ter­mi­na­tion that al­lowed Lynch to sur­vive.

Barry Lynch stands atop a slight rise where the cross­bar broke. It’s a mir­a­cle that the am­bu­lance was able to find him in this un­pop­u­lated area.

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