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Chapter 9 - Right Hand Man

He flew the first thirty feet and was drug through the tent top the last eighty as the pole completely collapsed the other direction. The two remaining poles stayed in place yet, listed heavily towards the center of the collapse.

Chaos ensued. People screamed in every language. There was a trail of blood leading from where the Slav had been, right across the center of the tent top. The man, himself, was nowhere in sight from Nigel’s perspective.

With his jaw agape, eyes wide open and ears completely closed, Nigel felt his heart pounding in his chest. He stood in shock. After ten seconds of staring, he thought, “Dr. Baas, we’re going to need a doctor.”

Nigel took off running towards the back of the grounds, knowing where Baas’ caravan would be. He ran so fast that he almost didn’t notice Dr. Baas running in the opposite direction.

Skidding to a stop, he made a quick about face and yelled, “Dr. Baas. Get your bag!”

Dr. Baas turned and stopped bewildered? “My bag?”

“Yes a man has been hurt. His arm is torn badly.”

Seeing the panic in the boy’s eyes, communicated all he needed to know. Dr. Baas turned and ran to his caravan as Nigel waited. It seemed an eternity even though it was mere seconds.

Together, they ran towards the big top. The breeze was still blowing. Three men had carried the Slav to the cold ground as ten men struggled holding the main line.

The Ringmaster was struggling to free the rope jammed between, what was left of the Slav’s arm, and the ring on top of the rigging. The arm was bloody, but was not bleeding profusely . The impingement had cut off the circulation. The Slav sat perfectly calm. No doubt, shock had set in. He examined his own arm as if he were selecting a roast beef at the market.

Dr. Baas went to work removing his neckerchief and using it as a tourniquet, nearly three inches above where the ring was currently serving that purpose. He pulled out a small black satchel from his medical bag and, untying the ribbon around it, revealed a suite of surgical tools.

He pulled out a small 8 inch bone saw. He used the back side to push back the meat from the torn tissue revealing the bone underneath. Between the bone and the blade there was a massive purple artery just below the ring towards the hand. It had swelled to about half the size of the arm bone and looked like a balloon ready to rupture.

The doctor reached into his bag and retrieved a large brown bottle and a small brown bottle from his bag. He opened the larger bottle and saturated the wound washing away most of the blood. The Slav winced. As he opened the second smaller bottle, he looked directly into the Slavs eyes.

“Close your mouth. Close you eyes.”

The Slav complied as the doctor placed the opening of the small bottle against the Slavs prominent mustache.

“Inhale deep.”

The Slav got halfway through the inhale and fell limp.

Nigel jumped behind the Slav, supporting his torso to ensure he stayed vertical. He watched over the man’s shoulder as Dr. Baas worked.

Dr. Baas corked the jar and set it aside. He instructed the Bolshevik to pull the ring and rigging down towards the hand to free it.

“Slowly, very slowly.” He softly said with authority.

At first, the ring would not budge so the doctor used his fingers to push the artery below the ring down and away toward the elbow. This enlarged the artery even more. Nigel was expecting it to burst and began to feel very nauseous.

“Slowly!” he said, again.

Dr.Baas worked his left thumb further toward the hand. He had made a small flat gap now between the artery and the ring. Using his right thumb he attempted to release the ring. Above the ring, the artery lay flat as that segment had collapsed easily. No blood was flowing through it. Nigel remembered how a chicken looked as it was being dissected by his mother on special occasions. This looked similar, but much larger.

Within ten seconds the ring came free. The wind blew a bit causing the men, holding the other end of the rope, to bear down. This caused the rope to slide in the ring a bit.

“Hold that line steady!”

Blood slashed against Dr. Baas’s face. He maintained pressure with his left thumb and inserted his right thumb under the ring on the side where the artery was flattened.

He sternly gave the command. “On three.”


He let go with his left hand. In a breath, the ring slid off taking the rope with it. Instantly, he placed his left hand to where it was one half second before. He firmly, yet delicately, applied pressure with both thumbs to hold pressure on the lower artery. With the rope and ring out of the way, he was left with a massive open wound and a bone exposed. His thumbs, securely, applied pressure in two places as he pressed artery against bone. Slowly, he relieved the pressure ”Let’s see what happens, here.”

Releasing the pressure, blood, instantly, filled the exposed artery into where it disappeared into the arm. A splurge of bright red blood came from the surrounding tissue covering the bone and where the doctor had been working. He quickly grabbed for the tourniquet and wrenched on it to tighten it. This motion and the accompanying pain, brought the Slav back to consciousness.

“Take him to the beer garden!” Dr. Baas commanded.

Four men attempted to lift the nearly three hundred pound man who had fully regained consciousness and strongly stood on his own. The Bolshevik brother and the Ringmaster accompanied him as he walked off towards the beer tent, swaggering a little from the drunkenness of pain and anesthesia.

Dr. Baas started assembling his goods into his bag rapidly.

“Will you be able to save his arm?” Nigel asked.

The doctor looked over the top of his glasses. “I think so, and his life. Thanks to you.”

Nigel puzzled, “But I didn’t do anything?”.

“You made me get my bag. I had no idea what was going on. I saw the tent collapse.”

Nigel didn’t understand.

“All that they were thinking about was the tent. You thought of the man. Boy…If they had just pulled that ring off they vould have torn the brachial artery. He would not have lost his arm. He would have bled to death in less than two minutes. You saved his life.”

The doctor finished and stood on his feet. Blood covered his hands his shirt and even splattered across his glasses.

Nigel deflected, “But you are the doctor that saved him.”

Dr. Baas walked away. His reply came with a small laugh. “Actually, I am the veterinarian that saved him.”

Behind them, Zeus and the men had gone back to work fighting the breeze and securely erecting the Big Top. In the distance Doctor Baas worked on the Slav in the beer tent. There was some uncomfortable hollering from the man. Nigel decided he’d seen enough medicine for one day. As he stood starring off into space, the Ringmaster approached him from the beer garden.

“Eyya boy…Der’s work my maan. Go ‘elp dig dat pit“

“Dammit. Poop holes.” He thought. No getting out of doing the grunt work.

Nigel joined the crew with a shovel. His mind went to work on a better way this could be done better. Six men, digging holes, was stupid.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Nigel finished the digging and headed back towards the Major’s caravan. He stopped at the water truck and used a small hose to rinse his face, hands and to spray the caked English soil from his boots.

Upon arrival, he saw Dr. Baas and the Major engrossed in a serious conversation. The Major’s eye caught Nigel’s as both men abruptly looked at the topic of their conversation.

Dr. Baas turned and said, “When you finish up with the Major, come see me.”

Nigel responded with a nod and a thumbs up. Dr. Baas looked at the Major and rolled his eyes and shook his head. He disappeared around the back of the caravan. The orangutan was in his cage. Dr. Baas emerged on the far side and handed the ape a banana as he entered the cage with him. He sat directly across from the ape. It was the first time, other than the performance, that Nigel saw the ape in the cage.

“You had a full day?” The Major greeted Nigel with a smile.

It was odd. He had never really seen him smile. It was a bit confusing.

“How was London?”

Nigel attempted to break the ice and just say anything to get a read on why the Major was smiling.

His smile disappeared. “Oh, it was London. It was as expected. Completely, as expected. I understand you’ve talked Dr. Baas into teaching you how to train an ape?”

Nigel answered, “Um yes, I find it fascinating.”

“Well get un-fascinated. You’ll make no money with that ape. It’s a dead end.”

Nigel doubled down, “Oh, I think I can learn to be a trainer. I think Dr. Baas thinks so, too. After all, he agreed to let me do it.”

The Major was skeptical, “Oh does he? Maybe I’m ill informed. Where are you planning on sleeping?”

Nigel had not fully considered this, as the comfort of the Major’s caravan had been nice.

“Um, I’ve been looking around…Well I have been busy.”

The Major stared, “You’ll sleep in the cab of the truck.”

This was not a comfortable solution, but it was clear this was the best the Major had to offer a person who could not think this through for himself. The Major elaborated, “The only thing worse than a bad plan, is the absence of a plan.”

Some men have a manner of distilling a vast amount of ideas into a simple phrase. The Major was such a man.

The Major disappeared into his caravan which was followed by a rustling and rocking of the trailer. A moment later the door opened and Nigel’s duffel bag was ejected and landed in the grass in front, followed, momentarily, by his canvas food bag, a wool blanket and, finally, his canteen. The door slammed shut and locked.

Nigel gathered his belongings and placed them in the front of the truck cab on the floorboards and shut the door. He proceeded to the back side of Dr. Baas’s caravan and over to the cage.

As soon as he was in view, the orangutan made eye contact and stood still. Dr. Baas was speaking softly to the animal in Dutch and by the animals response he turned to discover Nigel.

“Vait!” he commanded. Nigel froze.

Dr. Baas slowly, exited the cage. He stood next to Nigel looking back at the ape.

“Are you ready?” He spoke softly.

“Yes.” Nigel replied.

Dr. Baas stepped into his caravan and emerged with the bunch of carrots which Nigel had purchased the morning before. He handed them to Nigel and stood aside, hiding himself behind his caravan from the orangutan.

“His name is Edgar. Give him a carrot,” he said.

Nigel pulled one carrot from the tied bunch and handed the remaining back to Dr. Baas. Slowly, he approached the cage. The ape was now looking away out into the space behind the Big Top where the water truck and flatbed were stored.

Nigel extended a carrot. He reached his arm through the bars towards the animal. Two images flashed in his mind, consecutively. The first was of Dr. Baas during the performance being near crushed by the animal as it had grabbed his arm. The second, was of the Slav and the reality of what it looked like to have your arm nearly torn off.

“Edgar?” Nigel inquired.

19) In an emergency cool heads save lives. Nigel’s thinking of Dr. Baas fast saved Ivan’s life.

20) Even the person you despise has a gift. Value your enemies or difficult people and seek their gift. Just don’t have dinner with them.

21) Titles and skillsets do not always match. Ask about someone’s specialty when you meet them to determine what they really are excellent at.

22) If your mentor gives you information, listen and ask what they mean if you don’t understand it. “You’ll make no money with that ape, it’s a dead end.” The Major told Nigel who refused to listen. As a good mentor he let Nigel have the full experience of disappointment and failure.

23) Respect your past. You will always be taking tools from it and pulling them forward for survival.

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