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"A PERSON THAT SAVED AT LEAST ONE LIFE WAS NOT BORN FOR NOTHING"

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A MAGIC ELEFANT

It is very rare for a rescued person to thank us for our service and it’s not for thanks that we do it. I think that such a person just wants to forget the difficult time and with it he or she forgets the rescuers... That’s how it works.


But once, I received a magic elephant. Truly magic.

I was once on duty in a small Mountain Rescue Team station in a mountain shelter on the Polish border. There was a couple of ski lifts around, one in some distance from the other. In case of an accident I was able to get to the most distant lift after about an hour of running (and pulling a rescue toboggan). There was also an old snowmobile there, but usually it wasn’t working.

It was already an evening, the wind was howling outside. I just came back from a patrol and took off my wet clothes. I put a kettle on so that I could prepare instant noodles that I would eat with bread and a piece of cheese. That was the dinner I could afford.

The water was not boiled yet when I heard a noise outside. I looked out - those were the three local men who operated the ski lift, who were now totally covered in snow. They had already finished work, which was visible in their faces and their movements. From what I understood from their mumble, on their way from the lift they had heard some whining in the ravine. One of them felt sorry for the dog that must have fallen into the ravine, but the two others wanted to go straight to the bar, so they said it had just been the wind howling in the trees. The bar was already close by... I was tired and wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible, which was not so easy as they had some vodka and insisted on me drinking with them. I was so hungry that if I drank what they offered me, I would immediately be asleep. Finally, they were gone... to the bar.

I poured the water into the noodles, I cut some bread and started to eat, when I heard some nervous knocking again. I thought those were the men again, so I opened angrily, but it was an elderly skier. He told me he was a teacher, looking for one of his pupils – a twelve-year-old girl, who had been missing from the skiing camp. He asked me whether I had helped someone like her that day...

Then I suddenly remembered what one of the drunk men said (what I’ve heard in the ravine was something like a child’s cry). I heard alarm bells inside my head! Trying not to show my anxiety, I told the teacher to go back to his group while I would check what could have happened to the girl.

He listened to my advice. I put on the wet clothes, now even more wet than before, and cold shoes and went out to start the snowmobile. To my surprise it started immediately so I fastened the rescue toboggan to it (with a blanket, sleeping bag and splints always at the ready) and departed into the snow storm, in the direction mentioned by the lift operators.

It was already dark and the wind was strong, blowing clouds of snow. To make it worse, fog covered everything creating total confusion. The snowmobile’s lights lighted just about 2 metres in front of me, so I had to follow the tracks carefully. Luckily, the path on the mountain ridge was so icy that the wind was able to blow the snow out of it.

When I got to the lift’s top station I could hear nothing in the darkness as the howling of the wind was too loud. I started descending the empty slope, along the ridge of a steep ravine. The rumbling of the engine was not helpful, so I had to turn it off and block the snowmobile. I put on my skies and continued the descent with a torch.

Suddenly, I thought I’d heard something. The ravine was steep so I had to leave my skis and slide to its bottom. In the dim light of the torch I saw a girl lying in a half-frozen brook.

She must have fallen from the slope just before the lift was closed and hit her head on the stones in the brook. From how she was lying I could see that her legs were broken (her ski bindings didn’t release), but only on touching them did I realise how severely. I released her from the skis and, sliding on the wet stones in my skiing shoes, I pulled her out of the brook. She was completely wet and half frozen. I put my coat around her (we didn’t have rescue blankets yet) and stopped for a second.

I had to think and assess the possibilities. It was dark and it was late. I was alone with no way to contact anyone. It would take me at least half an hour to get to the nearest house through that snow, with no guarantee that anyone there would be sober enough to help me. In order to save the girl I had to act alone and very quickly: back up the ravine; up the slope to the snowmobile; start the snowmobile, come closer to the girl and block the machine; take the rescue toboggan and go down the ravine; take out the splints; take out the first aid kit; apply a painkiller; get the bandage; quicker; immobilize the broken legs...

Then I had to put the shaking kid into the sleeping bag and secure in the rescue toboggan so that she wouldn’t fall out, fasten her skis and poles. I climbed up the ravine along a steep but accessible forest traverse. Pulling and jerking the toboggan through the deep snow I didn’t realise that I was completely wet myself. I summoned up all my strength and I felt my back could break any minute. I was praying and swearing interchangeably, still, thanking God that I was pulling a teenage child, not a heavy man...

Finally I got up the ravine, on the slope and to the snowmobile. What if it wouldn’t start? After a couple of minutes of uncertainty, it did. The engine roared. We drove up the icy slope – the only way up to the shelter. I had to balance all the time as the weight of the rescue toboggan made the snowmobile very unsteady. We were driving in zigzags, trying to find patches of snow where traction would be better. It was still foggy and dark. I could hardly see anything...

On the ridge we were hit with an icy wind. It was so strong that it blew the light toboggan out of the path, so it started moving sideways. The snow covered my goggles that were additionally steamy with perspiration... 

But the worst part was yet to come...

The day before was sunny and the temperature was above zero. The crowds of tourists that walked along the path that day made it into a mess. In the evening the temperature fell below zero and now the icy path was extremely bumpy. When we entered the path, the toboggan shook as if someone was hitting it with hammers. One can imagine what was happening to the child’s broken legs!

Despite the rumble and the wind I could hear her scream. Only a person experiencing extreme pain can scream like that. Only a tortured person... Although I was completely wet and freezing in the icy wind, I tried to drive slowly to inflict her as little pain as possible... But her horrible shouts were the same. I couldn’t relieve the pain I was causing her and I realised that in that cold and that wind we were soon going to freeze. Both of us.

I had to make a difficult decision. To shorten her pain I sped up. The roaring of the engine deadened her cries, however, it was not only the engine... When I got to the mountain shelter, after skidding on the icy paths and diving into the snowdrifts, I realised that the girl had fainted from pain... 

We brought her round and warmed. Through the radio we called an ambulance from a city that was 50 kilometres away. Waiting was dreadful. After an hour and a half the ambulance got to the railway station in the valley. I transported the girl down, left her under the doctor’s care and came back to the station. I took out stone frozen shoes, trousers, jumper and other clothes. Finally, I could eat my cold noodles. I digested them, but only thanks to a good person who had served me some hot tea with rum in the shelter.

I covered myself with warm, military blankets and was immediately asleep.

***

A couple of months later I was still there. The winter was over, the sun was warm and the snow was melting; the grass and snow drops were appearing everywhere around.

One day someone told me I had received a parcel. I never received parcels so I was sure it was a misunderstanding. But no! It was addressed: Rescuer WANDERKOGEN. Mountain shelter. GOPR station. 

In the parcel there was an elephant!

A little, brass elephant and a short note: Thank you for everything! For my life! That elephant will bring you a lot of luck because it is magic!

I put it into my pocket and had it with me at all times.

***

 

After some years I became the Head of the Jura Group of GOPR.

After some more years people chose me Member of Parliament.

How can I not believe that the elephant was magic?

 

P.S. I

Years have passed. One day I saw a wise woman with intriguing features and a brave heart in a difficult situation. She was very determined. Her motivation was well justified but she only met with envy, dislike and lack of imagination. I don’t know why, but I spontaneously approached her and gave her my elephant that I had always had with me. I wished her luck.

That woman won her fight. More than that, a year later she climbed one of the highest mountains in the world!

P.S. II

I met this woman a year later. She told me: That elephant really is magic! I’m sorry but I don’t have it any more. I lent it to a little boy who was waiting for a heart transplantation for years. And you know what? Next day he received an information that a heart for him had been found!

 


 

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