As we approached the falls the sound of crashing water was incredibly loud. We’d only left there ten minutes before and I couldn’t remember it being so deafening.
When we rounded the final bend the falls were ahead of us. They had been transformed from a gentle stream of falling water into a torrent. Water shot off the top of the falls for a couple of meters before arching down to the pools below.
“What happened?” yelled Meg. “Did a dam blow?”
We had to yell to be heard over the crashing water.
“It must be that storm last night,” I said.
“But we didn’t even get any rain,” said Meg.
I indicated the water raging over the fall. “We don’t have to. This water would have fallen up further in the mountains.”
We walked to the edge of the pools. They had doubled in size, the little bath size pools of water having been swamped by the rising water level.
I couldn’t see Bruiser anywhere.
“There!” said Meg, pointing downstream. I’d been looking in the direction of the falls. I hadn’t thought to turn around.
As we watched, Bruiser slowly rolled over so he was floating face down in the water. He was either unconscious, or dead. If he wasn’t dead he soon would be unless he grew gills. To make matters worse, there was another smaller set of falls a few meters ahead and Bruiser’s body was edging towards them.
Pulling off my backpack and jacket I raced to the water’s edge. Holding my breath against the freezing water, I waded out. The irony was not lost on me that because of Bruiser I was effectively tossing myself into the rock pools.
Unable to see the uneven floor of the stream in the surging water, I felt ahead with each foot before trusting my weight to it. Just as Bruiser was about to topple over the water’s edge I lunged forward and grabbed his foot.
I took two or three steps away from the fall before I rolled him over. He was blue. There was a gash in his head leaking blood. That was a good sign. If he was bleeding then he wasn’t dead – his heart was still beating.
The whole rescue seemed to take an hour but it was probably only twenty or thirty seconds.
Meg helped me drag him up onto the bank as gently as we could – not easy in the circumstances.
I put my cheek near Bruiser’s mouth, checking to see if he was breathing. He coughed a lungful of water onto my face. I held his neck so it remained aligned with his back and turned him on his side so he wouldn’t choke. Bruiser was unconscious – it must have been quite a hit to the head. I was worried there might be some neck or back damage as well. More brain damage, I corrected myself. The problem was I lacked any scout badges in first aid, primarily because I’ve never been in scouts. The only first aid I knew, and was desperately trying to remember, I’d learnt from watching Bondi Rescue.
“What do we do?” asked Meg. She was clearly worried.
“He’s breathing, so we’re through the worst of it.” I said it with a confidence I wasn’t feeling. “If Crusher was running for help then someone should be coming soon.” I thought about how long it took us to walk here. Crusher was running pretty fast. Anyone coming to help would move fast too, but they’d have to organize some equipment first, wouldn’t they? I really didn’t know. “It might be an hour until they get here. We just have to keep him still until they come.”
When we settled him onto his back again there was still a bluish colour to Bruiser’s face, the gash was still bleeding badly and his bottom lip was starting to shiver. We had to try slow the bleeding and somehow warm him up.
“Grab my backpack,” I told Meg. She did, and brought my jacket over. Pulling the first aid kit out of my backpack it occurred to me that for all its weight there wasn’t much in it – some bandages, an eye patch and a pair of scissors. I always thought it was a bit of a pain having to drag it around everywhere, but now I looked at it in an entirely different light and decided it was terribly inadequate.
I put the eye patch over the cut in his hair joking with Meg I had to plug the leak before what passed for his brain oozed out. I couldn’t put a bandage around his head because I didn’t want to move his neck. I grabbed the scissors and, being careful not to move Bruiser’s neck, reached over and began to cut his pullover from the neck as far down his chest towards his belt as I could.
“What are you doing?” Meg asked me.
“We’ve got to keep him warm,” I told her. “And the first thing we have to do is get the wet stuff off him.” I handed the scissors to her. “Cut the rest, Meg.”
While she finished wrecking his pullover I grabbed my jacket and put it over Bruiser’s chest. We piled our small backpacks onto his legs. It wasn’t much but it was all we had.
“But what about you?” asked Meg. I was cold, wet and shivering.
“I haven’t had a knock to the head,” I said. “I’ll be right until I have a nice warm shower.” Then I remembered the shower back at camp with only one tap. “Or I’ll sit around the fire,” I said. Then I remembered Dad’s fire starting abilities. “Or something,” I finished lamely.
Twenty minutes later the last of the light faded and it became pitch black and even colder.
Damn Bruiser and his leaking head, I thought.
I also really wished Dad had given my young muscles the torch to carry as well.
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